Saturday, December 7, 2013

Gender Migration and Sexual Abuse and Exploitation

I find the commonly used term ‘migration’ highly political in nature. In humanitarian crisis parlance it refers to “the movements of refugees and internally displaced people” (IDPs). It is and cannot be a value-neutral word in humanitarian contexts because in such contexts migration is not self-induced. Humanitarian workers like me have not seen prior desire or motivation to leave among the migrants or if at all there has been a motivation, it has been induced by poverty or armed conflict or war. Not surprisingly, the main causes of migration remain wars and armed conflicts, although in many other contexts natural disasters and large-development projects are also to blame. For example, migration forced by ‘development induced displacement’ in the states of Jharkhand, Orissa and Chhattisgarh in India. There are other types of forced migration as well, but these are not rigid categories since overlaps are common.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are some 50 million displaced people around the world, including both refugees and IDPs. Around 75-80 per cent of them are women and children; women and girls account for an estimated 50 per cent of any displaced population. The causes and effects of forced migration vary and range from political, socio-economic, environmental and cultural factors, and according to factors such as gender, class, age, race, or ethnicity.  The proportion of women refugees and IDPs vis-à-vis men from the same context is particularly affected by the cultural factors.
Globally, since the 1980s, there has been growing recognition that not adequate attention has been given to women in conflict situations, and their needs and capacities did not form the basis of planning and implementation of humanitarian assistance. But the growth in recognition remains slow and limited and results of this recognition have not led to more than a few women/girl child specific projects.
Throughout the 1990s, women’s rights advocates raised the issue of women’s bodies being used as battlegrounds by the warring factions in a conflict and sexual exploitation and abuse of women and girls in humanitarian response and in development induced disaster situations. The adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Charter of the Rights of the Child (CRC), and the United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 1325, and the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women by the UN have been milestones in the effort towards gender mainstreaming and recognition of women’s/girls’ rights.
In the humanitarian and development fields, I find that gender analysis of the needs and capacities of women and men and girls are being taken into account but regrettably in an ad-hoc manner. Culture, tradition, family unity, religion, etc continue to be used as excuses for not responding to transformative gender needs. This observation is not a reflection on only small community based or local level non-governmental organizations (NGOs) rather it is based on experiences with larger international NGOs, international institutions and organs of the national governments. At the national, regional and international governance level, gender based discrimination and denial of the rights of women asylum seekers continue to be a reality. It is not surprising that even in the programmes run by the international institutions and large international NGOs, immediate protection and assistance of women/girl IDPs with their participation and decision-making remains a need yet to be met. The process to engender the migration discourse and response is relatively new and still evolving. There is increased awareness of the differences in wider effects of migration caused by conflict, large infrastructure development, or natural disaster. International and humanitarian organizations are waking up to these considerations. But most of the recognition remains limited to the text. Action on gender analysis and implementation of gender guidelines and policies is still weak. Gender issues have been relatively readily accepted in protection of and assistance to refugees. The same cannot be said of assistance to the IDPs. Also, among IDPs in context of natural disasters and ‘development induced displacement’ acceptance of engendering approach is the least.
In the recent times, a major development has been the move towards seeing the rape and sexual abuse of women and girls during wars and armed conflict as a deliberate strategy and a crime to be punished, as reflected in the UN Security Council Resolution 1820 passed in 2008 and the statutes for the War Crimes Tribunals for Rwanda and the Former Republic of Yugoslavia. However, the move does not always cover the sexual exploitation and abuse that take place as a consequence of political instability and conflict. For example, in Nepal, the conflict between the Maoists and the State, put Nepali women in the eastern hill areas at a higher risk of abuse. At one end women were being pressurized to join the militia, at the other end, if they fled to escape poverty and militia, trafficking for sex work was a major threat. Such women, even if rescued, were rarely reintegrated with their communities because of the associated stigma. The situation has not been any different for Bantu women in Somalia, a country located far from Nepal in East Africa. Starvation and sexual violence were the two most important factors for fleeing Somalia during war in 1990s. Bantu women, young and old, suffered multiple rapes while fleeing and in the IDP and refugee camps. Rape created an acute sense of disempowerment among both women and men. While women and girls were being raped, men and male children were forced to watch the sexual persecution of their female relatives. In the camps it was not uncommon to find sexual exploitation of male children. Most of these cases went unreported out the fear of stigma or out of a not-so-far from reality belief that no action will be taken either by the state machinery or the international actors.
It is not such an uncommon knowledge that displacement affects women and men differently because of the pre-determined gender division of roles and responsibilities. Though war is seen as a ‘male affair’, mostly women, children, the elderly, and the disabled are the main victims of wars. It is estimated that they constitute 30-90 per cent of casualties (for more information, please see: In low informal low-key armed conflicts, women and children are 80 per cent of casualties by small arms and the rest are military causalities. Among such casualties the number of young men is far higher. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) men account for 96 per cent of the detainee population and 90 per cent of the missing, and women and children represent a majority of the displaced. For example, it is estimated that 70 per cent of the IDPs in Somalia are women and children. In Nepal, a large percentage of IDPs are women in the age group of 20-35 years of age.

