Women’s Safety Freedom not Feardom

“Crime rates in Delhi are coming down” – this headline on the front page in a leading national daily screamed at me as I saw it while somebody was reading the paper in the Delhi Metro on the other day. The article cited statistics to corroborate the statement. This data about a city that was considered as the most unsafe among 19 major cities just a couple of years ago, and called the ‘Crime Capital’ accounting for nearly 40% of rapes, 33% of crimes against women, and the highest crime rate, as per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, was certainly heartening. But does this reflect the changed ground reality as regards the safety of women in India?

Everytime a young woman – a part of the expanding women workforce – steps out of the house, her mother asks, “Call me when you reach.” (Her eyes, however, say – so I may know you have reached safely). This constant fear in the eyes of our near and dear ones tells its own tale. Why are we constantly on alert as we step out into public spaces? Why do I live in a constant fear of invasion of my personal space, of leery eyes, lecherous glances and lewd comments? Why is my ‘mental space’ occupied with fear each day for my safety? I want freedom in my ‘mind’ from constant worry for my safety – as much as I want the freedom to walk into an empty train compartment without fear, or on a dark lonely street without worrying for my security.

As more women continue to join the workforce, ensuring safety of women remains a critical aspect of ‘duty of care.’ Notwithstanding the headline above, and in spite of the many regulations laid down by the government, in the key economic centres of our country like Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida, Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Chennai, Bengaluru etc., safety and security of women continues to be an area of concern.

Getting into overdrive – The 8th March syndrome

As the Head of Training at a leading risk consultancy firm, which has conducted women’s safety training workshops for nearly a hundred thousand women professionals across corporate India, I have noticed a peculiar trend – companies go frenzy about International Women’s Day (8th March) – almost all of them want to conduct women’s safety awareness and self-defence training on that day or during that week. That leaves me with another nail-biting question leading to disappointment, “Is women’s safety worth an issue to be trotted out as just a discussion point on International Women’s Day only, or is it an on-going concern?” What happens during the rest of the year? Is the issue something so trivial that we can put it on the backburner to be brought alive on a particular day or when horrific incidents like Nirbhaya or the Kathua rape evoke strong reactions in national, global or social media? The extremely unfortunate Nirbhaya incident in 2012 had galvanised the nation into demanding justice, and ultimately culminated into important changes to the regulatory framework including amendments to the Juvenile Justice Act (No longer will a juvenile responsible for heinous deeds like rape and murder walk free, or have his past record wiped clean on account of being a juvenile – he will be treated like an adult and punished accordingly).

Need for a holistic, integrated, & consistent approach

Sporadic linear responses or solutions to violent crimes against women can never be effective. It requires the creation of an integrated eco-system that involves multiple stakeholder engagement that puts a premium on women’s safety and security. It involves getting into and eliminating the root causes, and using technology imaginatively and effectively to deter, detect, respond and defeat, training and awareness among stakeholders, gender sensitization, and an implementable regulatory framework which provides exemplary punishment to the offenders.


By – Hima Bisht – Head of Training, MitKat Advisory


 

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