SEATTLE, Washington — In early August 2021, protests arose in Delhi, India, following the gang rape, murder and forced cremation of a nine-year-old girl. The girl’s mother sent her to fetch water from a nearby crematorium when a Hindu priest and three other men attacked the girl. When the mother went to retrieve her child’s body, the men threatened her and cremated the body against her wishes, thus, pathologists could not perform an autopsy to confirm the rape. The young girl was a Dalit, the lowest caste in the Hindu caste hierarchy considered India’s most marginalized group. According to the BBC, “Dalit women face the triple burden of poverty, gender bias and caste discrimination.” The incident stirred nationwide concern about the issue of violence against women in India.
Violence Against Women in India
In one out of four rapes in India, the victim is a child. According to the National Crime Record Bureau of India, one rape occurs every 34 minutes and one out of three married women faces violence at the hands of their partner. Studies also indicate that 75-76% of lower caste Indian women, such as Dalits, have suffered from violence.
There is a history of gender disparity in India, exacerbated by social forces such as “caste, class, religion and social geography,” according to Nayreen Daruwalla from SNEHA, the Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action. In an interview, Daruwalla tells The Borgen Project that three main cultural factors make gender violence in India difficult to combat: toxic masculinity, the perpetualization of patriarchal gender norms and systems where bias in regard to race and gender impede justice.
Violence Against Women and Poverty
According to Daruwalla, “women face increased risk of violence due to compromised living conditions and are deprived of opportunities for education and employment.” This creates a cyclical relationship between violence and poverty. When women experience violence, they are more likely to continue living in poverty. When women live under the poverty line, they are more vulnerable to violence. Women have less access to resources that stimulate wealth “such as land, credit and inheritance rights” in comparison to men. Females are also “often paid less than men for the same work.” These factors compound to create an environment where women account for more than 66% of people living in poverty globally.
Women in positions of poverty are also less likely to reach out for help when experiencing abuse. This can stem from economic dependence on the abuser or the abuser being in a position of power with the ability to retaliate. Additionally, unwillingness to seek help may stem from a lifetime of disappointing public policy that does not adequately address the problem, instilling a belief that the government cannot actually help.
Why Gender-Based Violence Persists
There are many reasons why violence against women persists despite attempts by governments and organizations to prevent it. Firstly, gender inequality is a deep-seated social problem. Harsher punishment for crimes against women does not effectively act as a deterrent.
Women living in poverty are often at the mercy of their male counterparts who have the economic resources to support them. If a woman is financially dependent on her spouse, she is much less likely to leave if she is experiencing abuse.
Additionally, violence is typically a taboo subject. People do not talk about it, and therefore, do not report it when it happens to them. A first step in working to solve a problem is to talk about it. Until people are more easily able to discuss gender-based violence, it will remain something that continues to occur in silence.
How to Combat Violence Against Women in India
According to U.N. Women, the most effective way to prevent violence against women is one that public policy rarely targets. It is the education of young boys and girls at the age when values and beliefs about gender and equality are created.
There are currently numerous organizations throughout India that are working to achieve this common goal, including SNEHA. This organization has a four-pronged approach targeting the individual, institutional, community and public policy levels of society. It works to assist victims, train police, hospital employees and lawyers, help communities to support victims and lobby for effective public policy.
It is SNEHA’s belief that the most effective way to reduce gender-based violence is to empower communities with the tools to adequately respond to cases of violence and to stand up against it. Improving responses of public systems, including the police, healthcare and legal systems, is also equally as important to prioritize the needs of survivors.
While violence against women continues, there are countless individuals and organizations all around the world working to combat it and achieve prevention. This is a very optimistic goal, but with improved education, better resources for people living in poverty and increased efficacy of public systems, this goal just may be achievable.
– Alessandra Heitmann