When we talk of crimes against women, the narrative that dominates the discourse is how women can change their ways to save themselves. To avoid assault, a woman must dress appropriately, be home on time, carry a weapon, alert her loved ones of her whereabouts, never go out alone—the list is endless.
It is implied that women must curb their freedoms to avoid systemic violence, while the perpetrators–mostly men–roam free. Most women see this as an unfair burden on them, but, alas, other people simply refuse to acknowledge it.
One such person is Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh.
The Indian Express reported that on Monday, he inaugurated a 15-day program to raise awareness on crimes against women. During the event, Chouhan said that he was in favour of putting together a system where women moving out of their homes for work would have to register themselves at their local police station so that they could be tracked for their safety.
Women will also be provided with a helpline number, which would enable them to call in case of a problem. Chouhan also suggested installing panic buttons in public transportation.
What looks like a step towards women’s safety is actually one that aims to establish a system of surveillance on women. This can be incredibly harmful.
Why Does Women’s Safety Come At The Cost Of Women’s Freedom?
Women and surveillance go hand-in-hand. From a young age, we are policed to behave in a way that does not affect our safety. Our movement and actions are curbed to protect our ‘honour.’ This goes without so much as examining the root cause of sexual violence against women—patriarchy.
The onus of their protection lies on women alone, and even small transgressions allow for blame to be placed on us. And this conditioning begins from the space we believe is sacred and ours – our homes.
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Most women find liberation in going outside the house, whether it’s in the form of work or leisure. Thus, Chouhan’s plans to track women to provide them with ‘safety’ is just another way of curbing their movement and freedom. This is patriarchal, not empowering.
The nature of sexual violence is systemic—it can only be curbed if it is acknowledged as such.
Women are taught to behave simply because men are not. There would be much less of a need to track women for their safety if men were held accountable for perpetuating misogyny.
This announcement only shows us how society views women and their bodies. If they’re not in the control of their family or husband, they’re in the control of the State. Single women, specifically, are seen as ones in need of protection. Their bodies, after all, are ‘untouched’ and ‘pure,’ and sexual violence would take away their ‘honour’.
Our bodies are rarely our own; this kind of scrutiny does not hold for men.
There’s also the easily forgotten problem of the State authorities themselves perpetrating violence against women. Whom do we run to if the police harm us?
Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s announcement, though not directly linked, is strangely similar in its consequences on women with the Centre’s proposal to raise the legal marriageable age for girls.
The proposal announced on Independence Day 2020, was hailed as empowering as it would make the legal marriageable ages of both boys and girls the same. Other reasons behind this move were to reduce maternal/infant mortality rates and lowering fertility rates.
But neither this proposal nor Chouhan’s announcement is empowering in any way—they only hurt women.
A 2019 study conducted by PLD showed that many young girls ‘ran away’ or eloped from home to marry before the age of 18.
reason? The belief that marriage is the only ‘legitimate’ way to have a consensual relationship.
Marriage, for many young girls, becomes a wild card of sorts—they choose it to run away from oppressive family structures. This proves that women don’t necessarily always feel safe at home either—why not confront those problems first?
This announcement does not do anything for women’s safety; in fact, it puts them more at risk. Their whereabouts would now be known by a handful of authorities. This could easily be used against them, as women are disenfranchised in many ways, to begin with.
When will the nature of sexual violence be traced back to men’s actions and the systems that support them?
Source: The Indian Express
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