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Gender Equality and Violence Against Women

- Aastha Sharma, National Law University, Odisha

The relationship between gender and violence is quite complex and intricate. Gender expectations within culture form and reinforce the various roles and attitudes of males and females, children as well as adults. There are social norms that determine acceptable actions for women and men example being male is correlated with risk-taking, being strong, violent in some societies and engaged with multiple sexual partners. Differences in gender roles and attitudes also establish differences in which one gender is empowered to the other\'s disadvantage. Therefore, in many cultures as well as societies, women are seen as inferior to men and have a lower social status, allowing men to dominate, and possessing greater power to make decisions than women. Gender disparities influence society in a broad and wide variety.

According to the World Health Organisation, gender is defined as, “socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women”.   This description simply means that, unlike sex, gender is not predetermined, but it contains all the attributes and functions that society attaches to men and women. Though both of these terms, i.e. gender and sex are often used interchangeably, in reality these are two completely different terms and the connotations they hold should not be confused with.

Gender Equality is characterized as the belief that men and women are free to make their choices in their personal capacity without being inhibited by the limitations of discrimination, stereotypes and traditional gender roles. The concept of Gender Equality largely covers the fact that men and women can have different sets of needs, behaviours and aspirations, and that should not only be accepted by everyone but also, should be valued and respected equally. The masses should or rather need to exercise fairness of treatment according to the actions displayed towards men and women. Ideally, this behaviour also includes the fact that both of these genders may have different sets of capabilities and obligations and that as a fact needs to be accepted and an equal treatment that is different but that is often perceived as being equal in terms of rights, privileges, responsibilities and opportunities. 

Though the idea of Gender Equality seems rational and valid in theory and its practice, in totality, on a universal level is justified, the reality of this so-called modern society is far-fetched from this utopian vision. Gender disparities also increase the risk of men committing violence against women. Violence against women belonging to all the strata of society, in almost all the countries of the world is one of the biggest challenges, at present. According to the United Nations, violence against women is defined as, “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life” . 

“Violence against women and girls come under the ambit of a grave violation of human rights. Violence against women is most often perpetrated by an intimate partner but it can take many other forms: violence by a family member, sexual harassment and abuse by authority figures, trafficking for prostitution, child marriages, dowry-related violence, honour killings, sexual violence committed by soldiers during wars and so on.”  “Global estimates published by WHO indicate that about 1 in 3 i.e. (35%) of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.”  Much of the abuse is the abuse of intimate partners. Its influence ranges from short to long term, including numerous physical, sexual and mental consequences of women and girls including death. This obviously has a negative effect on women\'s overall wellbeing and hinders women from completely engaging in society. Maltreatment of women, in fact, has negative implications not only for women but also for their family members, for society and for the country as a whole. This has significant costs, including higher healthcare and legal expenses, and reductions in productivity; impacting national budgets and growth.

Decades of civil society revolution and women\'s evolutions have placed the violence based on gender at the top of the list on both national and international fronts. An overwhelming mutitude of countries have, at present, laws against the practice of domestic violence , sexual harassment and other forms of abuse. In India, itself “Article 14 and 15 of the Indian Constitution” , state that “the State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India ” and guarantee the citizens that no discrimination shall be practiced by the state on the basis of one’s sex , respectively. Apart from the fundamental rights that are mentioned above, the Indian Penal Code also mentions certain offenses that are criminalised, such as:- “RAPE (Section 376), KIDNAPPING AND ABDUCTION (Section 363-373), DOWRY DEATH (Section 302, 304B), MOLESTATION (Section 354), SEXUAL HARRASMENT (Section 509)”  etc. Various gender specific laws have also been formulated so as to prevent violence and exploitation of women, some of them are:-
• “Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956” 
• “Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961” 
• “Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act" 
• “Sati Prevention Act, 1987” 
• “The Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act, 2005” 

On the international front as well, the right of women to live in an environment where there is a complete absence of violence, is guaranteed by international conventions, including:-
• “The General Recommendations 12 and 19 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)”  
• “The 1993 UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women” 
• “The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women” 
• “The International Covenant on Civil and Political Right” 
• “The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights” 

Developing international and national legal structures to encourage equality between men and women plays a very crucial role in preventing violence against women. There are also certain interventions, at various levels, that can lead to a reduction in instances of violence against women. Some of them are:- 
1. School-based interventions- This involves interacting with school going children before the so-called gender attitudes and behaviour are subtly  inculcated in their minds by the various elements of society .An attempt to focus on relationships of equal footing between men and women is tried and the meaning and importance of equality between both the genders is highlighted.  
2. Community interventions- This, by challenging gender roles and behaviors, seeks to trigger change in individuals and entire populations. They may include strategies for economically empowering women and for enlisting men as accomplice against violence that is based on grounds of gender.
3. Media interventions- Awareness programs involving the public, along with mass media, can be used to question and raise voice against gender stereotypes and behaviours, and aim to raise awareness and discourage abusive actions against women in society.

Governments of all the countries, various UN agencies, civil society organisations and other entities need to work together to facilitate a full end to violence, raise awareness of the ramifications and effects of violence, and develop partners\' capacity to prevent violence and respond appropriately. It is also important to encourage the need to reform men and boys \'attitudes and behaviours, and campaign for equality of the genders and equal rights for women.

Governments need to devise dedicated national action plans to prevent and combat violence against women, improving cooperation among the various stakeholders needed for sustained and effective action. 


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