In India, a woman is raped every 20 minutes (source: National Crime Records Bureau).
You might ask, as a man what am I to do about it – after all we are not the rapists or their abusers?
Let’s start by facing the fact that the majority of perpetrators of rape and sexual abuse are men. So until we fix the problem of how we treat women there is precious little the women of India can do about this plague in our society. Before we delve into the purely physical aspects of abuse let’s examine our own attitudes towards women; and I mean the educated, middle class, globetrotting among us.
Be honest. Do you have a problem with your wife smoking, drinking and being loud in public? Do you think the same way when you see a male friend doing these things? Do you care about how any man dresses? Do you stare? Do you notice if their hair is unwashed or if he is unshaven? Do you think bringing up your kids is your wife’s responsibility? Perhaps, you are open-minded and encourage your wife to work. You believe she should have ambitions outside the home. If so, do you also absolve her of the responsibilities within the home; or better yet do you believe these should be shared equally?
My point is that we do not have to be rapists, stalkers, and abusers to join this fight. Every Indian man needs to start challenging and changing deeply ingrained notions we have about women. Many that we are taught from birth. Some consciously and others re-enforced through behaviour we see in our own homes; often by women themselves. We need to start demolishing this notion that women are inferior. We need to forego our deep seated fears and accept that women deserve equal rights. They must be entitled to the same freedoms we enjoy, often, as if it were our birthright. Now we must also make it theirs. We need to change our attitudes, beliefs and shed our double standards – only then can we extricate ourselves from the prisons of our minds and truly free the women of India.
This campaign is not about a fight for some militant brand of feminism or to suggest that women and men will somehow magically become equal in all respects. We are not the same physically or when it comes to physical strength. There are many things men will always be better suited for; just as there are things women are; both physically and emotionally. Nor does it absolve us of being chivalrous; holding the door and protecting women when they need physical protection. Think of it as combining the gentlemen of yore with the modern man.
This is about letting women act, speak, dress, walk, talk, burp, smoke, drink, smile, laugh, cry, earn, dream and do everything else that men can freely do without being fear of being judged, stared at, groped or chastised. It is about providing women with the same opportunities for education, the same encouragement to dream and the same pay for the same job. It is about letting women decide what they want, how they want it and when they want it; rather than society or men deciding for them. It is about letting go of that medieval idea that a woman becomes our property; before or after marriage.
Because until we afford women the same freedoms; treat them with same respect and consider them our equals, nothing else can change. We must lead by setting the example so our sons can learn from us.
1 in 3 women worldwide will be subjected to rape or sexual abuse in their lifetime. Think about that for a moment; between your mother, sister, wife or daughter you already know a current or future victim of abuse. If this fact alone is not reason enough to raise your voice, then you are not a man my friend…