Reported incidents of sexual harassment of women are increasing day by day in the country. Whether it is the bulwark environment of home and school, or outside the secured boundaries, such as workplace; sexual harassment is one such issue faced by every female more than once in her lifetime.
Our country has witnessed numerous cases of sexual assaults on females ranging from 6-month-olds to 90-year olds. When one reflects upon these instances, one thing becomes certain that it is neither her clothes nor her beauty that provokes such acts.
Then what is the reason and where is the problem?
It is a consequence of the dehumanized perception of a female body. The shortfall lies in the underlying norms and customs of our society, in the upbringing of a male as well as a female child, and the weak education system and judiciary. The new 2019 report of The Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace, and Security (GIWPS) ranks India at 133 rd position out of 167 countries on the index of women’s well-being and their empowerment in homes, communities, and societies and this is not a figure to take pride in.
What are the ways to prevent sexual harassment of women?
Here are my views on the prevention of sexual abuse on women which should be implemented on three levels – by parents, by schools, and by Government. These practices will surely sow the seeds of safety, equality and overall well being of a female in our society.
1. What can parents do to prevent sexual violence?
Parents have a very critical role to play in preventing sexual violence because they are the first educators of a child. The smallest unit of our society is Family and therefore, the action should start from the refinement of mutual thoughts and attitudes in a family. If the preamble of our constitution resolves to secure justice, liberty, and equality to all the citizens, then these should be implemented in each home first. Here are few ways:
- Build a positive home environment where mutual respect is practiced. Remember parents, you should practice what you preach. Children understand and behave what they see. So start respecting women in your house.
- 80% of the sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the survivor. Teach your girl about good touch and bad touch. Tell them again and again that you are always there for her and she can share anything with you.
- Do not objectify women. If your son sees his mother doing all the household chores day and night and you relaxing in the home, he will assume that these chores are by default assigned to respective genders.
- Do not use such generic terms as “Do not cry like a girl” to a boy or “This is not girl’s job” to a girl. Why is it that, in spite of talks on equality and empowerment of women, the impact is not as required? There is a gap and that gap-filling should start from each household.
- Stop using cuss words. Because most of them are directed at the women. “son of a b***ch” and its likes. You consider it very normal and so do the children at home. Your son will eventually start using it and the daughter will also be okay listening to it.
- Make an effort to know your child’s friends. Find out what they and your child do together. That way you will get to know whether they are in good company.
- Communicate openly, especially with your son. Where is he going? What is he doing? Why did he come late? Call him if he is late. The rapists and assaulters have not come from a different planet. They are inside the society and surprisingly, well educated and so-called cultured and mannered families too had to bear the shame of such progeny. So be alert.
- Enroll your daughters in self-defense classes. It is more important than her dance or art class. It not only allows them to defend themselves against any physical abuse but also makes her confident, strong and agile.
2. How schools can play their roles in preventing sexual violence?
Being a teacher myself, I know a teacher can influence young minds and there are few ways through which school can play a very vital role in shaping the mindsets of teenagers.
When we became concerned about the water crisis, global warming, and waste generation, the most effective way to solve this problem was to include these topics in the syllabus of elementary and high school studies, to give projects and perform different acts on these topics. One will have to admit that because of the inclusion of these in the studies, today’s kids are more vigilant and responsible towards the environment.
Similarly, now the time has come to include topics such as women’s safety, sexual assaults, rape crisis in the curriculum so that they understand the critical situation now and become responsible citizens.
Education should not only impart knowledge but also social change. Whether through plays, essays, projects or as part of textbooks, topics such as consent, online safety, gender norms, laws for women in distress, all the topics should be comprehensively taught.
Sex education is a must for every school. We have sex-ed in Biology syllabus too for classes 8-10 in which the reproductive system, the organs associated with it, along with their functions, are taught. The irony is that the teachers feel shy discussing or explaining the topic. So they brush off the topic. I can understand how difficult it sometimes becomes, to explain certain parts as I too face this situation every year while teaching the reproductive system. I try to teach it in as simple and graspable language and make the students feel comfortable asking questions whenever they have doubts. The sole aim is to invoke awareness as well as respect towards women.
Another subject of high school level which needs attention and alteration is- civics or political science. Our children are reading the same topics, such as fundamental rights and duties of Indian citizens and the laws governing it, what we have learned 15-20 years back.
The UN Resolution declaring the Decade for Human Rights Education, 1995-2004, states:
Human rights education should involve more than the provisions of information and should constitute a comprehensive life-long process by which people at all levels in development and all strata of society learn respect for the dignity of others and the means and methods of ensuring that respect in all societies.
The highlighted part clearly states what is missing in our education system. Do women in all strata of society and at all levels in development know about their rights and the laws governing women’s rights?
Imagine if all this information is included in the high school civics syllabus, how beneficial it will be for all the students. As it will be a part of the syllabus, students will read and learn by heart all the laws. Every girl from a very young age would know that there are laws to support them, in case they are eve teased or sexually assaulted and the boys will also understand the severity of an assault, however small it may seem.
3. What role can Government play?
Lastly but most importantly, comes the role of government. When parents and schools had done their tasks efficiently, it is the task of the Government to make strict laws and execute them on time. We have seen the brutal rape-murder cases of Nirbhaya and Priyanka Reddy. While one’s offenders have still not got the punishment they deserve, another’s rapists have been shot dead in a police encounter.
We all agree that any proceeding implemented with the law is precedential, but if the judgement is delayed, people lose their trust in legal processes. If the society starts recommending the second method every time such assault happens, the civilian enhancement will be at peril. So the only way to spark fear in criminals and trust in citizens is judgement at the right time.
I don’t say that these suggestions of mine will immediately solve the problem but I am sure that if these methods are followed by parents and in schools, our next generation will be safer. Boys will be more empathetic and the girls will feel as safe outside their homes as they do inside.
In that hope and belief