Fighting gender-based violence  

Nilratan Halder   | Published: November 29, 2018 22:06:52

On the 27th anniversary of an international campaign run for 16 days beginning with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on November 25 and ending with the Human Rights Day on December 10, it is only fitting to take stock of this elaborate event. Dubbed Activism against Gender-Based Violence, the campaign evidently appears to have made only tentative steps, not a giant leap forward. Nevertheless, what is important to evaluate is if the world has become a better place for women to live in on the campaign's account. This year's United Nations theme, 'Orange the World:#HearMe Too'  obviously finds its origin in the #Me Too campaign -one that got off to a slow start initially only to gain extraordinary momentum soon.

About one thing there is no doubt that the #Me Too social media campaign took the American society by storm. Started by women of Hollywood's silver screen, it soon inspired celebrities in other areas to come out with their stories accusing men in high places of sexual aggression. From teenage gymnasts to porno stars, the list of victims is long. A number of sex predators had to pay heavily for crimes they committed a long time back. For the first time, it was not the victims but the perpetrators who suffered the public humiliation and thus the table could be turned on the nasty male who have been dominating their opposite gender. People may never come across the 16 days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence but surely there is every chance that they have heard of #Me Too campaign.

So it was a defining moment when an American actress used the #Me Too in order to encourage accusations against Harvey Weinstein. The hashtag was however used for the first time as early as 2006 by an American Social activist and community organiser. But it became popular in 2017 with the unmasking of Weinstein as an unrelenting lecher. From the United States of America, the inspiration made its bold journey to lands and societies marked by traditional conservatism. Bollywood, India's tinsel town is now struggling with accusations levelled against the glamour world's stars, superstars and revered directors and producers. Some socialites and media personalities have also been accused of sexual misconduct and violence. A few of the accused have denied the allegations and some others have resigned from their positions accepting the charge.

Now the question is being asked, more often than not, if such withdrawal is enough. Shouldn't they suffer the punishment due for such acts of crime? In fact, the magnitude of the trauma a victim goes through is hardly fathomed by even women who did not have the misfortune of experiencing it, least of all by men. Struggling with the anguish in silence the victims bleed within. So far they could not master the courage to disclose the ugly incidents because of the public attitude towards them. As if they committed the crime and thus made them available for further humiliation!

Right now a 17-year-old gold winning weightlifter here is undergoing treatment at the National Institute of Mental Health and Hospital (NIMH). Why? She was sexually violated by an office assistant of the Bangladesh Weightlifting Federation when weightlifters were on a training course as part of preparation for an international competition. The #Me Too campaign has not shaken the Dhallywood but this latest incident of rape in the sports arena is likely to unearth similar other sexual offences. How many names of male celebrities in different areas will surface depends on a number of factors, though. Here is a society that, unlike the American and Indian, may not come forthwith with past incidents in order to jeopardise their family life.

Admittedly what the 16 days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence could not do in 26 years, the #Me Too campaign has done. Not only has it transcended the sense of propriety in maintaining relations with women in workplaces or elsewhere where they were considered objects of sex, but also created a new dynamism among women to take the bull by the horn. This will restrain men of sexually predatory instinct in high places or wielding power and influences from advancing too much.

However, will it also have a sobering influence on the lower segments of society? That is likely to be an impossible proposition. Activism as distinguished from campaign surely conveys a more positive sense, no doubt. But taking the message to the common mass is a daunting task. Celebrities and actresses of cine world could make a revolt happen only because they are rich enough, do not have to depend on others for their survival. But this is not the case with women in lower segments of society. Not that they are not courageous enough. Had they been empowered enough -only in monetary terms, they would not have to care what others thought about them. They have to fear reprisals and revelation of their sexual humiliation will end up in their rejection from not only family but society as well.

Yet the movement has its positive impact. Women took years and even more than a century in the Western world to earn their right to franchise. This movement will have to go some way before it impacts positively the social layers below and brings about gender parity.


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