Response to women's safety poll has been typically sexist and myopic; report should be studied, not vilified

Hannah Gadsby in her poignant new Netflix special Nanette, makes a compelling argument about man's relationship with the idea of reputation. She iterates, and with legit examples of men in positions of power, who have diminishing relationships with their own humanity, only to be able to hold on to their precious reputation. This, she tells us angrily, should be the butt of all jokes.

Closer home in India, the joke hits home. A perception study recently conducted by Thomson Reuters Foundation that maps India as the most unsafe country for women, has become the subject of much debate. While it is a matter of concern that India's position on this index has worsened in the last seven years (it ranked number four in 2011), the debate has very conveniently veered towards whether India deserves the alleged crown.

The much-scrutinised survey ranks Indian women at the highest risk of sexual violence, human trafficking and dangers from regressive traditions, among a total of six domains. Mathematically speaking, India's cumulative scores by the parameters of measurement — healthcare, discrimination, cultural traditions, sexual violence, non-sexual violence and human trafficking — charts India at the extreme end of the high-risk zone for women. While that merely technically makes India the most unsafe country, the joke is still on us.

Instead of using the perception study as an indicator of the confidence global opinion makers have about women's issues in India, we've jumped onboard to do what we do best, vilify the survey for its intentions.

women-in-india_reutersIn one such exemplary article, the author does not just question the validity of the recent survey but goes on to dismiss it altogether as "a load of crock". Instead of inquiring what the parameters of assessment were, the article claims that there were none and makes the conclusion that given the survey was conducted by an international agency it is flawed, skewed and has ulterior motives.

The study though, if one bothers to do as little research as is enabled by three clicks from the very article in question, details out in their methodology — the questions and the responses collected from precisely 548 experts who work on women's issues, including aid and development professionals, academics, health workers, policymakers, non-government organisation workers, journalists, and social commentators, on the aforementioned subject. A quick look at the questions will tell you it's a perception study.

Not taking any of the above into account, the said article alleges that such data-based insights are "grossly hurtful, far too casual and slippery in their conclusions." However, having dismissed the survey for the lack of empirical evidence, the author goes to cite arbitrary numbers like "95 percent of Indian men respect their women, take care of their families and are good providers (as much as possible)" from what seems like a fanciful imagination. The author seems to make a point of the fact that while no country is a pinnacle of safety for women, India isn't that bad. Sadly though, as someone more biologically qualified to respond to concerns about women's safety, I'd beg to differ (along with the 548 other respondents).

Much of sexual predatory behaviour has been normalised in India — men staring, groping, flashing women in public spaces is a sight we are de-sensitised towards. We've learnt to expect at least a few abominable instances of rape, or better still gang-rape, flag our news feed everyday, and yes, while that does indicate that reporting has gone up, individual instances of rape or sexual violence have not gone down. Every time we leave the house we've to double check to make sure we're carrying our pepper sprays and our bravest-selves.

Our workplaces are designed around men and new maternity regulations that purportedly support women, encourage companies to *not* hire women. Our periods are taxed, and god forbid we want to take that first day of period leave — how fervently we have to defend our feminism. Our choice of clothing has to defy the standards of sleaze in our men, or else we "are asking for it". Even the country's most adored women, actors and journalists included, are acceptable only till the time they toe the line and are okay with the objectification bestowed upon them — the moment they have a voice or an opinion, or demand equal pay as their male counterparts, or *gasp gasp* allude to masturbating on screen, trolls unleash upon them the choicest of abuses, most of which are rape threats. Those that aren't, are either directed to her genitals and what she chooses to do with them.

And these are only some of the problems that we, the urban women with access and agency, face. When you move further into the heartlands, feminism is a battle for survival there — one half of the 68.84 percent is fighting merely to live another day, be that from the vestiges of dowry related violence or poor maternal care or from being ravaged and beaten by a drunk husband or neighbours. Everyone likes to have a go at the women, because the established narrative states that it is through decimating her, one can establish superiority.

Like it or not, we are still very much living in a country where half of its population is treated as second class citizens. As a nation-loving Indian women, we have learnt to accept it all, for India is progressing — very slowly, though not steadily, "allowing" it's women to become a part of the mainstream narrative. When some of us protest that this said progress is far too slow, or question the validity of being "allowed", we're told to sit down, shut our traps and behave like women are supposed to. However, every now and then, there will come a report that will take into account expert opinions and empirical data and put a number to the collective fiction that we call woman empowerment.

While it might be true (however sad) that there are no countries devoid of violence against women, there are many who have managed to substantially reduce it. Countries like Sweden, and Kenya are doing much to inculcate gender sensitive education amongst the youth, which goes on to say that there is much to learn from. And while Thomson Reuters Foundation's survey might not be gospel, it sure is a good indicator of how fragile the perception of women's safety in our nation is. Maybe if we focused on what could be done, instead of asking why we are behind of a Somalia, Pakistan or Syria, every woman you bother to ask might someday not have a horror story to tell.


Updated Date: Jun 28, 2018 15:17 PM

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