The key to sustaining reform is to ensure that there is a paradigm shift in the mentality and in the ideas that society harbours towards the subject of reform. There was a time in India where the immolation of women was encouraged upon the death of her husband. There was a time where the universally accepted age for the marriage of women was unheard of. But such things have changed – if not everywhere in the world, commendably in some parts of the world.
The reason for their being outlawed is purely because of the fact that the mindset behind their construction changed: there was a proactive acceptance and recognition that such things were wrong, and that what reform brought in, was the right way to go. This is essentially what is necessary to bring an end to violence against women.
Violence against women largely takes place in a setting that encompasses antagonistic perspectives of women – that they are chattels, property, that men have a right to dominate over them and lord over their existence, and that they are representative elements of a family’s honour – to such an extent that a “digression” can earn them harsh treatment. It is only when this mindset changes, that there can be a future for women that lets them enjoy a place on par with men.
By “par with men” does not mean that they are absolutely equal to men – there are differences that should not just be respected, but celebrated. Gender equality is not about “whatever men can do, women can”, but about accepting that women and men are impacted differently by different laws, action and policies – and thus, each law, action and policy must be sensitized enough to understand the differences in their impact on both sexes. For sustained reforms in women’s rights, this understanding is a key factor. Without this understanding and a parallel transition from a stage of acceptance to a stage of rejection of violations of women’s rights, the situation is precarious enough to slip right back into what it started from.
By themselves, law and policy cannot help much. Unless a legal document is buttressed with a thought process that will endeavour to implement, or at least strive to implement the law or policy, they will remain paper tigers.
By Kirthi Gita Jayakumar