Not That Bad: Review and reflection

The week after I watched Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony on television, I purchased an anthology of essays edited by Roxane Gay, Not That Bad (Harper 2018). The subtitle of this book is ‘Dispatches from Rape Culture,’ and I thought I would find more ideas, insights and words that I could then bring to the everyday work I get to do with Prajnya on gender-based violence.

It has taken me more than two months to make my way through this powerful book. In small part, this is a function of my life, but largely, it is because the essays are so powerful, so disturbing, so heart-breaking that you really cannot binge-read. They are also inspiring in their courage and exactly as I hoped, have left me with insights and words that I think will find their way to things I say and do in training sessions and workshops.

The essays–and I am using this word to describe what are mostly first-person testimonies, because they are written in the spectrum of styles that ‘essay’ covers–are almost all by survivors, of all genders, and include a couple of essays where the writers reflect on whether or not they gave consent. Through almost all the essays, the deeply internalised stigma attached to the experience of violence is expressed and sometimes rejected.

I am going to share some excerpts here, for several reasons. First, I don’t think I can summarise. Second, I want you to experience the power of the words, and maybe go read this book. Third, there are people out there who cannot afford this book and will not have a library from where they can borrow it. This is not meant to undermine copyright or sales, and I do hope lots of people will read this. Women should read this because it will resonate so strongly, as most of us live with the experience and all of us with the fear of sexual violence. Men should read it to know what that really means in our heads and in our days. And yes, the book is full of potential triggers, so if you think you will be sensitive to them, tread cautiously (these excerpts are for you too).

The idea that what happens to us, is not so bad, is so deeply ingrained that it stops survivors from seeking help. If you survived, that’s already not so bad, is it?

At least you weren’t killed. At least you have access to medical care. At least you have insurance. At least you have wonderful friends. Because the ones who tell me this are my friends and my teachers and the social worker and the doctor, I hold their words and outstretched hands even though my anger is mounting and I want not to be touched.

These days, I speak few words, and I certainly don’t have the vocabulary to dismantle what’s been forced on me by people called safe. I don’t have the breath to say: No, I will not be grateful for my rights. I will stand with two feet on this earth and I will always say thank you when somoene does something kind and sorrt when I’ve done something wrong and never outside of that. And, yes, I am furious that I am pulled between poles of gratitude and apology–both of which are violent erasures.

Thank goodness I wasn’t killed.

I’m sorry I’m so inarticulate.

I can’t name it then, but I feel the words at least eroding my voice. I sense that “at least” marks an end to the story I’m supposed to tell, that I’m supposed to say something gracious in response–“thank goodness”–or else nothing more at all. “At least” curbs my telling too much truth. It’s a blunt instrument wielded to club a reckless retelling into submission. The story ends here. But the truth is, I have no story–nothing I can corral into a coherent narrative.” (Claire Schwartz, pages 35-36)

I found this extremely powerful: “pulled between poles of gratitude and apology–both of which are violent erasures.” The week I bought this book and even when I picked it up to read in December 2018, in India we were witnessing a cascade of #MeToo revelations, that began with women in media and then spread to some other fields. Most of the women encountered the stock responses: Why now? Why not earlier? Why did you continue to work with this person? Many of the experience reported were not rape as traditionally defined (vaginal penetration without consent), so really, they should have been grateful, people seemed to be saying. Gratitude for that, and apology for upsetting the apple-cart.

Ally Sheedy in her essay mentions Hollywood’s #MeToo moment in 2017. She writes:

“This isn’t about naming names. I don’t have enough for a lawsuit, but I do have enough for a broken heart/ spirit. Nothing will change in Hollywood. Some men will get careful. Some men will pretend they never behaved like predators and wait this out. What’s so disheartening is knowing Harvey Weinstein’s sick actions will be addressed (finally) and yet the entire culture and context for his sick shit will remain in place.” (pages 112-113)

Just four months after India’s season of revelations, hardly anyone has been punished, and some are already being gently rehabilitated into public life. The defamation cases filed against the women who made the charges–those remain.

How commonplace sexual violence is, is something women at least know intuitively. This exchange in Stacey May Fowles’ essay underlines that, but also makes me wish we could so sensitize doctors, counsellors and nurses in India so that they would respond to survivors with sensitivity.

“When I finally managed to splutter out “something bad happened to me,” she just knew.

Without saying a word, she slipped a small square of yellow paper across the desk toward me. It was printed with information about the rape-counseling clinic.

