Monday, December 24, 2012

Ched Chaad Kyon? Atyachhar Kyon?

The last few days have seen a number of protests against the most brutal violence perpetrated against a woman. The doctors said that they have never seen such gruesome injuries in a sexual assault. It is no surprise that it woke us up from our slumber and made us to take to the streets asking for death for the perpetrators, action against the lax policemen and justice for the woman.  I hope all this angst and collective action would see quick, appropriate and stern action against the criminals.

Yet, I feel very agitated and sort of lost. Last night I was at Thane railway station, with my 11 year old niece, who was just lost in her own world just having fun with us. A girl who is on the threshold of adolescence not yet told to behave like a “Grown-Up Girl”. A man in his forties was ogling at her. I was shocked and started staring at him to make him know that he is being observed and the mother of the child also joined me in staring at him.  He averted his gaze and started looking at her surreptitiously. We could see that he was self conscious and was ashamed.

Why did I find his gaze only objectionable and not of the others? What would be the reaction of the others if I say that he is ogling at the child? Will I have anybody supporting me? Don’t you think people will say that I am reading too much into it and that my activism is going out of control? More importantly, if he could ogle at a child with such impunity in a public place when she is in the company of her family, will any girl be safe in this city?

I always wonder why we always ask only the women/girls who face such violence to take action or the police and judiciary to respond quickly. What about us who are ‘safe’ for the time being? What is our collective responsibility to make our spaces safe for girls and women?  Eve teasing is fun, it is a lesser evil, it is harm less, it is part of growing up – any number of justifications to let it pass. Men who misbehave say rubbing against women in public places, groping, pinching and squeezing are all unintentional, harmless physical encounters in crowded public places. Every woman and girl knows how humiliating and disgusting it is.

Yes, I do agree that girls/women should lodge complaints, police should take quick action and courts should ensure that such criminals do not go scot free. But, who is going to work for a social environment where there is zero tolerance for such behavior, where woman/girl feel empowered enough to lodge complaints and police are sensitive enough to take them seriously? When do we take the time to simply stop and stare and make a person conscious of the fact that he is being watched and his misbehavior is being noted instead of looking the other way or walking away unconcerned? Just imagine 30 pairs of eyes looking at a violator and making him feel isolated, marginalized and self conscious?  The behavior could be leering, whistling, hooting, passing comments or the so called inadvertent touch. There should be zero tolerance for all. We as passersby, users of public spaces should reclaim these spaces for ourselves and not yield to others who indulge in such violence.  If we react only when there is a ghastly crime the impact is limited to only that particular incident, as action is initiated under public pressure and media activism.

Anti-smoking campaign became successful in marginalizing the smokers, only when the smokers claimed their right to smoke free public spaces. We can learn from it. We will have safe public spaces only when men and women, boys and girls have zero tolerance for any kind of violence.

It was heartening to see many men shouting slogans and supporting the woman fighting for her life and asking for death for the perpetrators of the crime. What is the tolerance threshold of these young men? At what level does violence against women bother them? Do they react only when it happens to their friends, girl friends, sisters or other family members or do they react anywhere and anytime the same way? What is harmless Ched Chad? How do they define atyachhaar? It is important to know, because they are critical players in making the world safe for us all by building a culture of zero-tolerance to violence.

The latest Delhi incident has shaken us out of our stupor, with not just the activists but common men and women joining the protests. Let’s not lose steam. Let’s keep asking the question Ched Chad Kyon? Hinsachhar Kyon? Atyachar Kyon? at every possible forum and context. Promote critical thinking in schools and colleges on gender violence and come up with strategies at the micro level to combat the problem in housing societies, in local area management committees, at street corners, railway stations, bus stands and what have you. We cannot let go of it as yet another exceptional case, but make it the turning point to redefine how we view violence against women.

(A small attempt is made by Laadli under its Question Everything initiative where students raised questions regarding gender violence through 1 minute movies. View them at and please feel free to use the films to initiate discussion on gender violence. There is also a powerful play titled “Ched Chad Kyon” by Mr. Manjul Bhardwaj ( which could also be used to initiate discussions on gender violence with the youth.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Time to act

It is heartening to read about the recent directive of High Court to the Maharashtra Medical Council to suspend the registration of doctors against whom charges have been filed. It  is yet another positive development in our fight against pre-birth sex selection.

