Tuesday, 12 June 2012

“I am a girl. Why would I support female foeticide?”

By Aarushi Sharma, Intern – Centre for Social Research
The question in itself is the answer, bringing to mind all those mothers who had willingly or unwillingly been forced to abort their own girl child. Is a girl’s life absolutely worthless? Does female foeticide convolute the understanding of a normative concept of ‘motherhood’? Female fetuses are rampantly sabotaged, detached and secretively abandoned. Often, they are casually flushed or disposed into the garbage dump, and if nothing works, are fed to dogs. Apologies for the ghastly visual description, this indeed is the truth. If ‘survival of the fittest’ is the custom, why not let nature decide? A society should not create any sort of gender prejudices or segregation. This is an oft reiterated incantation, though hardly implemented. Female foeticide is the crime against women and girl child in its worst debased form. Despite the fact that all of us are well aware, it is still practiced and self-righteously advocated.

An ICRW (International Center for Research on Women) study revealed that the preference for sons is strong in India, but not universal. The balance of sons and daughters is “desirable” for most women. It implies that few girls should have been desired! Remaining unwanted might be ‘managed’ conveniently through sex-selective abortions. It further states that wealth and economic development do not reduce son preference. It is a socio-cultural and religious construct. Mother’s education is the single most deciding factor in reducing son preference.

Are we not responsible enough to raise a girl child? Or is it the mindset which creates hindrance? It is time we start interrogating the established social conventions, isn’t it…

Monday, 11 June 2012

Helmet Law in India - Religious Sensitivity vs Safety and The Status of Women

By Lea Goelnitz, Intern – Centre for Social Research
The India Federal Motor Vehicles Law of 1988 required everyone on a 2-wheeler to wear a helmet. But the Sikh community raised religious objections, as its men have to wear a turban, which a helmet cannot accommodate. These complaints were successful and Sikh men were exempt from the helmet rule. But why are women also excluded from this rule?

On one hand there are religious concerns, as women in the Sikh religion are not allowed to cover their head at all, which also contradicts the helmet requirement. As it is impossible to differentiate between a Sikh and a non-Sikh woman, it was decided that all women will be exempt from the helmet rule. They can however, wear it voluntarily, which not a lot of do. One excuse why women are less likely to wear helmets is that they are expensive and often there is only one helmet per household, which is usually worn by the man. Other excuses for not wearing a helmet are that it would ruin the hairstyle and it looks too masculine. Women carrying children also excuse themselves by saying that they cannot take care of the child, while wearing a helmet.

The law which exempts women, reflects a sense of discrimination against them and seems to treat women as second-class citizens. Their lives are less valued than that of men; which is reflected by the lack of political will to challenge religious relativism and to tackle socio-economic issues undermining women’s safety. Making the helmet compulsory would reflect a rising concern for their safety.

As India has more road accidents than any other country and not wearing a helmet makes one more vulnerable to serious head injuries and death, the law needs to be strengthened in favor of women, especially if it requires challenging religious concerns and structural inequalities. Discrimination against women needs to be tackled in all aspects of life, therefore it is essential that ratification and enforcement of the helmet law will be taken seriously. A news report from last month claims that there are efforts to change the law soon and that women will no longer be able to ride helmet- free (at least in Delhi). R. Chandra Mohan, the Delhi Transport Commissioner, states that awareness raising campaigns to target individuals to make them consider wearing a helmet might be more successful than targeting the entire religious community, which could result in a backlash. Making all two wheeler users- men, women and children- wear helmets does not require funds or expertise. All that it requires is a change in mind set, that is, to value and protect the lives of all members of society.

#Ask4Hope: Tweetathon on the relationship between mental health and violence against women

By Leela Khanna, Intern – Centre for Social Research
The recent tweethathon, a new initiative launched by Bell Bajao and I Stand for Safe Delhi, addressed the relationship between mental health and violence against women. The topic focused upon the effects of domestic violence on women’s mental and psychological health. This week’s tweetathon included contributions from clinical psychologist Prachi Vaish, who is the founder of HopeNetwork.in. HopeNetwork.in offers free online counselling for people seeking therapy, including victims of domestic violence, from psychologists and experts. Vaish was a guest contributor for Bell Bajao and offered her expert insight on why some women choose abusive partners.

The tweetathon began with @Bell_Bajao asking the question why the “psychological effects of violence against women is rarely discussed,” to which @runjoo replied, “we still shy away from discussing ‘psychological’ as a whole, lot of stigma with anything psychological.” @HopeNetwork4U agreed with @runjoo, and added that “women are blamed if there is domestic trouble,” and also tweeted about a research conducted on 140 women found that “64 percent had a lifetime history of physical and/or sexual abuse.” @HopeNetwork4U’s tweet, which was written by Vaish, relates closely with her article on women choosing abusive partners. Vaish’s article argues that abusive victims often remain in abusive relationships because “they were made to feel, as children, that they are not valued; so they don’t matter.” Childhood neglect, parental abuse, and stigmas surrounding girl children, could result in women not feeling loved as adults and cause them to stay in abusive relationships.

The tweetathon then led into a discussion on other forms of abuse such as mental and psychological, which people often overlook when discussing domestic violence. @yomegh questioned, “how does one know is a friend is suffering from mental abuse?” @HopeNetwork4U answered by tweeting that emotional/psychological abuse is often more impactful than physical abuse, because the “woman doesn’t know she’s being abused.” She went on tweet later that common symptoms of mental abuse are chronic physical complaints, such as headaches and body aches.

@Isfsd_csr later tweeted that “not all women experiencing domestic violence were raised unloved. What are other reasons of women not leaving?” This led into a discussion of the numerous reasons why women choose to stay in abusive relations. @HopeNetwork4U suggested that abusers manipulated women by threatening to harm her kids if she left, @runjoo stated that some women may see the abuse as an “extreme form of love,” and @bell_bajao mentioned financial dependence as a reason why the victim doesn’t leave the abuser.

The conversation slowly came to an end with @nahi_chalega reiterating that “we tend to forget the forms that violence takes: open verbal becomes sophisticated sarcasm in so-called upper classes,” and @isfsd_csr tweeting that “a woman who has lost self confidence won’t approach help easily.”

This tweetathon was inspired by the lack of conversation present on the mental health of women suffering domestic violence. While domestic violence is often discussed in terms of the physical harm the victim experiences, many people forget that constant abuse, physical or verbal, may have significant mental impacts as well. HopeNetwork.in, founded by Vaish, is an organisation that provides counseling for women experiencing mental problems due to violence. Initiatives like HopeNetwork.in bring about the conversation of mental health to the forefront, which is a key way of helping thousands of women suffering from abusive relationships.