I was struck by the ease with which she provided me with the contact, as if she’d done it hundreds of times before.” (page 279-280)

A counselor says to Fowles, “Every one believes there is suffering worse than her own, that they should be strong enough to cope without me.” It’s not that bad, why seek help? And if it were that bad, how come you are alive to seek help? How many Indian, Southasian girls can go to a doctor or a hospital and get help, leave alone expect sensitivity? We have tried in a small way to change this, but there is such a long way to go.

So Mayer writes about words, enjoyed and deployed as weapons of control (page 136). She titles her chapter Floccinaucinihilipilification and quotes the Oxford English Dictionary definition: “The action or habit of estimating something as worthless.” Gaslighting, sealioning, lollipopping, Cordelia-ing and mansplaining–she gathers all these words into this suitably long one (page 137).

So Mayer’s essay compares rape to colonialism, calls them “kin” (page 140). She writes:

“…I learned the blazing insight that rape was not an act between an individual and an individual, hidden in a dark room… Rape was and is a cultural and political act: it attempts to remove a person with agency, autonomy, and belonging from their community, to secrete them and separate them, to depoliticize their body by rendering it detachable, violable, nothing. (page 140)

…When we talk about sexual violnce as feminists, we are–we have to be–talking about its use to subjugate entire peoples and cultures, the annihilation that is its empty heart. Rape is that bad because it is an ideological weapon. Rape is that bad because it is a structure: not an excess, not monstrous, but the logical conclusion of heteropatriarchal capitalism. It is what that ugly polysyllabic euphemism for state power does.” (pages 140-141)

Michelle Chen also writes about the politics of sexual violence in her essay on the violence experienced by women who are displaced or in flight. “The place where sexual violence is most readily weaponized is the one where other social instruments have become unhinged: the interface between two societies. Sexual domination, a familiar pillar of every nation-state’s culture, fills the liminal spaces opened by mass displacement.” (page 191) As Warsan Shire wrote in her poem, Home: “and one prison guard/ in the night/ is better than a truckload/ of men who look like your father.”

In the final essay in the book, Elissa Bassist lists all the reasons why she stayed in a violent relationship and did not think of it as ‘violence.’ This is one of the most heart-breaking essays in the book.  She says, in more powerful words than I could summarise that she stayed because she and her boyfriend were both a product of their milieu, which is misogynistic and violent. She closes the book by saying:

“Because worst-case scenario is murder.

Oh, because it wasn’t that bad.” (page 339)

We become accustomed to the language of violence, the culture of rape. It is us, as we know ourselves. 

“Violence in a family comes down through generations: long before my father (finally) left my mother, her father left her mother, and her father’s father left my great-grandmother…

Sometimes by mother tells me stories about her father, or stories about my father. They are not mine to repeat. “I want you to know,” she tells me, as if she feels guilty for explaining our history to me. I am amazed at how much violence we can contain–internalize, suppress, hold on to, narrate. How much we can swallow and still survive.” (So Mayer, pages 132-133)

Women who speak about the violence they experience, who name their assailants or harassers and who express anger are accused of making trouble. Speaking about their experience of violence, several of the survivors writing in this book talk about how this feels.

“Forgive the abuser. The only solution for female anger is for her to stop being angry.

And yet, when Jesus flipped tables in the temple, his rage was lauded. King David railing to the heavens to rain fire on his enemies is lauded as a man after God’s own heart. An angry man in cinema is Batman. An angry male musician is a member of Metallica. An angry male writer is Chekhov. An angry male politician is passionate, a revolutionary. He is a Donald Trump or a Bernie Sanders. The anger of men is a powerful enough tide to swing an election. But the anger of women? That has no place in government, so it has to flood the streets.” (Lyz Lenz, page 164)

Amy Jo Burns writes: “The truth no one told you is that, in order for a good girl to survive, she must make some things disappear.” (page 167)

This includes the memory of violence, the name of your harasser, the resultant trauma and every one of those inconsequential details from that consequential moment–what you were wearing, the colour of that vase, the food on the table, the light in the room. As Dr. Ford said“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter. The uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.” We never forget, but we must. It wasn’t that bad, after all.

(Cross-posted from here.) 

