Contribution of Women’s Rights Movement in Addressing Gender Based Violence

Session Report 
Ankita  

Introduction 

The discussion of Day 5 of the “Ending Gender-Based Violence Cohort 2:Awareness of Policies and Governance” online National Spring School Program organized by IMPRI and the Gender Impact Studies Center brought to the surface the history of the Women Rights Based Movements and Case studies in successful interventions.

The session was chaired by  Prof. Vibhuti Patel. She started the session with a brief recall of the discussions from the previous session on raising awareness around Policies and Governance related to Gender-Based Violence. Indicating that women empowerment is the new buzzword, she argued that, “We can not solely rely on women empowerment to improve the condition of women in the society. The perpetrators of the crime need to be questioned”. Taking an example from the Nirbhaya Rape Case she highlighted how this case ignited the spark in the civil society and increased the community reach to the perpetrators in terms of this collective questioning. 

In her chair’s remark she shared a critical observation on people’s unfamiliarity with their rights and the legal system. She stated that people not knowing their rights is another reason that certain crimes continue to be practiced by their perpetrators. The process of knowing our rights provides us with the space where we can reflect on the legal process and the implications of the rights that are formulated. She shed some light on how the role of women in Women’s Movements plays a critical role. And she proceeded to say that there is an urgent  need for women to be at leading and decision making positions. 

Contribution of Women’s Rights Movement in Addressing Gender Based Violence

The first speaker of the day was Prof. Saumya Uma who teaches at Jindal Global Law School & Director at Centre for Women’s Right. Dr. Uma is an expert in applying legal principles to issues of gender equality and human rights. Her work focuses on areas like legal frameworks for protecting victims of violence, international justice systems, and how the law can empower marginalized groups, especially women, in South Asia. She has written extensively on these topics, including books published by prestigious publishers and articles in various media outlets.

Prof. Saumya Uma used very strong and authentic images to assist her audience as she transitioned through these phases. Her presentation was heavy on the historical perspective of the Indian Women’s Movement. She emphasized the need to know the history of these movements and their relevance to gender-based violence. She boldly put it that the privileges in terms of rights and laws that we enjoy today are a result of the struggles of the people in the past.

Since these movements have no beginning and no end, as they existed more than hundreds of years back in history and still exist, there is a need to have a wider perspective on the nature of participation. How do we engage with laws and policies? What were the kind of achievements of these achievements? Questions like these can be understood better if we are equipped with a historical lens. 

She then mentioned four distinct phases of these movements and gender-based violence was a connecting thread in all these movements. The four phases of the women’s movement as mentioned by her are –

  1. The Social Reform Movement (1800s – early 1900s)
  2. The Nationalist Movement (early 1900s – 1947)
  3. Post-Independence Era (1947 – 1977)
  4. Post Emergency/ Contemporary Period (1977 – Present)

With time the nature of engagement with the violence performed against women has changed. Beginning with the first anti-agitation against Sati in 1815 to the Criminalization of Violence Against Women in the present context the fight has upgraded from the need to survive to demanding the right to control over our bodies. She has discussed each of the phases in great detail in her presentation. 

Another issue that she raised in her presentation was the understanding and socially acceptable image of women. Women were initially seen and accepted as more suitable for a motherly figure. They were to some extent expected to be self-sacrificing and peace-loving. Peace is another connotation for them being quiet and still. However, the situation began to change not completely but to a large extent where women were taking up leadership roles, and participating in social movements. 

Conclusion 

The prime argument that came out of her detailed presentations and further discussions was that studying the history of the people who have participated in the betterment of the society is very important. Her presentation highlighted the role of campaigns, community participation and individual participation in the improvements of laws. The caste, class and religious disadvantage when combined with the disadvantage associated with the gender it becomes even difficult to address. 

Prof. Uma further argued that even if the laws are there, they must not be treated as solutions. Laws are just mechanisms through which legal and judicial pathways can be accessed. It is the individual voice which reflects in the voices of the mass that can bring positive change for all. 

Ankita is a research intern at IMPRI and is currently pursuing her MA in Education and Development from NIEPA.

Acknowledgement – The author would like to thank Reet Lath for sharing her valuable suggestions to enhance the article.

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