How women self-help groups can help curb domestic violence

A gender-just society can only be achieved when masses collectively condemn violence towards women.

 |  4-minute read |   25-05-2020
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Amid the Covid-19 lockdown around the world, there has been an unhealthy surge of violence against women in many countries, weighing down local law enforcement. Globally, the figure of affected women could easily cross over an estimate of 30 million in the next six months, according to the United Nations. In India alone, the complaints received by the National Commission for Women have doubled to 257 complaints in the first 10 days of the lockdown, as compared to 116 complaints registered in the first week of March.

Stock responses and strategies

Over the years, the key strategic response of countries pertaining to domestic violence has been heavy criminalisation of offences by laying down stringent punitive measures and penalties on the abuser. However, such strong coercive measures against gender-related offences cannot be a standalone solution to tackling the complex issue of crimes against women. According to Dr Prabha Kotiswaran, Professor of Law and Social Justice at King's College London, harsher laws seem to be a poor deterrent. As in any other law, the certainty of punishment has a bigger deterrent impact. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA) was envisaged initially as a civil remedy against issues of domestic violence, as the certainty of punishment is low and trials are harder on victims.

main_domestic-violen_052520113915.jpgThere has been an unhealthy surge of violence against women during the Covid-19 lockdown. (Photo: Reuters)

There is increasing evidence in several nations and experiences of civil societies that interventions to bring about behavioural change in the abuser at a culture-cognitive level has been an effective supportive strategy in tackling gender-related violence. In India, the legislation for addressing domestic violence is victim-centred in its approach, weighing heavily towards criminalisation under section 498-A of the Indian Penal Code with little thrust on engagement with the perpetrators. However, considering the peculiar situation of the victims being compelled to stay within the same confines as the abuser due to lockdown and their inability to run out to police stations to file complaints due to restrictions on movement, there were calls for declaring all services under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA) as “essential” besides having separate shelter homes and psychological support for the survivors. This was unprecedented.

There was also a call for exploring the possibility of involving the perpetrators in the process of prevention of these gender atrocities by extending reformative measures to them. The practices of engagement with men in efforts to prevent violations can take place in primarily two ways: by introducing therapeutic intervention, and by encouraging men’s participation in programmes denouncing gender-related violence.

In the context of the first approach, the scope of extending counselling services to offenders is very limited under the PWDVA Act in India. Such measures are targeted only towards women, but it does little to change the household environment in which she could be stuck with the perpetrator and his family members during the lockdown. The practical realities regarding available redressal systems on the ground appear to be grim given the lack of human resources, police personnel, and the inadequate number of shelter homes.

The second approach focuses on the prevention of violence before it occurs by engaging men in awareness-raising programmes through campaigns on social media and television. Civil societies and quasi-state interventions have increasingly adopted these methods. Their experience suggests that sensitisation measures with men and young boys have been effective in deterring atrocities against women.

Towards a gender-just society

While the emphasis on criminal liability in legislations has been efficacious in ensuring deterrence of atrocities, a gender-just society could be achieved when masses collectively condemn violence towards women. This vision can come true with policy-backing to programmes, creating behavioural change in the perpetrators, leading to unlearning of deeply ingrained patriarchal beliefs, especially with offenders. Counselling services, a key part of the state’s response mechanism to the aggrieved woman, should also be made mandatory for perpetrators throughout the period of lockdown.

In rural areas, already proven community models such as women-led self-help groups, village-level community-based organisations and community courts could be leveraged for mandatory counselling of the perpetrators, resolution of conflicts, psychological support, and creation of sensitisation around the issue. This could be helpful in easing stress and tension in the household since community-based surveillance can be real-time, continuous, and brings in ownership of the entire community to this exercise rather than just the affected family.

Also read: What India must to do to save women from domestic violence under lockdown

Writer

Amar Patnaik Amar Patnaik @amar4odisha

The writer is a Rajya Sabha MP. He is also the national spokesperson and head of BJD's IT wing.

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