Lessons learned on sexual harassment in 2018: Article

“We re-learned it is not only epidemic but endemic. This is so because gender is pervasive. Masculinity sexualizes hierarchy, and much of social life is hierarchically organized. Sexual harassment is a creature of hierarchy—gender combined with inequality based on race, age, class, disability, and sexuality. Anything that places a person in a less powerful or lower status position, an unequal position, heightens the risk of that person being sexually harassed.”

Catherine MacKinnon, Ask an activist: What are the most important lessons learned on sexual harassment in this last year of activism? UN Women,  Tuesday, December 11, 2018.

#MeToo in Academia: A Panel Discussion Report

Alice Iannantuoni, a PhD candidate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, reports on a panel discussion held on campus on sexual harassment and violence in academia. 
#MeToo and Academia, and how to make campuses safer?
In October 2018, a groundbreaking New York Times article detailed sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Shortly thereafter, actress Alyssa Milano re-launched what became known as the #MeToo movement, with a phrase originally used by activist Tarana Burke over a decade prior to raise awareness of the pervasiveness of sexual violence in society: me too. What followed has been a year in which many different societies, industries, and sectors around the world have had to wrestle with the widespread mistreatment, abuse, and sex-based discrimination of the least powerful individuals within their ranks––often, although not always, women.
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Yesterday, on October 17, 2018, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign held the first of a series of panel discussions on #MeToo in academia. Colleen Murphy, director of the university’s Women and Gender in Global Perspectives program and professor of law, philosophy, and political science, hosted the panel. The four panelists were professors Lesley Wexler and Suja Thomas from the College of Law; Andrea Miller from the Department of Psychology; and Ran Hao from the Institute of Legal Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Why is it important to think of the impact of the #MeToo movement specifically in the context of academia, both in the United States and abroad? Three relevant themes emerged from the very well-attended panel.
1. Power Dynamics on Campus 
The power dynamics on a university campus make it an environment that is uniquely prone to breeding discrimination and harassment. Professors and high-level university officials are often in the position to greatly affect their students’, junior colleagues’, or assistants’ lives: they are the ones who decide grades, write letters of recommendations, sit on tenure committees, and so on. Brining forth an allegation against somebody who has the power to jeopardize your school experience or your career is a particularly intimidating proposition, made worse by the close-knit nature of many departments and academic circles.
2. Individual Experiences, Systemic Problems 
Even when there is the will to hold an abuser accountable, systemic problems often get in the way. In the United States, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 are in place to protect employees against discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion; and against sex-based discrimination and harassment at educational institutions, respectively. However, professors Lesley Wexler and Suja Thomas highlighted the limitations of these protections: plaintiffs in these cases have to meet extremely high bars in terms of proving the severity and pervasiveness of the abusive conduct; and, in Title IX cases, universities must be shown to have “actual knowledge” of the incidents and to have been “deliberatively dismissive” of them. In addition, professor Thomas pointed out how universities seem to be more afraid of being sued by alleged abusers (and unfoundedly so) than they are concerned with protecting the abused. Similarly, professor Ran Hao offered an eye-opening overview of how the #MeToo movement has been playing out in China––a country in which the movement started and development first and foremost in academia, rather than the entertainment industry. Systemic, legal barriers have also been a issue in the Chinese context: closer to the civil law tradition, Chinese law requires perhaps even more precise definitions of what constitutes sexual misconduct, harassment, assault, and so on, as these cannot rely on precedent as in common law systems.
3. The Vicarious Experiences of Faculty Members
Lastly, professor Andrea Miller called attention to the vicarious experiences of faculty members who hear of their students’ experiences with harassment and assault. While there haven’t been large-scale studies of this phenomenon yet, anecdotal evidence suggests that women faculty (and specifically, women of color) are often among the first people whom students disclose the incident they have experienced first; they counsel affected students on how to proceed; gather resources for their students; and sometimes follow students throughout the process of reporting and resolving the incident. Data going back decades already supports the notion that women faculty and faculty of color tend to be stuck with more service work than their white male counterparts do; and not getting much recognition for it. In addition to this work being time-consuming, when it comes to dealing with students’ experiences with sexual harassment and assault it also becomes emotionally difficult and draining.
In recognizing these challenges, the panelists suggested some possible ways forward with the goal of making university campuses and the academic community safer for all of their members. First, universities should be mindful of their power structures, and think about how to spread power and responsibilities across individuals and units as opposed to concentrating them in the hands of a few. Second, systemic solutions should include creating a culture that does not tolerate lower-level incidents of harassing; moving beyond the current reliance on reporting and toward more training on how to recognize and react to inappropriate behaviors for faculty, students, and university employees; and moving the focus from protecting the reputation of universities and their most powerful members to protecting the most vulnerable students and employees on campus. Lastly, we cannot forget that incidents of sexual misconduct, harassment, and assault do not affect only the direct victims; rather, they take a toll on the victims’ loved ones, classmates, colleagues, and professors too, creating additional emotional labor that most often falls on the laps of fellow women and minorities.

