by Dhairya Nagpal, CPRG
The recent case of the Hyderabad gang rape has ignited a debate on social justice and how strengthening the law might help in reducing the number of crimes against women. There are many people who are demanding a change in law and asking for the inclusion of capital punishment for the perpetrators of the crime. One particular MP in Rajya Sabha even went to the extent of suggesting mob justice for all the accused.
But there is one particular flaw with all these approaches. That is, they have not been very helpful in achieving their aim of deterring cases of gender-based violence. In 2012, after the infamous Nirbhaya gang-rape case, the rape laws were tightened and the quantum of punishment was increased, but since then, the number of crimes against women has only increased. In 2012, the number of rape cases reported was 24,923. After 2012, the laws were made more rigorous, but the latest data from NCRB reveals that in 2017, the number of rape cases reported was 32,559. This is much more than the 2012 level. This clearly shows that harsher laws are not the right answer for effective deterrence.
When it comes to gender-based violence against women and girls, there are other ways to improve the situation. These ways don’t involve amending laws, rather these methods include economic development and social awareness. There is enough evidence in economic literature which proves that economic development walks hand in hand with social justice. One of these examples includes the adoption of a microfinance scheme aimed directly at providing easy credit to women to make them entrepreneurs.
An example of South Africa’s Intervention for the Microfinance for AIDS and Gender Equality (IMAGE) has shown the effectiveness of microfinance in tackling the problem of gender-based violence against women. A randomized controlled test found that participants reported 55% fewer cases of violence by their intimate partners than did the members of a control group.
There is evidence from Bangladesh also. The Grameen Bank and the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) Rural Development programs have shown a lot of promise when it comes to curbing crimes against women perpetrated by their intimate partners. Women benefitted from the easy access of microfinance as it helped in improving the status of the family as the women got more resources into the family. And, participation in the economy allowed women to have a greater social life, which makes them more visible in society. Data has shown that the adoption of the MFI scheme has helped in improving the overall situation also. Level of intimate partner violence among the non-participating women has also come down in towns where there is a significant presence of women who were a participant of the MFI program. In the case of India also, there is evidence that the microfinance approach has helped in empowering women by increasing their income.
But what constitutes as women empowerment can be very vague. It is very difficult to give an exact definition of what constitutes empowerment and even more difficult to determine the level of empowerment that has been achieved. But that doesn’t mean that there is no progress. Various surveys conducted of women who were participants of the microfinance scheme indicate that the participants have seen a rise in their income. With an increased ability to contribute to the resources of the family, it has led to reduced cases of domestic violence as shown above.
The second way to reduce gender-based violence, the second case is of community intervention. With the statistics indicating that the mere passing of laws does not have any positive effect on curbing gender-based violence, it has become very important now that this issue is solved from a different perspective.
The school-based intervention aims to teach the students about the importance of gender equality before it is too late and gender stereotypes are etched in children’s behaviours. This kind of intervention is particularly important as gender-based violence and bullying are the most prevalent in schools. This can have grave impacts on the physical and the mental health of the students, leading to many detrimental effects.
There are researches that indicate that it is very important that this school-based violence is addressed in the early years of the school. The school authorities have to focus on reducing the aggressive attitude of the students. Apart from this, it is important that the management of the schools are given more teeth so that they can take strict action against the bully and make sure that the victim gets all the support from the school management. The school should also have a mechanism that encourages the victims of such violence to not hesitate to report it to the authorities. Presence of a school counsellor will go a long way in making sure that victims don’t slide into depression and their academic and personal life is not affected because of this.
But the most important of all of this is inculcating into the students an attitude against bullying itself. In most cases, perpetrators of such acts are mostly men or boys. Nowadays, it is the thinking of most of the boys that asserting their dominance through physical means will make them look more manly. This definition of machoism has to be changed for the students. It is the job of the school as well as the parents to make their children realize that this is not the definition of masculinity. Schools can have a joint consultative session with the students and the parents to bring awareness to this issue. These sessions should be made compulsory for everyone to attend.
There is one very interesting research conducted in India that can be used as a good example here. The research focuses on using cricket coaches to curb gender-based violence and gender inequality. Given that cricket is the most popular sport in India, many kids aspire to become a cricketer. Thus, for these aspiring cricketers, the word of their cricket coach is the law. They have the utmost respect for their coach. What can be done is to adopt the US-based idea of “Coaching Boys Into Men” (CBIM) program. CBIM in the US aims at encouraging coaches of different sports to talk directly to their athletes about gender equality and making them understand the importance of respecting girls. The program also tries to curb the aggressive attitude that some athletes have. But to achieve this in an effective way, there is a need to educate the coaches first themselves so that they can first identify this kind of behaviour by their own students and learn how to approach their students regarding such critical issues.
Given the ineffectiveness of the law to deter gender-based violence, these two methods ought to be adopted to indicate a change in strategy and show the willingness of the government and the community to try to make a difference.