Written by Dr Sunita Toor
The 10th December, 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and also the final day of 16 days of activism for eliminating violence against women. These days and campaigns highlight the importance of perseverance and persistence in the fight for women’s rights and creating a world free of violence. Quite often the fight for eliminating violence against women and girls is met with resistance as well as many voices stating that this endeavour is impossible. However, as an academic and activist I refuse to give up on the mission to make the world a safe, violence-free and empowering place for all women and girls to live. The impossible is possible. We can all contribute to this mission. Every small act, support and change contributes to the collective action of eliminating violence against women and girls.
For over three years I have been working in India and leading a project called “Justice for Her”. The project seeks to improve access to justice for women and girl victims of violence in the states of Delhi, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab. The core two years of the project was funded by the Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (https://blogs.shu.ac.uk/hkcindia). My aim is clear: I want the police to prioritise protection of, and responses to, women and girl victims of violence so that they can be fully supported at their most vulnerable time. I want justice for women and girls to be secured. I want women and girls to be safe and not fear being victimised again.
India’s “Violent” Crisis
In June this year, The Thomson Reuters Foundation poll on the most dangerous countries for women (2018), reported that India was the most dangerous country in the world for women to live in. The survey stated three key areas deemed most dangerous for women in India: risk of sexual violence & harassment against women; the danger women face from cultural, tribal and traditional practices; and thirdly, danger of human trafficking, including forced labour, sex slavery and domestic servitude. Seven years ago in the same survey, India was listed as 4th. Hence, by the methodology of this poll, the situation for women in India appears to have worsened and deemed to be more unsafe and dangerous than ever before.
There are thousands of women and girls each year that are victims of various forms of gender-based violence in India. The most readily available statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau shows more women and girls are coming forward to report their victimisation with an overall increase of 12% in 2016 from the previous year. With around 39,000 reports of rape, the majority of cases do not proceed to prosecution. However, this figure provides may only a glimpse of the ‘actual’ extent of crimes against women and girls, as the vast majority of victims do not come forward and seek help from the police. Whilst the figures demonstrate a level of willingness by female victims to come forward, there is a need to address how the police treat women complainants.
Focus on Policing
For over 15 years I have been working as an academic activist in this area and have a personal affinity with India, as I’m the daughter of 1st generation immigrants. Over the past 10 years I have been particularly concerned by the increasing media foci on gender-based violence in India and wanted to use by academic skills, activism and passion for women’s rights to undertake work in India. Several years of groundwork went into Justice For Her.
My work in India focuses specifically on this issue. I have led a ground breaking collaborative project with Indian police forces across four states. I wanted to change the experience female victims have with the police. It’s time for the police to be beacons of justice, protection and safety for female victims. I want the police to be empathetic, moral and human rights bastions of the communities they serve. This may seem a naïve and idealist endeavour, but one which I am committed to pursuing.
There needs to be dramatic change to the way in which the police respond to female victims and an ideological shift that raises the importance of policing gender-based violence. Moreover, greater emphasis needs to be placed on the role of the police in combatting and preventing gender-based violence. The police are vital stakeholders in this agenda and must be provided the resources and support to fully take on this mission.
My work is embedded in active collaboration with key stakeholders, namely the police. We had three central aims:
- Raise the importance of policing gender-based violence in police strategy and policy;
- Raise the status of police officers working in this area, as historically there is an array of negative stigmas attached to policing gender-based violence;
- Create a dynamic and innovative police-training programme that is informed by a range of key stakeholders working in the field of gender-based violence across India and specifically the 4 states.
We wanted to create a project that was truly collaborative and empowering. We wanted the stakeholders, from criminal justice to civil society, to shape the training and provide their valuable insights from the grassroots of tackling and responding to gender-based violence in India. A core principle of the project was that our work was shaped by the individuals, organisations, institutions and communities where we were seeking to make a difference. We wanted to ensure that our approach and the police training programme was fit for context and purpose of improving women and girls access to justice with the mission of combatting gender-based violence.
The training programme has successfully been delivered in the four states to senior police trainers and officers working across a range of police training academies and services as well as to those with a policy and strategic remit to deal with crimes against women. The programme has empowered police officers to perform their duties more effectively, without prejudice and discrimination, and with a greater understanding of how working in partnership can improve justice for women.
The project has created a change in training police officers about gender-based violence, which focuses on empathetic, victim-centric and moral principles. This has been well documented in follow-up workshops and visits to all four states where police officers have changed their practice, strategy and responses to gender-based violence. There is some great work happening in this area and it’s being led by passionate police officers. We have contributed to a changing discourse about police strategies prioritising gender-based violence and recognising the importance of policing this area.
But more is needed, much more.
The seeds have been planted and need to be spread to over areas of India.
Dr Sunita Toor, Principal Lecturer in Criminology
Sunita Toor is an academic and women’s rights activist, on a mission to end violence against all women and girls. She is leading a dynamic and highly successful project: Justice For Her, which is committed to improving access to justice for female victims of violence in India by working with the police and the communities they serve. Her work has combined academic research, activism, advocacy, journalism and spoken word to raising awareness of gender-based violence in India and highlight the importance of us all working together to combat it.
Watch the short documentary of Justice For Her: https://youtu.be/V0lW0fZkCFU