Do no harm: 8 don’ts for the fight against gender violence

(This article first appeared on the DNA website on November 25, 2016, on the first day of the 2016 Prajnya 16 Days Campaign against Gender Violence. It is reposted here as an option for those who find the original image-heavy page hard to access.)

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Do no harm: 8 don’ts for the fight against gender violence

Swarna Rajagopalan

We appear to be on the cusp of an age where it is not acceptable to endorse gender-based violence in public. This is not our destination—the elimination of gender-based violence—but it is a few steps down the path from a few decades ago when a column on the subject may have used genteel euphemisms and lamented the loss of virtue of our sisters and daughters. This unprecedented promise of a consensus must be celebrated and International Day for the Elimination of All Forms of Violence against Women (November 25) presents a great opportunity.

This year, I would like to offer a list of “Don’ts” (or rather, “Let’s nots”) in the struggle to end sexual and gender-based violence.

1. Let’s not protect women

“How can we keep women safe?” or “Can you give some tips to women to stay safe?” may be the most common questions we get asked in the course of our gender violence awareness work in Chennai. Fair enough, we are all concerned about the safety of those we love. However, the protectionist approach is problematic. First, it robs women of their own agency— that is, their ability to think and decide for themselves what they want to do. Second, it equates them (us) with other things we want to keep safe— our keys, our papers, our money or our address books! Third, it ends up limiting their freedom in ways that have terrible consequences for their lives. From being draped in so much cloth that you cannot run or swim to safety to not being able to go to school or to work, all because you may not be safe, thinking that something might happen along the way— the impulse to protect is experienced as the will to stifle. Fourth, protection presumes there are safe places in the world. A girl is safe because she is home. A woman is safe because she only sees the men of her family. In an age when even the womb is not a safe place for female offspring, this is a dangerous illusion. Finally, protectionism is a form of denial. The problem is not with those who are vulnerable to violence—regardless of gender—but with those inclined to use violence as a means of demonstrating control or even a normal language of human interaction. The problem is social inequality, in this case caused by patriarchy. By focusing on protection, we choose not to address the real problem at all.

2. Let’s not talk about women being our mothers, sisters and daughters

Women are human beings.When an incident of violence happens, well-meaning individuals speak up against it, and one of the most common responses in India relates the victim to family: “She was someone’s daughter” or “We all have mothers, sisters and daughters at home” or “The government needs to explain why our sisters and daughters are not safe.” Family is very important to most Indians. However, violence is something to condemn regardless of who experiences violence and whether or not she is a mother, daughter or sister. Sometimes, people say of a rape victim, “She should have addressed him/them as ‘brother,’ he/they would have left her alone.” What we know about child abuse and incestuous rape belies that hope. An attack on a family member—anyone’s family member—is read as an attack on their honour. This view makes sexual violence during conflict situations (including communal violence) seem perfectly logical—attack a woman’s body and you actually attack the collective honour of a community. The point is that an incident of violence is not unequivocally wrong because it hurts somebody’s relative or someone’s notion of their honour but because it hurts a human being.

3. Let’s not talk about hanging and shooting people

Something in us hankers for the old ways of justice. “An eye for an eye,” as the Bible phrases it, suggests that reciprocity is justice. It sounds immediate, decisive and punitive in a way that Indian courts have not been. Filing a complaint takes a long time and justice sometimes remains a dream. In such a context, we vacillate between wanting instant, summary and harsh justice and a frightening indulgence, especially when the accused is powerful. The indulgence is unconscionable because we know that if a person is able to get away with sexual harassment or violence once, they are likely to try it again. Silence and indulgence create a trail of victim/survivors where there should be none. On the other hand, calls for castration, public execution or a shooting gallery are also red flags. When I was very young and attending one of India’s first feminist conferences with older cousins, I remember hearing this argument against mandating very harsh punishments— that judges would hesitate to convict someone. There was, we were told, a better chance of getting a conviction with a moderate sentence. A greater likelihood of conviction might serve as a better deterrent than a rare conviction with a very harsh sentence. After all, summary and violent justice in centuries past has not cured us of our will to dominate through violence.