It is generally said that a war does not discriminate and that it targets all in its range: women, men, children, livestock, and so on. The reality, however, is that women are not just affected as civilians or targeted because they happen to be in the range. Rather they are targeted because of their gender. Armed conflict usually aggravates social and gender inequalities and makes those who lack social power or have disadvantaged position in society particularly vulnerable. Weaker population groups and women usually have less access to education and training opportunities and have poor employability and entrepreneurial skills. Because of their low educational and training levels, they are not among the ‘favoured’ type of migrants. Due to their poor social status and their traditional productive and reproductive roles they are also not used to mobility. This is one of the reasons that lead to higher mortality and morbidity among women and impoverished minorities during armed conflict. Other factors include a lack of access to basic goods and services, and gender discrimination against women.
Since a larger portion of the migrants are women and because they are a group without marketable skills and education, and are denied rights to own and control assets and property, they experience distinct economic and social problems as migrants. It is much harder for them to earn a living and support themselves and their families financially while continuing to be the traditional ‘carers’ at home. This pushes them further towards hunger, malnutrition, and exploitation. Not surprisingly, among displaced populations, women and girls ‘voluntarily’ resort to sex work. A recent survey by UNHCR in Bassaso IDP camps in Somalia reveals that considerable number of young women offer sex in exchange of basic services to meet their own and their families’ basic needs or for protection. In Nepal, poverty and conflict have been two major factors prompting women to seek opportunities in neighbouring India as well as far away countries. A Nepali NGO, Saathi, has reported an ever increasing number of women leaving villages. Many of these women are falling prey to traffickers who lead them to the brothels in India or to the Arab countries. In some cases women know the consequences, yet they have gone ahead ‘voluntarily’ as they had no option. Between June 2003 to February 2006, the Kathmandu Post regularly reported the increase in rural to urban migration as a result of insurgency and increase in violence. They reported dramatic increase in sex work along the highways and in the dance and cabin restaurants close to Kathmandu.
Migration is also associated with the lack or disruption of basic services, including healthcare. The absence or disruption of the health services during high migration period when women and girls are at a greater risk of being sexually abused, exploited, contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and getting pregnant and infected by HIV/AIDS complicates women’s vulnerabilities. The spread of HIV/AIDS is further fuelled by sexual violence in the armed conflict contexts. HIV positive women and girls are targets of socio-economic violence.
The increased inequalities caused by globalization have increased women's vulnerability to violence, particularly in the context of economic migration and trafficking in persons. Several studies have noted that internally displaced women, illegal immigrants and street children are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation and HIV/AIDS, and often resort to ‘survival sex' to earn a living, with some women accepting food or items for their children in exchange for sex. According to a survey conducted by General Welfare Pratisthan around the market of Hetauda in Nepal in 2004, 98 per cent of the sex workers, most of whom are displaced women, are aware of the use of condoms to prevent HIV/AIDS and spread of STDs, not more than 60 per cent have been making use of condoms. The reason is their poor bargaining capacity in relation to their customers and no power in relation to their abusers and exploiters.
However, not all effects of migration on women are bad. Some women gain greater mobility and are able to use opportunities to learn new skills and assume new roles. In many countries, some migrant women regard changes in their lives as a result of migration an empowering experience as has been reported from some of the Tamil IDP camps in Sri Lanka. I also saw this in Somalia. However, such gains for women do not go without contentions which create further tensions in gender relations. In the meetings held on the issue of increasing political participation of Somali women in the governance and democratic institutions, I often came across an argument from men that women should not be allowed equal representation and participation because they are already the breadwinners of