We at Population First believe that majority of doctors may not be actively involved in sex determination but it is their silence which puts the whole profession under suspicion, often calling for drastic measures that may abridge the freedom of all doctors.  If MCI, the State Medical Councils,  FOGSI and IMA were proactive in exerting pressure on their fellow professionals who were  misusing the pre-natal diagnostic techniques for sex determination, I am sure the sex ratios would not have come down so drastically. Instead the professional regulatory bodies refused to take action citing violations of the PCPNDT act as minor oversights rather than blatant disregard for the law.

Not displaying the board regarding the crime of pre-birth sex selection and the registration certificate, not having a copy of the PCPNDT act, and not filling the F Form are all violations which are as serious as disclosing the sex of the foetus under the Act. The courts as well as the monitoring Appropriate Authorities also often considered these as minor offenses letting out the violators with a fine. This had grossly undermined the law.

The MMC, FOGSI and Radiologists Associations refused to suspend or cancel the registration of the doctors even when the courts have convicted the doctors. They insist that an internal inquiry should prove them to be guilty to initiate action which challenges the very judicial process. Often the culprits go for an appeal in higher courts and continue to practice with cases pending in the court. It is often argued by the regulatory bodies that corrupt government officials and NGOs file cases to  harass and blackmail doctors, therefore an internal inquiry is needed to initiate any action.

In the light of this, it is heartening to note that judiciary in Maharashtra is taking up the issue more seriously and had convicted a  number of doctors even for the so called "minor offenses" often refusing bail to them. It has issued directives to the Government, Appropriate Authorities and now to the regulatory bodies to get into action and do their jobs well.

The laudable efforts of the judiciary should be supported by all who believe that discrimination based on gender is the worst form of discrimination, that does not  reflect well on a society that aspires to be one of world's super power.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Translate Gender Commitments into Budgetary Commitments:  Gender Audit of Union Budget 2012-13

Dr. Vibhuti Patel, Director, PGSR, SNDT Women’s University,

In order to guarantee that gender commitments are converted into financial commitments and gender mainstreaming of policy, programme and schemes; the government of India introduced gender budgeting in 2004. In the Union Budget 2012-13, Ministry of Women and Child Development has been allocated Rs.18500 crore (2012-13 BE), an increase of 15 % at current prices as compared to previous year’s Revised Estimate of Rs.16100 crore (2011-12). The total magnitude of the Gender Budget (outlays earmarked for women) has declined from 6.1 percent (2010-11 Budget Estimate) to 5.8 percent (2011-12 Revised Estimate). Further, there is a marginal increase of 0.1 percent in 2012-13 over the previous year. The coverage of ‘Gender Budgeting Statement’ in terms of the number of Union Government ministries/departments reporting in the Gender Budgeting Statement has remained stagnant at 33 for the sixth consecutive year. Except for the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, there is no new addition. For past five years the women’s groups have been demanding review of the format of the Gender Budgeting Statement. But no progress has been made in this direction. Moreover, the current budget has not answered long standing demands of women’s groups and gender economists with respect to budgetary allocation for:

• implementation of Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostics Techniques (PCPNDT) Act. to halt declining child sex ratio by judicious implementation of PCPNDT Act, 2002
• implementation of Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
• complete utilization of 30% girls’ component within Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and special budgetary allocation for public education and increased publicity drive in print and audio visual media.
• salaries of crèche teacher and helper in the schools. In all schools, one room should be converted into crèche so that poor girls with younger siblings to look after can leave them in the crèche and attend the classes
 • enhanced budgetary allocation for Public distribution System (PDS) strengthened with good quality of food grains, oil and soap to ensure better nutritional standards
 • protection and rehabilitation of child workers and children in difficult circumstances such as street children, trafficked children.
• Social security and social protection for women in the informal sector, Small Scale Industries, FTZs, EPZs, SEZs Construction workers, rag pickers, scavengers, food-processing industries, sweat shops and garment industry must be ensured social security. Budgetary allocation for implementation of Unorganised Sector Social Security and Social Protection Act, 2008 is imperative.
 • For Vocational Training Institutions for women to impart them skills in non-conventional areas
 • increasing access to information, finance, training and marketing for women entrepreneurs, SHGs, vendors and self employed women. Women entrepreneurs and traders must be given priority while allotting of shops by public sector and local government
 • providing Crèche facilities, working women’s hostels and short stay homes
 • Constructing night shelters with toilets and baths for homeless women and girls with the help of centrally sponsored schemes as well as state financial allocation.
 • Community based half way homes, working women’s hostels and multi-purpose activity centres to meet variety of needs of women and girls. Half way homes and counseling centres must be created to address problems faced by elderly Women and women who are physically challenged.
• supporting women headed households (FHHs) managed by widows, deserted, divorced and single in the area of education, health, housing and skill development.
• generate Gender Disaggregated Data to address strategic gender needs and practical gender needs of women in Mumbai.
• Affirmative action to protect interests of women in difficult circumstances such as child prostitutes, homeless women, street girls, abducted girls, child brides, women suffering from HIV/AIDS, single women and elderly women.
• Safe transport in terms of special buses and local trains for women
• Well maintained Public toilets for women