4. Let’s not underestimate men

Patriarchy gives men very little credit, molly-coddling them in a million ways. All the advantages they are meant to enjoy also end up limiting their potential as human beings. Time and again, in conversations about legal protections against gender violence, women worry about how they will make men vulnerable to false accusations. We tend to respond by explaining that the percentage of false cases is relatively low. The argument we should be making is this: Men can and should be trusted to think that gender-based violence or sexual harassment are serious enough violations to create redressal processes and guarantees of justice. We should give them credit, as thinking and caring human beings, for understanding that every law or regulation comes with the potential for misuse but that is not an argument against trying to deliver justice. Traffic and taxation are classic examples, and yet we have not abandoned traffic regulations or tax.

Patriarchy trains us to have unrealistic expectations of each other, regardless of gender. Thus it happens that the resistance to transforming gender relations comes as much from women as it does from men. The resistance comes from the habit of protecting men and it also comes from women’s own comfort level with patriarchy, having grown up in its shade. This sometimes leads us to invite men into our struggles not as partners but to lend it the authority patriarchy invests in them. Men can be partners and apprentices too; their commitment to change need not be contingent on leadership roles.

5. Let’s not be limited by patriarchy in the solutions we seek

We are all products of a patriarchal society, even when we reject it. It shapes our self-images, our relationships and our ways of being more than we would like to admit. Nowhere is the stranglehold of this iniquitous system greater than in the way we imagine justice. For many of us, the most outrageous instance is the idea that when a rapist marries his survivor, justice has been done. There is a rationale for this judgement—which is that the survivor has to go back to live in a society for which the damage to family honour and her marriage prospects outweigh her own trauma. The hardship caused by stigma is assessed as being greater than the trauma caused by violence. This is admittedly a realistic understanding of the world, but do we want to understand such a world so well that we are unable to change it? Instead, if people in positions of authority could speak up against such views and if judges would temper a different judgement with a reasoned argument, perhaps we would inch towards different social outcomes. In short, if patriarchy is going to dictate to us what is right and what is feasible, we will never be able to escape its clutches. We need to be able to ignore its very loud ‘voice of reason’ that booms at us with great conviction and free our imagination of justice.

6. Let’s not forget that gender violence is part of a larger social complex of injustice

The fight against gender violence is one part of the campaign for gender equality which in turn is a part of our on-going quest for social justice— so that all our iniquities are implicated in perpetuating each other. Moreover, all of us have more than one identity at a time— among other things, I am a woman, a Bombayite, a person who enjoys great class and caste privilege, presently resident in Chennai, an academic, a Tamil-speaker, an Elphinstonian, an NGO person, a South Asian, an Indian, a middle-aged person, and, of course, a human being. All my identities intersect as much as all forms of injustice reinforce each other. This is what younger feminists call intersectionality, a new word for an old idea. Previous generations learnt this idea as a key Marxist contribution to thinking about society. Look at structures, we learned; they impact each other and transform how people live and work and interact across their various identities. Fix the structures, we were told, to fix the injustice. Therefore, while concern about women may be immediate and most important to someone, women’s rights cannot be won in isolation of other people’s rights, and gender justice is incomplete without other forms of social justice. It’s just arithmetic: no one is equal unless everyone is.

7. Let’s not adjust to violence for any reason

Indians love the word ‘adjust;’ we urge each other to adjust to anything— no change, wrong size, less salt, bad toilets, no water, abusive speech, demonetization and interpersonal violence, to name a few things to which we are best advised to adjust. We teach young girls to adjust their personalities so that they do not outshine the men in the room. We adjust to discrimination because that is just our karma. We have proverbs that justify anger in men— an angry man is a just man, for instance. “If she took better care of her house, he would not beat her.” “You should understand that men face frustrations at work.” “It must be so hard for him to have to ask for help all the time.” Understand. Adjust. “Things will be alright once you have children.” Adjust, until then. If we are serious about ending gender violence, we should stop adjusting to it. There is no justification—absolutely no justification—for violent behaviour. Violence is not an acceptable language in human (or any) relationships.

8. Let’s not delegate responsibility for eliminating gender violence

“If we had better laws, we would not have so much violence.” Or, “laws are the problem; we have lousy laws.”

“On the other hand, our laws are excellent, but they are not implemented.”

“Law enforcement in India is terrible.”

