VAW is a growing concern throughout the region and within South Asia, which is home to one-fifth of the world population, violence, or the risk of violence, permeates every aspect of women’s lives from birth to death.
It is estimated that one-third of South Asian women experience violence throughout their lives and VAW is institutionalised through family structures, wider social and economic frameworks, and cultural and religious traditions.
This violence is insidious, it is a widely accepted method for controlling women, is largely overlooked by law enforcement agencies, and is ignored by those in power.
The violence against women is more glaring as Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated the condition of women in every walk of life.
Definition of Femicide
The term femicide was originally defined as the killing of women but has been adapted over time to represent the act of killing women because of their gender.
In this sense, femicide is understood to be motivated by misogyny and prejudice against women.
For a case to be considered femicide there must be an implied intention to carry out the crime and a demonstrated connection between the crime and the gender of the victim.
Throughout India, several forms of violence against women fit within the definition of femicide including domestic violence, honour killings, dowry deaths, sex-selective abortions, infanticide, domestic violence, and witch-hunting.
A case severed by the Pandemic
A 53% rise is seen in crime against women in 2020 from cases rising from 1411 cases/month to 2165 cases/month after a lockdown was imposed.
In India, the mortality rate for women from Covid is 3.3 per cent compared to 2.9 per cent for men.
This paper will focus on domestic violence, dowry deaths, and sex-selective abortions.
[A] Domestic Violence
Domestic violence is prevalent across India and is widely accepted as a legitimate part of family life by both women and men.
The family institution is an extremely important aspect of Indian culture and is central to the country’s social and economic frameworks.
However, for many women the family does not represent a safe and protective unit, rather it reinforces wider patterns of gender discrimination and legitimises violence as a method for controlling and subjugating women.
The most recent National Family Health Survey found that in India 34% of women between the ages of 15-49 have experienced violence at some point since they turned 15 and that 37% of married women have experienced violence.
[B] Dowry Deaths
Dowry is a cultural tradition in which the family of the bride gives cash and presents to the family of the groom.
It was originally meant to support new couples beginning their married life.
However, India’s prevailing patriarchy as well as rising economic demands have turned dowry into a commercial transaction that is underpinned by socio-economic standing and reinforces the financial dependency of women on their husbands.
The dowry system also reinforces discrimination against women and dowry-related deaths continue to compromise women’s safety throughout India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh.
According to NCRB reports, on average, every hour a woman succumbs to dowry deaths in India with the annual figure rising upwards to 7000.
Violence against women often increases when a family requests a larger dowry after marriage or shows dissatisfaction with the dowry they have received.
[C] Sex-selective abortions
The practice of sex-selected abortions throughout South Asia, particularly in India, highlights the extent of patriarchy and misogyny throughout the region.
It is a particularly insidious form of violence because it prevents girl children from being born purely because they are girls.
The practice of sex-selective abortions is growing throughout the region.
About 6.8 million lesser female births will be recorded across India by 2030 because of the persistent usage of selective abortions, researchers estimate.
The increasing availability of prenatal technologies means that families are able to determine the sex of the foetus and are choosing to abort female foetuses at an alarming rate.
An estimated 10 million female foetuses have been aborted over the past two decades.
Responses to Femicide
New laws and policies as well as growing support from law enforcement agencies and civil society groups are empowering women to seek assistance in the case of violence and abuse.
Furthermore, efforts are being made to improve the implementation of legislation that is helping to increase the rate of conviction and reducing the prevalence of gender-related crimes.
[A] Legal Protection
Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961: It bans the request and payment of the dowry of any form as a precondition for marriage.
Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCIPNDT) Act, 1994: It prohibits the use of prenatal technologies to determine the sex of a foetus and several states have launched vigilance cells to curb incidences of female foeticide.
IPC and CrPC: There is no legislation directly addressing honour killings and currently, the crime is dealt with under the Indian Penal Code or the Criminal Procedure Code.
[B] Affirmative Actions
Women’s organisations have also worked to educate women on their rights and provide support to those who have experienced violence.
Many NGOs across the country provide counselling, legal support, and livelihood programmes for women so that they can become more empowered and financially independent.
This is paralleled by government initiatives to promote women’s social and political empowerment.
[C] Political Empowerment
The reservation of 33% of seats in India’s local government increased women’s political participation and has led to more gender friendly governance.
The development of further affirmative legislation in the State of Goa, which allocates nearly half of the state’s representative council seats for women.
However, in the year 2020, India ranked 142 among 193 countries in terms of the per centage of women in Parliament.
A total of 78 women MPs were elected in 2019 i.e., 14.4%.
The number of women voters had risen from 47% (2014) to about 48% (2019) while women MPs in the 16th Lok Sabha stand at 11.2% after more than 70 years of Independence.
In spite of these efforts femicide persists throughout India.
While legislation may protect victims of violence in theory in many cases the penalties outlined within the legislation are weak.
Furthermore, the implementation of these laws remains limited and, in many cases, ineffective in preventing femicide or prosecuting the perpetrators of this violence.
A lack of commitment to ending VAW at the political level is evident across India and is preventing substantive action at the legislative, policy, and programmatic level.
A lack of funding and infrastructure to address violence remains one of the biggest impediments to the effective implementation of this legislation and little budgetary allocations are directed towards the reduction of violence against women and the realisation of women’s rights.
Approaches Required to Address Femicide
Efforts must be made to encourage and support governments to develop effective and comprehensive approaches to femicide.
Legislation is also essential for addressing structural gender discrimination as well as cultural and social legitimisation of violence against women.
Tackling femicide is extremely difficult especially given that gender discrimination and violence against women are so embedded within India’s social, cultural, and economic structures.
Responses to femicide must be comprehensive and involve the development and implementation of strong legislation, gender-sensitive law enforcement policies and protocols.
There needs to be awareness-raising at the grassroots level, support for individuals and families experiencing violence, and the realisation of women’s social, economic, and political rights.
Increase in Support Services for Women
There is inadequate support available for women who experience violence and in many cases their lack of resources means they are forced to endure ongoing violence.
Support programmes can strengthen infrastructure by increasing shelter homes and improving medical facilities.
This infrastructure ensures that women who wish to leave violent situations have safe alternative accommodation, medical services, and social-support services.
Support services can also educate women on their rights and the legislation protecting them from violence and can assist them to make positive changes in their lives and to respond to violence.
Awareness-building programmes around women’s rights are essential to addressing the underlying causes of domestic violence.
Currently, only approximately 1% of women report incidences of abuse and many are not aware of their rights or legislation protecting them from violence and harassment.
Conclusion: Addressing Patriarchy
Femicide cannot be fully addressed without tackling the widespread patriarchy and misogyny that permeates much of Indian society.
It is vital that the overwhelming culture of patriarchy is taken into consideration when developing interventions so that outdated attitudes towards women are replaced with respect and gender sensitivity.