Violence against women and girls has become frontpage news across the world. The breaking of silence and the global outrage that the #MeToo movement in the US has triggered globally shows the pervasiveness of the problem, and we hope it will become a tipping point for awareness and accountability. When estimates show that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives, reporting of the stories and ending the culture of silence and impunity are long overdue. Despite zero tolerance policies, and new and innovative measures to end violence against women and girls, less than 40% of women who experience violence seek help of any sort. Among women who do, most look within their families and communities as very few turn to formal institutions and mechanisms such as police and health services.
I moved to India in 2013, and had the opportunity to see how such outrage can lead to real action by the government when laws were changed following the 2012 Nirbhaya case. Looking back after five years, we need to take stock of whether those changes have taken effect and what have been the results.
Mixed bag on progress since 2012
A UN treaty that is critical in assessing the progress of the government in eliminating discrimination and ending violence against women is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW, often referred to as the ‘women’s bill of rights’, is a core international human rights treaty, detailing the state’s responsibilities towards women’s human rights. As the Government of India has ratified the convention, regular reports on the progress of the government in eliminating discrimination have been submitted to the CEDAW Committee in Geneva.
In 2014, when the government last reported to the CEDAW Committee, the observations on the report resulted in comprehensive recommendations for implementation of equality and non-discrimination against women across diverse issues and themes. As part of its obligations under CEDAW, the government was expected to undertake a follow up review in 2016 of recommendations identified by the Committee as practical and easily implementable within a period of two years. The review covers the Justice Verma Committee recommendations; efficiency of the police to address violence against women; establishment of one-stop crisis centers; review of legislation on sexual violence; training on women’s rights in the military and armed forces; women’s inclusion in peace negotiations; and removing restrictions on the work of human rights defenders.
Taking stock of progress on the CEDAW recommendations, we find great achievements along with gaps in implementation and financial allocations.
In recent years the government has prioritised ending discrimination and violence against women and girls as seen through programmes like Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao as well as schemes targeting son preference and ending gender-biased sex selection. The government has committed to establishing One Stop Centres which provide victims/survivors of violence with free and immediate access to medical attention, psychological counselling, legal aid, shelters and other support services. While originally the centres were expected in each district of every state, this was revised and currently, 166 centres have been established from among the 182 that have been planned for over two phases. This drop in the target would make it difficult for women to access the centres, as they would have to travel a considerable distance within their state to seek help. However, there were increased allocations for one-stop centres over the previous year (2016-17) by 20%, which foreshadows a more hopeful future.
Also as part of India’s continuing efforts to strengthen the relevant legal frameworks within the country, India unveiled a comprehensive draft legislation aimed at Prevention and Protection of Trafficking of Persons and the Rehabilitation of Trafficked persons in 2016. The draft Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2016, aims to provide a comprehensive anti-trafficking law, prioritise the needs of and protect the victims.
The Data Gap
To complement the legislative steps being undertaken by the government, priority will also need to be given to collecting, collating, analysing and disseminating reliable, comparable and anonymised data and statistics on prevalence of violence against on a regular basis as they can lead to better-informed laws, policies and programmes.
In addition to recommending changes to address violence against women and girls, the CEDAW Committee also encouraged the Government of India to invest in sensitisation of police and security forces and the inclusion of women in peacekeeping and as peace mediators.
According to the data available with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), women comprise only 2.04 per cent of the paramilitary forces. Forces like the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Border Security Force (BSF), Indo-Tibetan Border Police ( ITBP), Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) and Assam Rifles together constitute a 9.8 lakh-strong force. Of these, only 19,575 are women. The Government of India has now recommended 33 per cent reservation for women in the police and the paramilitary. “States need to push 33 per cent reservation for women in police forces. Women police station is not a complete solution,” Minister of Women and Child, Maneka Gandhi said while addressing a workshop on schemes related to women and child.
India and Women Peacekeepers
On India’s contribution to international peacekeeping, the Government of India has expressed a strong commitment to a Zero Tolerance Policy on sexual violence and abuse. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a speech at the UN Summit in 2015, reiterated India’s commitment to gender equality, stating, “India’s commitment to UN Peacekeeping remains strong and will grow. We have announced… additional three police units with a higher representation of female peacekeepers; commitment to provide critical enablers; and, additional training for peacekeepers at our facilities in India and in the field.”
To this end, India has partnered with UN Women since 2015 toward a capacity building initiative where the New Delhi-based Centre for UN Peacekeeping (CUPNK) has already conducted three UN Female Military Officers Courses for women military officers from 26 countries.
Almost a decade ago, in 2007, India deployed the first ever all-women police unit for peacekeeping with the UNMIL Mission in Liberia. Since this successful experience, there has been a marginal increase in the overall number of women peacekeepers. However, India is committed to fulfilling the pledge to have 15 per cent women as military observers in UN peacekeeping operations, and to provide another all-female formed police unit.
Women’s representation in the security sector results in a gender equal force that advances the principle of gender justice; women’. Women’s participation has also been found to significantly lower rates of complaints of misconduct, significantly lower rates of improper use of force, or inappropriate use of weapons, and women are less authoritarian in their interactions with citizens and lower ranking officers. Women in peacekeeping operations have been found to increase the credibility of forces, gain access to communities and vital information, and lead to an increase in reporting of sexual and gender based crimes.
Despite the commitment to increase women’s representation, tangible changes need to be made in the way that security forces, including UN peacekeeping approach human rights monitoring, training, force generation, support to rule of law, security sector reform, and disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes to tackle entrenched gender inequality in mission contexts.
The changes in laws and introduction of government initiatives to address violence against women and girls will depend on an end to the culture of impunity and through ensuring zero tolerance towards violence. All of us as responsible citizens can be game changers and mass movement builders. We have a key role to play in amplifying the voices of those most vulnerable, whose voices are not always heard and who are excluded from decision making. We have a role to play in ensuring the government remains accountable to the people and brings about real change in the lives of women and girls. We need to work collectively to seize this unique opportunity to galvanise our efforts towards the successful achievement of the CEDAW recommendations, and eliminate violence against women and girls for good.
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