“The police are corrupt, the police are insensitive, the police are brutal, the police are hand-in-glove with politicians, the police are retrogressive.”

“Don’t blame policemen, they are paid so badly. What about our courts?”

“Such a backlog, such delay— justice delayed, justice denied. What do lawyers care?”

“And those politicians! The statements they make!”

“Media, my god, the media are so irresponsible!”

“What are you NGOs doing? You should be out there fighting for all the poor victims!”

There may be more than a kernel of truth in all these statements but there is one truth that never gets listed— we are the problem. We have laws and rights but we do not bother to learn about them. We do not educate ourselves to recognise or understand the problem. When faced with the reality of gender violence, we pick platitudes and denial. We do not want to know too much about bystander intervention because, my god, would you actually want to get involved? If we do not recognise that we have a problem, we cannot invoke the laws that will get us justice. So where we sit, we are still far from the police, the lawyers and the courts we dismiss. We do not care enough to learn about support services nor to volunteer with them or raise funds for them. Content to adjust to and ignore a problem, we are complicit every time someone suffers physical, emotional or any other kind of abuse. And this makes US a problem without a solution. And so I will end with my first ‘do’ in this article: Let’s take responsibility.

If we are aware of these ‘don’ts’ as we commit to this important cause, we make a constructive beginning. Let’s take responsibility and let’s do this right!

Swarna Rajagopalan is a political scientist by training. She founded Prajnya which organises the Prajnya 16 Days Campaign against Gender Violence, a public education initiative on sexual and gender-based violence, from November 25-December 10 every year.

 

Redrawing Resistance: Expressions of young women on sexual harassment in public

by Mangalam Sridhar

A painting, dark and grim on one side, bright and happy on the other. Depicting the ideal picture of happy women on the left, and the everyday reality of women, because of the violence they face, on the right. This was among the 50 works of art on display at the Lalit Kala Akademi between April 15 and 17, 2016. The works were a part of the ‘Redrawing Resistance’ exhibition, which showcased the expressions of young women on sexual harassment in public places. The exhibition was organised by PCVC, in collaboration with the US Consulate and WCC.

The art exhibition, and the events around it, were the result of a workshop on gender sensitization and sexual harassment with students of Women’s Christian College(WCC) conducted by PCVC at WCC. The participants were city students, and survivors of domestic violence associated with PCVC. As an exercise in art therapy, the participants were asked to express street sexual harassment, and the violence that they face as they navigate the world around them. The end products stood testimony to the fact that every woman experiences violence differently, and expresses it in her own way. 

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One of the participants made a pot art which showed the different goals and dreams of a woman and how they are restricted once she is married. One showed how women are judged based on their outfits and another displayed how women show one face to the world and have another face inside them that they are not confident enough to reveal.

What was most striking perhaps was the work of the survivors. They told their stories through art, giving the world a small idea of the struggles they have faced, and continue to face. One of the survivors, had depicted her story in two sections. One section is red and the other is green. Both are covered with flowers and beads, but the red section shows fading flowers and the larger green one is full of color showing hope. This represented her life- the attack, after which she faced a lot of discrimination in the society. The art exhibition gave her the confidence and strength to portray her story and her face to the world with her head held high.

 The focus, through the three days, was on sexual harassment that women face on an everyday basis in public spaces, and the need to bring an end to it. And everything from the decor to the discussion reflected this. Apart from the art-work, the walls of the room were adorned with posters of women with slogans about reclaiming public spaces (#oorusuthify): stop objectifying us, stop treating our bodies as public spaces, and stop dictating to us about what to wear or where to go. 

The exhibition was inaugurated by Ariel Pollock, Public Affairs Officer, US Consulate. According to a study conducted in 2012, 7 out of 10 girls are subjected to harassment, she stressed. She also said that, Sexual Harassment is not just an Indian issue, it’s a global issue. Prasanna Gettu, Founder and CEO of International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care, said, we all are moving forward to resilient, resourceful, violent-free lives.

The inaugural session was dominated by poetry. Sharada and Michelle wrote the work and it was performed by Sharada, Michelle and Pooja, setting the tone for the weekend. “I am not the light. I am not the darkness. I am not good. I am not evil. I am not a doormat. I am not the temple bell. I am not your mother. I am not your sister. I don’t need to be. I refuse to be in the hierarchy of this patriarchy. I refuse to be held responsible for being who I need to be,” the poets exclaimed. 