majority of the Somali households. Research conducted in Nepal indicates that men find it difficult to cope with their reduced ability to fulfil their traditional responsibilities. In such instances men use the social power over women more aggressively leading to higher incidence of violence against women and girls. But women facing domestic/social violence find it harder to gain refuge in another country. The 1951 Refugee Convention, popularly known as the Geneva Convention, on which most countries’ asylum laws are based, considers refugees “persons outside their country of nationality who have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion” (for more information, please read: Mertus, J.A., ‘War’s Offensive on Women. The Humanitarian Challenge in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan’. Humanitarianism and War Project: Kumarian Press, 2000).
The Geneva Convention does not include violence against women or gender based violence as a form of persecution despite decades long struggle of women’s rights advocates to get the countries to recognize violence against women or gender based violence as a ground to seek refuge.
For a long time, monitoring of humanitarian response initiatives, urban slum projects, and migration have shown that migrant women and girls living in the refugee/IDP camps/makeshift slums suffer from rape, early pregnancies, kidnapping, and forced marriage. Girls and young women from the marginalized ethnic groups are one of the most vulnerable. For examples, in Somalia, rape and sexual abuse in IDP camps is common but marginalized ethnic Bantus and Ogadenis women and girls suffered from greater risk. Traditionally, shelter is organized in consultation with men Somali women and girls living in refugee camps in Kenya have also been the target of rape and sexual attack by other Somalis, Kenyan police and soldiers. In some instances, the design of camps adds to women’s and girls’ discomforts and insecurities. For instance, communal housing offers no privacy for women, while lone women and girls housed in marked tents may become easy targets of sexual abuse. A survey conducted by the UNHCR in Bassaso, Somalia indicates that women are often sexually or physically attacked going out for toilets or for the collection of fuel wood and water.
The women/girl child-specific projects of the national and international NGOs and international institutions are not at all enough to address gendered needs of women migrants. Though there is a move towards an inclusive approach but it has focused attention on wider issues but the attention is usually around the immediate needs of women. Conceptualization of transformation of gender roles and relations to eliminate inequalities in the long-term are greatly lacking. Unless gender role and relation transformation is aimed and greater attention is paid to the impact of policies and programmes on the displaced in general, and women in particular, the issues around women’s participation and decision-making in redressing their challenges around migration cannot be secured. In the absence of a vision for gender role and relation change, encouraging women to assume new roles may merely increase their work burden. It is not possible to get women to perform leadership roles or an equal role without challenging the gender stereotypes and biases because they will not have institutional or social support to fulfil these roles.  
While specificities may vary from country to country and culture to culture the broader trends indicate that women are more vulnerable to sexual and other types of gender-based violence, and they are frequently forced to cope with more and different roles in the search for their survival and that of their families. They are forced to take on greater role and responsibilities than before in an environment of gender-based discrimination and disempowerment. Such inequalities have to be confronted and addressed to allow women to acquire more skills, confidence, and gender and political consciousness. There is also a need to engage with men towards changing the gender roles and relations to ensure that their coping capacity in context of displacement and their abilities to evolve in the face of challenges to their traditional gender roles and identity is adequately supported.
Another significant thing to remember is that not all women and men are affected in the same manner and proportion by displacement. Factors such as class, age, race, ethnicity, and rural/urban differences, as well as wider political and socio-economic issues affect their experiences. In order to address the ‘involuntary’ migration, the issues affecting both marginalized men and women and particular challenges of women need specific attention. The start off point towards that is to improve representation of marginalized men and of women in the decision-making in such contexts.

