"Well, I got really angry and just gave her a slap. But she knows, I mean, she deserved it."
"NO, IT'S A CRIME"
The above is a transcript of a television presentation where a man flippantly says he assaulted a woman, when down comes the banging sound of a hammer with the firm response to his statement in bold letters across his face.
* * *
Capital Delhi or countryside Kerala, the story is the same, the reports are the same: Abuse of women is on the increase at an alarming rate.
The reports are no different from elsewhere around the globe: One in every three woman is abused. Nearly half the world's population is abused. The pity is that most women do not even know they are being abused. They believe this is their life. Many are totally ignorant of their rights as human beings.
Both the United Nations and Amnesty International have categorized violence against women as Human Rights Violation.
It is not a matter of equality for the genders but equity per se.
* * *
As part of a global strategy to stop violence against women, Amnesty International held a conference in June 2004 at Fremantle, Western Australia. This conference on "Stop Violence against Women! " highlighted the fact that violence against women is the most common and widespread of human rights abuses. It takes many forms, including domestic/family violence, sexual assault, institutional violence, sexual harassment, homophobia, sexism, and the trafficking and forced prostitution of women. It examined how a human rights perspective can add new approaches to addressing violence against women, in policy and in practice.
Australia is no innocent stranger to the perpetration of Human Rights abuse. Its abuse of Aboriginals or its abuse of asylum seekers has been exposed to the world. Its record of abuse of women is no less.
But the fact that Australia has taken an initiative now to combat violence against women is to be appreciated. A media blitz to combat violence against women was launched by the Federal Government of Australia on the 6th of June 2004. Prime Minister John Howard issued this statement while launching the program:
"It is not the role of the government to tell people how to live their lives and conduct their relationships. Personal relationships are private, but violence against women is unacceptable, whenever and wherever it occurs. Domestic violence is not only a terrible crime against an individual, it is a crime which harms our whole community and we should not tolerate it."
Recognizing the powerful role of the media in all its various forms, the Australian Government is running this national campaign on cinema screens, television, radio, magazines and newspapers. The text of one of the several television advertisements against the abuse of women is what you read in the opening of this piece. Another one is where a woman says that her partner hits her when he is drunk but later, on becoming sober says that he loves her: "He reckons it’s OK." Down comes the banging sound of a hammer with the bold words across her face: " NO, IT’S NOT OK."
Recently, I received by mail a 20-pages booklet with a bold heading in green on a black background: VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN. AUSTRALIA SAYS NO
The Australian Government has sent this booklet to every household in the continent. It informs both men and women, young and old that fundamentally where there is "No respect" there is "No relationship". An outline of the common patterns of controlling behavior and abuse are given, at the same time emphasizing that physical assault is only one form of violation. For instance, when a man resorts to blaming his spouse for all the problems in their relationship, it is an abusive and humiliating putdown of the woman. There is supportive information on how to avoid abuse, stay safe, break the cycle of violence and where to go for help and assistance.
Further vital information on how parents can help youngsters develop the right values of fairness is given. The importance of a good father in the lives of his children is stressed. When a man is not in a respectful and caring relationship with his wife, his children get the wrong messages, and ultimately it leads to the failure of the institution of family.
Whether the pamphlet gets read or not, there is no escape from the media’s pounding. The oh so usual excuses that men give for their violent behavior against women are being tired, overworked, stressed or under financial pressures--the campaign precisely targets these and lambastes them.
John Howard in his enthusiasm to bring up the future generation of boys with a healthy attitude towards themselves as well as the opposite sex even suggested that he was willing to offer special scholarships to men to become decent teachers and good role models.
Not surprising, considering the fact that the Australian boys look up to sporting heroes such as scandalous Shane Warne or worse still, the ‘Bulldogs’ rugby-league players accused of gang rape as successful role models of sheer masculinity.
While the campaign appears to be targeted at men asking them to be good and responsible fathers, teachers, role models, partners and human beings, there seems to me that there are hidden poignant messages for women-- To be human beings who value their own self-worth and live with dignity so that they can be better mothers, teachers and role models for future generations; Above all, to be not merely compliant partners but complementary partners to their spouses.
* * *
In India, when the Mahila Manch and Sakhi Kendra met in Kanpur on May 28th. 2004, the speakers unanimously concluded that the media played a pivotal role in stopping injustices to women. Efforts made by voluntary women’s organizations alone, though laudatory, cannot stop the abuse of women. The Government needs to give a massive push to such social reforms.
The elusive educative approach now underway through the media in Australia towards identifying and preventing violence against women is a model for emulation. Taking a cue from this, the Government of India should initiate programs to prevent the abuse of women now rampant from the ‘Crime Capital’ to ‘God’s own country.’
G. Sujatha is a Social Anthropologist from the University of Madras. She used to teach "Thai Studies" at a Bangkok University for many years. She now lives in Sydney, Australia
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