On Day 2, Paromita Vohra’s “Unlimited Girls” was screened, followed by a discussion on dealing with sexual harassment. The participants raised concerns about why reacting to sexual harassment is not easy, and discussed ways in which they could act in future, including being legally literate. 

The organisers are planning to take the exhibition to other places in the city, in order to create more awareness about sexual harassment. 

End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists

Recently, a journalist in Karnataka received rape threats online, reportedly after she wrote about allegations against a godman. Chetana Thirthahalli was sent lewd messages and threats, and those targeting her demanded that she stop ‘writing critically on Hindu issues’.

Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. With the relative anonymity that the Internet provides, rape threats are becoming increasingly common on social media sites. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe says, it’s alarmed by how women journalists are singled out and attacked more than anyone else.

OSCE Representative of the Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic says, “The female journalists targeted most report on crime, politics and sensitive – and sometimes painful – issues, including taboos and dogmas in our societies. These online attacks tend not to address the content of the articles but instead degrade the journalist as a woman. For some female journalists, online threats of rape and sexual violence have become part of everyday life; others experience severe sexual harassment and intimidation. Misogynist speech is flourishing.”

In a report on mxm India, Ranjona Banerjee says, “Women remain easy targets on social media and women in journalism even easier. The easiest way to attack is of course by sexual innuendo because then it reduces women to one aspect of their existence: their genitalia and/or their reproductive uses.”

(Read CPJ’s detailed Journalist Security Guide.)

The online attacks are an addition to the threats to safety that women journalists face. They are stalked, raped and murdered while doing their jobs. (Read: Violence and Harassment Against Women in News Media by IWMF). In an interview to The Quint, NDTV Senior Editor Maya Mirchandani said, “A protest at India Gate can be more dangerous than a war zone. Honestly, in a war zone, gender is less of a handicap, it is harder to protect yourself in a civilian environment.”

Meanwhile, the media also needs to introspect on the sexism and sexual violence within the industry. The Tehelka case opened a can of worms, but the issue has been forgotten since. The International Federation of Journalists ‘media and gender’ country report says, “In India, the well-established and strong media landscape is full of women journalists. Yet while the advantage of class, caste and higher education has seen some women climb to the top rungs of the profession, the majority of women journalists today are still concentrated on the middle and lower rungs of the profession. Sexual harassment remains a critical issue for the industry. So too, while more men are found in full-time contract roles, large numbers of women in the country are moving or being pushed into freelance roles.”

(Read: Best Practices to Prevent Sexual Harassment at the Workplace by Vibhuti Patel)

Workplace Sexual Harassment: SHEROES series on ‘what to do’

SHEROES has been publishing a series of posts on workplace sexual harassment that are a useful resource on the subject. We are posting links to the series here as a way of extending their reach.

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act – Introduction
March 26th, 2014

What To Do Before Approaching Complaints Committee – The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Law
April 4th, 2014

Steps To Be Taken In Case Of Sexual Harassment At Work
April 10th, 2014

Procedure After Filing Complain with ICC – The Sexual Harassment at Workplace Law,2013
April 17th, 2014

What can a woman do if the employer has not constituted the ICC – The Sexual Harassment at Workplace Law,2013
April 25th, 2014

 

What the numbers mean: Data on Violence against Women

There’s been a lot of discussion in the print media over the last couple of weeks about data and statistics on different forms of gender and sexual violence. What numbers are there in India? What do they mean? How can we interpret them? What do they tell us and what do they hide?

In 2011, we organised a seminar to discuss exactly this, inviting representatives from the police, service provider organisations, lawyers, journalists, academics and students, among others. Much has changed in the two years since in terms of public awareness and attitudes towards violence – however, it does appear that little has changed in terms of data-related challenges.

Do read the excerpt from the seminar report below. You can access the full report here.