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Friday, January 25, 2013

God Is Green

Winter is said to bring in a large number of migratory birds to Savar in Bangladesh, the place where this writing on the wall said, the God is Green.

 Indeed two of three large lakes were filled with them. The three lakes happen to be in Jahangir Nagar University campus.

I did not expect the place to be particularly different from Dhaka. Still, I was disappointed to see construction all over.

Young and park variety trees indicate that the indigenous trees have diminished and the new ones are part of plantation drives.

A friend informed that the birds start coming here from November and remain until March. She recollected the birds used to fully cover by the lakes surfaces.

Compared to this description, the number of the birds seemed small. It seems that the number of birds took a nose dive due to poor environmental conservation and a lack of protection.

In the last two or three years, the number has improved but unless pollution is controlled, construction minimized and made environment friendly, fishing in the lakes checked, spraying of insecticides stopped, and noise pollution caused by those in the campus and visitors' vehicle and blaring music systems regulated, this habitat of the migratory birds will remain under threat.

I hope. I wish.

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Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Personal is Political: Maternity Protection

Aponayan/Elimination, a solo exhibition of installations and drawings by Dhali Al Mamoon, a Bangladshi artist at the Bengal Art Lounge, Dhaka.

“The personal is Political” is not just a rallying cry of some feminists rather a living experience of most women, particularly, women workers in the formal and informal economy. An issue such as ‘pregnancy’ is, indeed, a personal issue of a woman. It concerns the contentious issues of her right over her body, her emotional readiness to be a mother and make a long-term material commitment to care for a child, and her physical ability to be pregnant, carry the foetus in her womb and give birth without endangering her life.

When we look at the overall environment and specific contexts in which these ‘personal’ prerogatives of the millions of women have to be exercised, we can see how bleak the situation continues to be for women.  The situation is infested with issues of control of women and their reproduction, and regards maternity protection as a financial liability. The situation, therefore, calls for ‘political’ actions such as conscientization or critical consciousness-raising, empowerment of women, affirmative action, legalization of maternity protection, mass-protests, mobilization of men for women’s rights and so on. The old feminist adage helps see the ‘political’ dimensions or the power relationships that interrupt a personal matter. 

Photo: The Daily Star, Read the Essay: Begum Rokeya, Sultana's Dream and woman power

Bangladesh is the home to Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain (1880 – 9 Dec 1932) who wrote Sultana’s Dream (1905), perhaps the first feminist novel in the world with a sci-fi story involving a Utopia where male-female roles reverse. She spent her life working tirelessly for social reform and wrote courageously against restrictions on women, for women’s emancipation, ending the gender based division of labour.

Bangladesh is also a signatory to the Convention 183 - Maternity Protection Convention, 2000 (No. 183) but it has not ratified the Convention so far. The Labour Act 2006 in the land of Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain continues to see pregnancy as an individual woman’s issue because it does not recognize men’s role in pregnancy, child-birth and in caring for a child, and it continues to treat pregnancy as a financial burden on the employer and an economic drain for the larger economy. It is far from recognizing the social returns and the economic dividend that the country gains from this individual function of women. Pregnant and lactating women and those with children who still require care are still vulnerable in the formal economy workplace and completely unprotected in the informal economy.

Discrimination against migrant Bangladeshi women workers does not make the situation look any less bleak. Most countries of destination for the migrant workers do not recruit pregnant women and the health checks within Bangladesh wean off pregnant women from the list of potential migrant workers. Countries like Singapore and Malaysia have a requirement of periodic health checks, which include pregnancy tests and as per their laws/rules they can send back women who are found to be pregnant. The stories of women being harassed and sacked after becoming pregnant in the countries of the Middle-East, or of women being made to sign pledges that they will not become pregnant, and being denied paid maternity leave are not uncommon.

One cannot even imagine the trauma that women, who have been trafficked, smuggled for forced labour or who have crossed the borders through irregular migration channels have to go through when they get pregnant.
Photo: Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights

To tie in with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 Nov 2012, the ILO, in collaboration with a number of other UN agencies, has published Maternity Resource Package to help organizations, government ministries, workers and employers organizations strengthen and extend maternity protection to women at work. The Maternity Resource Package can be accessed at:
As per the ILO, the aim of such protection is to preserve the health of the mother and her new baby and to provide economic security for the women and their families. This can be achieved through maternity leave, cash and medical benefits, health protection in the workplace, employment protection and non-discrimination, and breastfeeding at work.

Since the societies and economies gain from women’s role involving pregnancy, child-birth, and child-care, maternity protection is not just a personal issue, it is a political issue that requires a concerted political action. Maternity protection and gender equality in the process of child-care help achieve a number of development goals. ILO, therefore, regards it as a collective responsibility. It suggests that the governments, employers, recruiters and workers need to work together in a social dialogue so we can find solutions that meet the rights and the needs of the women workers in both the domestic economy and in the countries of destination where migrant Bangladeshi women live and work or aspire to go.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Capital, the Business and the Labour

Is this too strong?
"The globalization of the capital and businesses without much attention to ethical employment generation at one end and a large working population and poor application of the labour standards at the other end has resulted in the ‘commoditization-of-labour’. It is a transaction process in between these too ends where, at some point, labour has no human features that differentiate it from the raw materials, tools and equipments needed for producing consumable products, and the businesses buy."