 The Steering Committee on Women’s Agency and Empowerment for the 12th Plan had suggested several important interventions to address the gender based disadvantages confronting girls and young as well as elderly women. The Ministry of Women and Child Development has launched helpline for women, development of distance learning programme on women’s rights, implementation of Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, relief to and rehabilitation of rape victims but the amount allocated for these schemes is grossly inadequate. There is no financial allocation for Swayamsidha Phase II for self employed women and women entrepreneurs that was considered by the 11th Plan as the main agency for women’s empowerment. For most of the existing schemes, the outlays are extremely low as compared to those proposed by the Steering Committee on Women’s Agency and Empowerment for the 12th Plan. Allocations for schemes such as STEP, Hostels for Working Women and Priyadarshini have registered a marginal increase over the previous year in spite of year 2012-13 being the first year of 12th Five Year Plan.

 Most of the government flagship schemes continue to rely on underpaid labour of women. In the Budget 2012-13 also, while the role of ASHAs – the backbone of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) has been enlarged further, there is no mention by the Finance Minister to regularize their services. ASHAs will continue to get performance based remuneration and targets they are able to fulfill.

 The only saving grace in this budget is efforts by the Department of Science and Technology, traditionally perceived as male bastion. DST has launched several missions exclusively targeting women in order to promote women’s participation in scientific and technical fields, to promote women’s empowerment and to enhance women’s capabilities and choices. The new scheme of DST, ‘Disha’ in the Union budget 2012-13 is envisaged to facilitate the mobility of women scientists.There is an urgent need to replicate such efforts by other ministries based on practical ad strategic gender needs of girls and women.

Considering the large numbers of women in unpaid work and women’s central role to the care economy; adequate resource allocations need to be made to support women’s care roles. In the absence of sex disaggregated data, evaluation of schemes through a gender lens or any effort at strengthening gender dimensions of existing schemes poses a big question. So, provision of such data should be prioritized. In the light of the present agrarian crisis and the changing face of agriculture being highly gendered, the vulnerability of women farmers in particular needs attention in the larger context of food security.

Considering the huge gender disparities in land ownership patterns, women’s access to land needs to be strengthened immediately. This could be done by (a) improving women’s claims to family land (by enhancing legal awareness on inheritance laws, provide legal support services, etc.); (b) improving access to public land by ensuring that all land transfers for poverty alleviation, resettlement schemes, etc., recognize women’s claims; (c) Improving women’s access to land via market through provision of subsidized credit to poor, by encouraging group formation for land purchase or lease by poor women, etc.

Women’s rights organizations in India have demanded that the Government should ensure adequate gender budgeting in all ministries and departments, enact a comprehensive Food Security Bill, ensure universal PDS as a core component, allocate 6% of GDP for Health, allocate 6% of GDP for education, make budgetary allocation to cover special schemes for women workers, increase allocation for women farmers, enhance resource allocation for tribal, dalit, and minority women and increase budgetary support for schemes to assist women-headed households and differently abled women. The target of 30% gender allocations under all ministries has not yet been achieved. This must be implemented immediately. There is need for gender audit and gender outcome appraisal of all ministries and departments at the central and state levels. Very often, resource allocations made under gender budgeting do not reach in time and they remain unspent. There should be proper monitoring and supervision of the allocated funds with greater transparency and accountability at all levels.