Making numbers count: The gender violence tally
16 September 2011: Seminar Report
The lack of accurate, accessible, updated and relevant data on gender violence remains a real stumbling block for the many non-profit organisations and governments that grapple with this issue. Why is it so important to have this data, to understand it and to use itproperly? Given that gender and sexual violence get little attention, numbers become essential for ‘flag-waving’, for holding up as evidence, proof, to backup anecdotal evidence. Most of all, good data conveys the urgency of the problem in ways that nothing else can.
For these and other reasons, data on gender violence was the focus of Prajnya’s first full-day research seminar.‘Making numbers count: The gender violence tally” was organised on 16 September 2011 to discuss four dimensions of data collection on gender violence: What are the available sources of data on gender violence in Tamil Nadu? Is all available data good data; indeed, what is good data? What challenges do we face in collecting data on certain specific forms of violence? How can we, through our work as activists, researchers or service providers, help gather high quality data on gender violence?
Also read:
Albeena Shakil in EPW on what the most recent data on rape and honour crimes in India tells us. Rape and Honour Crimes: The NCRB Report 2012, 3 August 2013, EPW.
A comprehensive and accessible infographic on NCRB data from The Hindu. Data busts some myths on sexual violence, 3 September 2013, The Hindu.
Rukmini S in The Hindu on how and why the NCRB undercounts crimes against women. India officially undercounts all crimes including rape, 13 September 2013, The Hindu.
Dilip D’Souza in Livemint on the many questions that official data on sexual violence raises. Report a rape today, 12 September 2013, Livemint.
And finally, Meena Menon in The Hindu on similar data-related challenges that Pakistan faces, in terms of violence against women. Women grapple with violence in Pakistan, 16 September 2013, The Hindu.

From Hollaback! Chennai: Staying Safe on Facebook

In a guest post, a student who attended a Hollaback! Chennai workshop on street sexual harassment shares her tips on staying safe from online harassment while using Facebook. Read the entire post here.

What do you do if you have been raped?

Nisha Susan takes a ‘comprehensive look at how Indian women can navigate the first few days after rape’. Read the excerpt below and the full story here (Yahoo India, 2 July 2013).

What do you do if you have been raped?

Despite being warned to expect it all your life, despite all the chatter of the last few months, you probably still don’t know how to deal with sexual assault. A comprehensive look at how Indian women can navigate the first few days after rape.

For many women there comes that odd, jolting moment when you realize you have structured your life around avoiding being raped.

That moment sneaks up on you. Perhaps it’s because you caught yourself thinking twice about sitting down on the footpath. You were tired while waiting for the bus but you thought twice and continued standing, holding your heavy bag. And suddenly it occurred to you that you didn’t want to sit on the footpath because you didn’t want to attract attention, and you didn’t want to attract attention because you didn’t want to be raped. And in that moment the absurdity hit you. It’s as if you had been a man and every sentient particle of your life had been arranged around avoiding being mugged or murdered.

That moment sneaks up on you. The moment passes and you go back to unconsciously arranging your life around avoiding this one crime. Every time you hear footsteps behind you, every time you open your front door, every time you walk through a basement parking lot, every time you turn into a dark street, you wonder – Is this the one? Is this how it’s going to happen? As comedian Ever Mainard says, “The problem is that every woman has that one moment when you think, here’s my rape! This is it. OK, 11:47 pm, how old am I? 25? All right, here’s my rape! It’s like we wait for it, like, what took you so long?”

For some of us – for at least 24,923 documented Indian women in 2012 alone – there has come that other unfortunate, jolting moment when you have been raped.

Three out of four times, you are likely to have been raped by someone familiar, someone familial: your uncle comes to drop off a tiffin box and stays to chase you round the house, breaking everything you try to hide behind, pulling the landline wire out of the wall. Your brother-in-law tries to rape you when you are five months pregnant. Your former husband decides that divorce isn’t quite enough. The sarpanch of your village. Your nephew. Your brother’s friend. Your brother. Your father.

Here is your rape. It has come. And here comes that epiphany. The realization that you have been warned about this moment your whole life but still don’t know what you are supposed to do afterwards.

After December 16, after the gang rape in Delhi, parents across India have clutched harder at their restless daughters. Well-meaning men and women have recited the gruesome details of that gang rape to each other, asking, “Can you imagine anything worse?” Women talk to their friends about how much more scared they are of strangers. A warm fug of paranoia has enveloped us, binding us closer to the homes and neighbourhoods where we apparently need not fear anything.

But here is that moment in that familiar place. You have been raped. Six months of paranoia later – are you kidding me, a lifetime of paranoia later – you still don’t know what you are supposed to do.If you are the kind of person who thinks buying insurance is inviting death or illness, you may not want to read any further. Crippling your life with the fear of rape – you’ve got plenty of that already.

You may choose not to seek justice, to never report the crime, to not discuss it. But if you wish to make a recovery, if you intend to seek justice, if you want to punish the man or men who have raped you, the first 24 hours are the most crucial. Coping with that first day’s procedures will shape the way rape affects your life.