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Friday, September 7, 2012

ढाका शहर

Photo: asiaexplorers
अगर दमड़ी है दीवारें मिल जाएँगी
जिनकी ज़मीन हमारे पाँव न छू पायेंगे
जिनका छत हमारी पहुँच से बाहर होगी
जहाँ पर मिट्टी ज़मीन का नाता न होगा
मिट्टी सिर्फ़ उड़ती धूल होगी
जहाँ आसमान पर भी ताले होंगे
आसमान सिर्फ़ हवाई जहाज़ की गूँज में होगा
गाड़ियों की शोर होगी
आदमियों, औरतों और बच्चों की चीखा-चिल्ली मिलेगी
पानी जहाँ सूख चुकी होगी
पेड़ जहाँ गमलों में जीते हैं
हम रहेंगे उन दीवारों के साथ
ज़मीन और आसमान के बीच कहीं त्रिशंकु की तरह
लटके हुए हम किसी मालदार की जेब भरेंगे
दीवारें सारी-की-सारी उन्ही की तो हैं

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Raining Challenges

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Map: Geographic Guide
While there is focus on human security and good governance within the framework of the Central America and Mexico Security Strategy Action Plan, its implementation has been sketchy and the concept of human security applied in a rather limited manner. Human security is a powerful concept and responds remarkably well to the needs of development. So there is a need to continue to push for the adoption of the concept as the guiding principle for development and humanitarian work in the Central America. 

The conceptual framework of human security is wide and yields to various forms of wants and insecurities that people in the region face and therefore is specifically relevant to the region. Some of the common challenges of the region include:
  • Organized drug trafficking,
  • Trafficking and smuggling in human beings,
  • Trans-border organized crime,
  • Weaker governance institutions and political polarizations,
  • Climate change and natural disasters,
  • Poverty and poor health,
  • Lack of public services such as education, health, legal-juridical, and security and so on.

These challenges are compounded by:
  • The poor economic condition in the countries and extremely weak economic governance institutions, which are unable to support economic growth and stability (except for Costa Rica and Panama which seem to be moving in the right direction);
  • Complicity between drug mafias and cartels and the political and governance actors;
  • High level of corruption and money laundering;
  • Weaker business and consequent extremely poor revenue base; and
  • Fluid borders across the countries.

All these problems require wider partnerships among development and humanitarian actors as well as with the political actors and business conglomerates. This is essentially to ensure that the linkages among the above cited wants and insecurities could be better addressed. Such partnership formation would be the basis for addressing human security issues in the region. But it requires the countries and their governments to have the capacity to be stable institutions, policies, and skills to administer reform and development.

Most of the above mentioned human-made challenges have the issues of poor livelihoods, weak human capital and natural disasters at the core. The Central American countries are among the top 20 most vulnerable to natural with little capacity to cope. Hurricanes, floods, landslides, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are frequent and contribute to the growth of poverty, malnutrition and poor health. Again, these humongous issues could be addressed only through collaborations because these require improved understanding of how issues of drugs, crimes, poor justice, etc are inter-linked among multiple actors. These call for investment in environment, food, livelihoods, health, education and such other basic needs. This form of response to the challenges will address the issue of youth who have been particularly affected by the lack of economic opportunities, a phenomenon linked to gangs (or the Maras). This would also entail partnering with bi-laterals and donors who have a stake in environmental and livelihoods work, ministries and government institutions dealing with these issues and the wider public media.

Alongside, the issues of organized crime and terrorism, drug trafficking, human trafficking and smuggling in migrants, and the basic lack of rule of law also need to be looked into. Strengthening capacities of law enforcement agencies, preventing money laundering and promoting capacity to counter terrorism, border security and regulation of migration would go along well with the efforts to address issues of poor livelihoods, weak human capital and natural disasters.

The above-mentioned issues are increasingly becoming trans-regional in character and migration, though irregular, represents about 15% of their GDP.  It is for this reason that joint engagement in policy and programming around the issues of border control and migration by the Central American countries is crucial. Migrant smugglers and human traffickers take advantage of poor economic situation and uneducated and unemployed youth seeking employment abroad and make the issues of security and border control all the more complex.

The political leadership in the region seem to be aware of these issues and have acted jointly every now and then. Formation of Sistema de Integración Centroamericana, the International Commission for Central American Recovery and Development, Central American Parliament, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration and the Central American Common Market are some of the examples. Yet, these bodies have not been effective in the same measure in all the Central American Countries, largely due to the domestic politics and leadership related issues in the member countries. A long way to go!

