Thursday, December 4, 2014


Written by Raakhee Suryaprakash for the 16 Days of Activism against Violence against Women

any sexual act or an attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments, or advances, acts to traffic or otherwise directed, against a person's sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim in any setting, including but not limited to home and work
     WHO Definition of Sexual Violence
Patriarchy is a social system in which: males hold primary power; males predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property; fathers or father-figures hold authority over women and children. It implies the institutions of male domination and entails female subordination.
     Wikipedia on Patriarchy

I believe that our patriarchal conditioning is the tap root of the weed called sexual violence against women which is chocking the lives, productivity, and happiness of women everywhere. It manifests itself in incidents such as the Bengali Khap Panchayat ordering the gang-rape of a girl by her neighbours in a tribal village for daring to have a relationship with an outsider. Why this complicity, tolerance, and indifference to the subjugation of the fairer sex?

Patriarchy Conditions & Condones Sexual Aggressions
On October 25th Iran hung a 26-year-old woman four years after she was put behind bars for killing a doctor who sexually attacked her. Appeals, mercy petitions, and high-profile campaigns to pardon her were all in vain. The eldest son of the murdered doctor stated that his family “would not even contemplate mercy until truth is unearthed … Only when her true intentions are exposed and she tells the truth about her accomplice and what really went down will we be prepared to grant mercy.”

As of October 2014, 85 U.S. colleges and universities are under investigation for mishandling sexual assault cases, leading to the White House launching the "It's On Us" campaign, an initiative intended to reduce the prevalence of sexual assault on campuses and raise awareness about the issue while improving sexual assault prevention and response programs on-campus.

September-October is India’s festival season where we celebrate the power of the primordial mother goddess Shakti in her myriad forms over Navratri; prosperity and the victory of Good over Evil over the festivals of Diwali and Kanda Shasti. Yet even as we celebrate the supreme goddess and the victory of Good, the plight of women in our predominantly patriarchal society is blighted by the insidious and ubiquitous evil in the form of violence against women, particularly sexual violence against women.

The same day the hanging of Reyhaneh Jabbari was reported in my newspaper there was a report in the state news page that an 18-year-old girl was arrested in rural Tamil Nadu for poisoning her father and his friends, it was reported that the girl who had just recently attained majority decided to kill her father by mixing poison in his Diwali-celebratory liquor as he made sexual advances toward her.  Even worse in India’s financial capital Mumbai there was a disturbing report about the requirements for passport details. The lady advocate appearing for the foreign ministry of the Government of India, in reply to a query of the Bombay high court judges regarding a petition by a woman regarding the passport authority’s refusal to include her step-father’s name there said, “an unwed mother must file an affidavit stating ‘how she has conceived’ and ‘if she was raped’ and why she does not want the father's name included.”

My own brush with the mindless patriarchal biases of bureaucracy: as part of the visa application process while planning a European holiday for my mother and myself (both of us financially independent working women!!) we had to get a No-Objection-Certificate from my father who isn’t interested in foreign travel and wasn’t holidaying with us. Terrorists allowed but no unescorted women?

This past week there was a lot of coverage about how the city of Chennai that prided itself in a negative growth (–38.6%, National Crime Bureau data 2013) in crimes against women wasn’t hospitable to single women.  Also according to the Centre for Women’s Development and Research, “between July and November 2011, 73% of single women living in the residential colonies of South Chennai faced high levels of violence both sexual and physical, from in the neighbourhood. Many of these cases went unreported as the women chose not to approach the police, fearing societal backlash.”

According to UN Women, “Around the world, 1 in 3 women have experienced physical or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner. About 120 million girls have been forced into intercourse or other sexual acts at some point in their lives. In 29 countries alone, 133 million women and girls have undergone female genital mutilation. … More than 700 million women alive today were married as children. Almost all of the estimated 4.5 million victims of forced sexual exploitation are women and girls.” Violence against women is a human rights violation and a serious impediment to women’s progress in any area of life. It undercuts women’s health, prospects for education and productive work, and ability to participate as full members of their societies, among other consequences. Yet these human rights violations increase every day, hour, unchecked by society.

The perpetrators of these crimes are fearless and they are aware that their position is stronger for the assertion of rights or use of law by anyone, especially a woman victim, “is seen as a subversive act,” to quote Vrinda Grover, a leading advocate in the Delhi High Court.

According to the Indian Journal of Psychiatry paper on the links between patriarchy and sexual violence
masculine identity being associated with experiences and feelings of power and the incidents of sexual violence involves elements of control, power, domination, and humiliation. … Fear of sexual violence in women will restrict their freedom and occupational opportunities and affect their long-term psychological well-being.
… Culture determines definitions and descriptions of normality and psychopathology. Culture plays an important role in how certain populations and societies view, perceive, and process sexual acts as well as sexual violence… a continuum with transgressive coercion at one end and tolerated coercion on the other.
In rural India, for example, girls have no independent control of their sexuality. They are expected to get married and produce children, thus shifting the control of their sexuality from one man (the father) to the other (the husband). … Childhood marriages amounts to sexual coercion and is considered illegal but is still sanctioned by personal laws and condoned by Khap Panchayats who decide on marriage partners in certain parts of North India.
Similarly, sexual violence is considered legitimate by young men in South Africa who also believe that mental health is negatively affected by lack of sex.
Local, regional, national, international – there is synchronous symptoms of the bred-in-the-bones patriarchy: Rapes, Gang-Rapes,  Sexual Harassment, Stalking, Acid Attacks, Sexual Assault, Marital Rape, Female Genital Mutilation, Domestic Violence, Honour Killings, Dowry Deaths and Harassments, Female Infanticide and Foeticide, etc. … a result of discounting women’s importance and contribution to the economy and society.

“Single Women Not Welcome,” The Hindu, October 26, 2014, p. 2.
Gurvinder Kalra and Dinesh Bhugra, “Sexual Violence Against Women: Understanding Cross-Cultural Intersections,” Indian Journal of Psychiatry, Jul-Sept. 2013, 55(3): 244–249:
Vandana Shiva, “Violence Against Women Is As Old As Patriarchy,” Yes! Magazine, February 15, 2013:
1.      Stand up for the safety and rights of the woman being harassed near you – Its everywhere – Be Aware and Act to Stop it.
2.      Crowdsourcing on Rape Laws:
The Guardian is involved in an effort to collate Rape Laws across the world through crowdsourcing. The paper is collecting data in the following areas: 
Is marital rape illegal in your country? What is the minimum sentence it carries? Are such laws actually implemented?
how different countries define their rape laws. Is rape in marriage illegal in your country? Does the law forgive the rapist if he marries the victim? Are rape laws implemented?
3.      Bring Back Our Girls campaign
After premature announcement of a truce and successful negotiation earlier this month to free the school girls abducted by the Boko Haram early this year, the outfit leader now says that the girls are a non-issue – they’ve already been converted and married off  –  and  there is no truce. The failure to rescue these girls and the continued abductions indicates how low their welfare is in governmental, international, and our individual priorities. Misogynistic terror outfits have the Nigerian and world governments and security forces stumped.
Resources and will needs to be regrouped to secure the future of these girls. See what you can do to help our imprisoned sisters.