India’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has announced an additional Rs 1,000 crores to the Nirbhaya fund to create safe public spaces for women. The women safety fund now stands at Rs 2000 crore. Wow!
But how is all this money going to be spent? Who is to decide how the money is spent? The women and child development ministry is in charge of planning schemes to create safe spaces for women. And do we trust the ministry to come up with concrete programmes? Unfortunately, no, due to its poor credibility and failed past records.
The railway minister announced part of the fund will be used to install CCTV in trains so as to make long distance trains safer for women. But what use are they when goons cover their faces and drag women out of crowded vehicle, and gang rape them? Why not have armed police personal in women only compartments, let there be more ladies compartments. Why not distribute free pepper sprays and stun guns to women? Till such time, the men of our country accept women as equal stakeholders and admit equal rights, the country must protect its women, young and old, rich and poor, rural and urban. Period.
Last year, the government allotted Rs 150 crore for making Indian cities safer for women and Rs 50 crore for securing public transport. But still highway gang-rapes happen! We now have 36 Rape Crisis Centres in place. Good moves. But can there be better moves. Surely, unarguably, urgently, yes.
It is a good thing to have separate social security schemes for women worth Rs 79,258 crore. Appreciate it. But no woman can benefit from any welfare scheme when public spaces are playing fields of sexual predators. How safe can women feel when streets, public transport, parks, schools, workplaces, and their own neighbourhoods are increasingly turning unsafe?
It is comforting to know New Delhi is part of the Safe Cities Free of Violence against Women and Girls initiative by the UN Women. Why not copy it in all cities, towns and villages? Let us quickly prevent and respond to sexual harassment and all forms of sexual violence against women across diverse backdrops.
We could learn from Egypt and adopt women’s safety audits to guide urban planning and from. Port Moresby and take steps to improve women’s safety in local markets. Why can’t we do all that and more?
In India, sexual harassment in public spaces remains a largely neglected issue, with few policies in place address it, or prevent it. To start with, we need to put young people at the heart of prevention efforts. India needs to develop a non-formal curriculum to end violence against women and girls. We also need to change norms and behaviour of men and boys on gender equality and women’s rights.
Why doesn’t India take international Orange Day seriously? Why don’t our celebrities join in to end violence against women? Why not observe 25th of every month as awareness day against violence against women? World over, Orange Day has garnered support as a high-profile initiative involving celebrities and sports stars to raise the profile of the issue. Why don’t Indian celebrities take up this opportunity real seriously, commit an advocacy initiative, and pledge to end violence against women?
Sometimes I wonder, is the government of India seriously clueless about the plight of women in the country? Or is it unconcerned?
The government must run back to back awareness campaigns to prevent violence against women in order to change attitudes and behaviours which tolerate and perpetuate gender inequality. Maybe, we should extend the clean India campaign to cover the filthy gender bias.