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Disability and Violence against Women

Photo: Art for Prabhat, Disability India Network
Within the gamut of violence against women, one of the things that I find extremely intriguing, at least, in the context of India, is reluctance among organizations and activists to take up issues of sexual violence against children, especially girls by their family members and sexual violence against disabled women. Here, I want to bring attention to a general apathy, and denial around sexual lives of disabled women and sexual violence against them. References to sexual rights of this population group and their violations are rarely heard. Discussion and programmes designed to address violence against women rarely keep this group in view. These groups’ numerical under-representation in the organizations working on violence against women could be one of the reasons.

I find that the reluctance also has to do with this group being a minority – accessing information about the abuses this group goes through and reaching them with protection and care services would require some extra efforts which do not seem ‘cost effective’ to many.
The disability movement in India has focused on political ideas of universal physical access and survival. The issue of violence against them is not a priority. As a result, public and private violence against disabled women, especially intellectually challenged women, has not surfaced as an issue.

Families, most of them, somehow cannot see their intellectually challenged family members as anything other than a curse and a liability on the family. It is not surprising then that despite protests by some women’s activists, institutional violence against disabled women is sometimes carried out with the support of their family members. Examples of such collaborations include prevention of (potential) pregnancy by violent methods like vaginal hysterectomy or uterine hysterectomy.

These actions are given the name of protection measures. But protection from what – living with implications of having a sexual life or from implications of sexual violence like rape? If such measures are a protection from implications of having a sexual life, shouldn’t one treat these measures as violations of reproductive rights? And if these measures are being treated as protection from implications of sexual violence like rape, shouldn’t these measures be considered as institutional and family ‘approval’ of men’s ‘right’ to rape women?

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Protection of the Girl Child

Photo: Guardian
Battered baby in coma:
Two female foetuses found in CP dustbins:
Manipur girl raped in Delhi: 48 hours on, no breakthrough
Read more at: 
Girl jumps off roof to escape rape:
A class X student was allegedly raped:

The above links are just a few examples to indicate the status and extent of sexual abuse of women and girls in the city of Delhi alone. Abuse at home remains a taboo topic, rarely brought out.
Sexual abuse of children in any form of household setting by a family member or someone in a holding power over a child in India is among the most urgent forms of child abuse which our society must address. As per women's organizations and activists nearly ninety-five percent of the abused are girls and more than ninety-five percent abusers are males. Surveys carried out in schools and informal chats reveal that around 40% girls experience incest abuse or sexual abuse in one or the other form in India. Still it is not an issue in most child protection discussions, policies and measures. Till now majority of the Indians avoid it or deny it and ignore it. We have been an ostrich society.
Feminists in India have been are in the forefront among those who are ready to spell, explain, and act against incest abuse. There are lawyers and child rights activists as well who have been raising the issue. But even if we put together all such people, they are still not a critical mass and their views strong enough to be able to impact consciousness of the policymakers, police, lawyers, judges, teachers, schools, mental, physical and sexual health professionals, and all those who could take up the issue. In general incest abuse continues to be treated as a rarity rather than a norm.

Backlash against the victim or survivor of incest abuse or those who try to support the victim or survivor is commonplace. Family honour, social sniggering and abuse of other family members of the abused child and a lack of support mechanism and resources are major barriers that prevent the defence of the abused child - within the household and or from resorting to legal defence. More than often there is a counter attack on an abused child by the other family members, if the child dares to report or complain or raise the issue in any other form.

The Indian laws on sexual offences do not recognize incest abuse. For that matter, even the broader issue of child sexual abuse is not addressed by the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860, specifically Section 376 of the IPC. As of now recognition of sexual abuse is limited only to rape (read vaginal-penis intercourse) and sodomy. Any other form of rape and abuse is expressed as 'outraging the modesty' and is a bailable offence in the law (Section 354 of the IPC). The limitations of such a law reduce it to mere tokenism. Anomaly among several laws affecting children make it further easier for abuse of children in homes to go on.

There have been several talks of amendment of the IPC over the last two decades but till the profile of the issue is visible among those involved in advocacy and processing of the amendment, it is bound to be ignored.

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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Power is Money and Money is Power?

Paid Work. Photo Courtesy: Commonwealth Foundation

The road to equality in rights, in ability to exercise those rights, and in being able to obtain redress when rights are violated is a story of crossovers of human rights not often recognized. Often, protection of a particular right is seen as enough. For example, many believe that if women are ‘bestowed’ with economic rights it will end the discriminations against girls and violations of women’s human rights. The rationale behind this thinking is that money gives a person power. In other words, पैसा बोलता है!

