This story was first published in SheThePeople.
I am reeling from a series of recent terrible news: A 28-year-old raping his 8-month-old baby cousin; a man raping his 15-year-old house maid in front of his family; and a group of men pulling a 22-year-old woman out of her parked car and raping her in front of her family. A few days ago, a 6 year old died after suspected sexual assault. These incidents show the worst side of humans.
Even though five years have passed since Jyoti Singh was gang raped on a bus in Delhi causing huge public outrage, we still hear of gruesome crimes against babies, young girls, women or even old ladies! Sometimes the stories are so overwhelming, that one wonders if we can even push the needle on the issue.
Yet, we must not give up and we must push forward. If each of us does these five things, maybe in a decade sexual violence will be a thing of the past.
Treat women and girls with respect and not as commodities. Today, we still live in a world where women and girls are seen as commodities and tools to be used, either to be traded in marriage or worse still, as an income earner for her body.
Bring up your sons and daughters equally. Give your daughters the right to speak up and be heard. Allow her to explore her true potential and not impose your own restrictions on her movement, education, career and life’s choices.
Check your sons for toxic masculinity. We cannot continue with the hypocritical standard of “Boys will be boys” and excusing “locker room” talk. Toxic masculinity, misogyny and patriarchy are all contributors to sexual violence and pressurises men and boys to conform to its weak standards whilst making it difficult to challenge their bro-culture. But if you encourage and educate them at an early age to be sensitive, gender inclusive and empathetic, we might have a different culture amongst men.
Condemn all forms of violence and be an active bystander. Many of us turn a blind eye, not wanting to intervene lest we interfere in private matters. However, on its own, violence is not going to disappear. Prevention of it has to be part of the design of policies of government and organisations and in our collective active conscience.
Report sexual violence. We need data and statistics to push for accountability. Whilst each case is shocking and merits action, unfortunately it gets lost in the overload of “news”. It is only when confronted with the enormity of the situation through data and facts, that governments and institutions are more likely to react and make the change.
My organisation and many others conduct various workshops on prevention of sexual violence and awareness of legal rights. Many participants have found it useful to attend these sessions because it helps them think through the spectrum of sexual violence, understand the legislation under which their rights are protected and redressal mechanisms available to them. Several of them have reported back on how they could no longer silently accept harassment and gave them courage to call out their perpetrator or seek redressal. Most of the men attending these sessions have committed to intervening when they witness such harassment and also counselling their colleagues on potential behaviour that could be termed as harassment. These are concrete ways in which we are engaging people to be agents of change and break the culture of silence around sexual harassment.
If you have any further suggestions on how we can tackle this problem, I would love to hear from you. Let’s use the current momentum of the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns to push for a better, safer and more inclusive world.