It is correct that economic empowerment of the vast majority, especially in a poverty-ridden context such as India, is a critical need that must be met. More so when we have all data to see that the income gap has worsened in the last decade. But the limitations of the economic empowerment approach as an isolated-strategy, as far as girls and women are concerned, are also out there to see. The limitations exist in the form of dowry-murders of educated and employed women, double-whammy of paid work and unpaid household work that economically empowered women have to suffer, denial of certain civil rights like ‘equal parenthood’ to married/divorcee women, demands to write ‘father’s/husband’s name’ in any and every document with a bit of legality involved and so on. The fact that women who bring dowry get killed for bringing ‘less than expected dowry’ or ‘no more dowry’ shows that women, when it comes to money, are seen as conduits to bring money or sources of unpaid work that would save and build up money of their husband/father and the rest. This is why women have such poor control over their resources and income. This means that women's ability to earn an income or bring resources home cannot be equated with or assumed to mean control of income and an ability to own, use, and dispose material assets. The question is what is preventing women from using money as power ever so often?

Unpaid Work. Photo Courtesy:
Socio Economic Research Institute
At the immediate level, household relationships affect women's ability to control their income. Prevailing codes of gender relationships may place the husband/father/another male recognized as having rights over a women in control of all or some income/resources of a woman. Women are often not involved in the savings, investment or expenditure related discussions and decision-making. When their name is added to ownership documents, it is usually to benefit from the certain taxation policies. It is also not unusual to find that majority women are still given a fixed sum every month by their husbands to run the kitchen even if the income has been earned by women. And this does not happen only in the rural or urban slum areas.

The next level that affects women’s economic empowerment from bringing empowerment in the other realms of life can be called the neighbourhood or environmental barrier. This barrier varies in its controlling power from culture to culture, region to region, class to class and sometimes, a bit also from caste to caste.  But, on the whole, this barrier aims to ensure that women’s economic empowerment does not pose a threat to patriarchal family relations.  This barrier exists in the form of socio-cultural practices like early/child marriage; denial of women’s choices with regard to who they would like to marry or whether or not they would like to stay in a marriage; procreation being treated as women’s duty and  determining the number of and spacing between children a male preserve; recognizing descent through male lineage; dime-a-dozen festivals like karwa-chauth and teej, which tell women that they are nothing without their husbands or like raksha-bandhan or rakhi that tell girls they can’t protect themselves and will always need the protection of their brothers; and so on. This barrier works by establishing women as ‘dependents’ and thereby reducing their bargaining power vis-à-vis their male family members and in doing so not recognizing women as equal members of the society.

Agriculture Extension. Photo Courtesy:
Institute for Integrated Rural Development
At the outer level, because of the denial or repression of the social and cultural rights, the discrimination against women continues to be evident in the economic fields as well. This includes job market and entrepreneurship opportunities. Denial of equality in the social and cultural realms means that women, without male relatives, have limited access to social security; continue to be treated as unwanted children so either get killed in the womb or attract little investment in their health and education, and as a result, have high rates of illiteracy in comparison to men; and live in the extreme poverty and with social exclusion.

In terms of economic impact of the above, women come out as a lower-grade human resource who cannot either meet demands of the job market or match the requisites of the entrepreneurship opportunities because they lack in relevant skills and education and do not have collaterals of offer. Where women are qualified to meet these demands, they are seen as incapable because of gender stereotypes. Sometimes, the job market cannot reject women on grounds of qualifications or a perceived lack of capacity due to the affirmative legal provisions but employers still go ahead and under-pay or deny equal opportunities to women because they are confident that the justice system will be inaccessible to women. 

The cumulative impact of the above is also felt on their political participation, which is no small deal. Limited or restricted political participation affects women’s ability to protect and promote their rights through public policies, laws and oversight. It prevents them from holding their elected representatives and the governance system accountable to them.

The basic problem is that discrimination against girls and women is engrained the socio-cultural, economic and political fabric of the country. The discriminations are deep-seated beliefs and practices that have been institutionalized. They are what may be termed as structural inequalities. These inequalities are pervasive in all public and private spheres, including the economy, education, labour, health, justice and decision-making and so on. These inequalities do not occur in isolation rather crossover from one sector to another and act simultaneously.

So what do we take from the fact that women have less means than men to satisfy basic needs like education, training, food, access to housing and to the specialized health services, like, safe child-birth, pre and post natal medical facilities, contraception, and women specific diseases; that they are particularly vulnerable to physical and sexual violence; and that they have limited options when it comes to finding decent work and having a voice in shaping public in their countries? In my opinion, it shows the defeat of the isolated-strategies and calls for multi-pronged concerted strategies for promoting and protecting all of women’s human rights. 

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Monday, January 2, 2012

Dressed to Get Raped, They Said.

He said that the ‘others’ say that when women dress ‘fashionably’, they incite the onlookers. He further added that if what the ‘others’ say were not true, why the schools and colleges would stop them from wearing such clothing. He is the senior most police official of a metropolitan city in India. He knows ‘better’.

I thought that he is such a drab. At least, he could have been a little creative in ‘repeating’ what the others say. But then the Indian Police Services does not hire people for their creativity or their ability to analyze, and be resourceful and innovative in problem-solving. Not his fault when his society, his Police Service and those around him have either taught him to follow what is already laid down or tolerate what he says because he speaks from a position of power. Especially not when he claims that media misrepresented him and that what he said was a repetition of what the ‘others’ say. Now how can he distort what the others say! He can’t.   

So as ‘they’ say, women and girls invite molesters and rapists when they dress in a certain way – short or tight, off-shoulder or hipster, backless or cleavage revealing, and so on. Applying ‘their’ argument, in a country where about 40-50% of men are probably dhoti or lungi-clad with torso uncovered or covered with unbuttoned shirts or torn under-shirts, all the women who see these men should be on sexual high forever. Alas, no. What’s wrong with these men’s bare legs, chests, and all the other parts that some of them and some other fully dressed men keep flashing on little girls, big girls and women? Nothing, women do not have such needs; men need sex more, ‘they’ say. Now who can stop somebody from meeting a ‘need’ when it is so well-established that men have ‘more need’ and are not responsible for creating this ‘more need’. Perhaps this is why in so many parts of the world, the institutions of marriage, religion, culture and tradition, have formalized sexual slavery of women. Only lack of social intelligence can inhibit a person from seeing a ‘fact’ so clearly laid out and stated so often.

Now in these times, because of the men-hating feminist women and some insane feminist men so many rubbish laws have come up, which brand ‘meeting the need’ as sexual abuse or rape. When these simple acts of ‘meeting a need’ are branded as crimes, obviously the so-called rapists and sexual abusers are overwhelmingly men. It’s a trap laid out by these feminists, you see.

Isn’t worth wondering why these feminists make the so-called sexual violence their issue? After all, sometimes, when the little boys or young men appear more ‘dressed up’ for ‘meeting the need’, they are the ones who are ‘used to meet the need’. Shouldn’t feminists, if at all, raise it as an issue if the so-called victims were only girls and women; they can’t do so when they are predominantly girls and women? Why don’t these feminists teach girls and women to mind their clothing and be what they call ‘safe’? Why do they waste their time and others’ by asking frivolous question like ‘why do men rape and how can a society and governance system recognize, take action and stop it’?  How a society can stop them, when it’s a natural need that men have and a society is supposed to help its members meet their needs!

It would be so much easier for the men to control themselves, if girls and women, little boys and young boys do not sexually excite them. It is so easy for girls and women to mind their clothing and behaviour. After all, they are taught to fear, not to trust men, behave ‘decently’ and take all precautions, like not going out of the home or not going out alone, not playing and definitely not playing with boys and men, if out then not staying out late; not drinking or smoking, etc. It’s another thing that they may get sexually abused or raped in their homes. How long can men control themselves with little and big women pondering around them and some men have ‘much more need’ than the others. It may so happen that burqa-clad girls and women and women with ghunghat as down as to touch the ground, get sexually abused or raped. This is because there’s something inciting in their body movement and that is why women are taught to mind the way they walk, sit, get up or lie down from a young age. It may also happen that a seventy year old woman suddenly finds a man mounted on her. But such acts happening in homes with girls and women or with elderly women are aberrations. These incidents happen when the society fails to recognize and meet the rather ‘more frequent needs’. Sometimes, some women need to be taught a lesson or else the others’ start becoming careless about the teachings they receive. Sometimes, some girls and women need to be sexually abused or raped to teach a lesson to the men in their families. Men who are relatives, immediate relatives more so, have a responsibility to control the bodies and sexual conducts of ‘their’ girls and women and the way to discredit these men’s abilities is by showing that they have failed.

If only the feminists could see that what they call sexual violence or rape is ‘inevitable by-products’ of the way girls and women dress and behave!

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