Strong sanctions can help bring down gender violence, says UN Women’s new head In India, Dr Rebecca Tavares
“I hope gender violence becomes an election issue. It would be good if candidates and incumbents standing for elections are made to ensure that they will guarantee safety for women in their area. Civil society should make this an issue, and that’s where the media also has a role to play. Holding policy makers, public officials and judiciary to account, getting into dialogue with them --- that is what can make the difference,” says Dr Rebecca Reichmann Tavares, UN Women’s new representative for India, Maldives, Bhutan and Sri Lanka.
Known for her work in the area of race relations and women’s rights, Dr Tavares was earlier the representative and Regional Programme Director for Brazil and Southern Cone, where the incidence of gender violence is even higher than India. “You cannot distinguish between instances of violence. Just like in India, in Brazil and the United States too, women are afraid to come out into the open to report violence and there too there are very few guarantees of protection. Take for instance, Brazil, every two hours a woman is killed and generally by someone she knows. We addressed the situation in several ways – a national hotline, gender education in schools, spreading awareness,” she says.
A doctorate from Harvard School of Education, she reiterates that data available on violence against women is weak and often instances go unreported. However, she points out that the general indicators on gender violence show that the figures are lower in Europe though there is no scientific premise that economic development leads to less violence.
“So, we are looking at patriarchy, which is universal. In Europe the reasons may well be less inequality, higher taxation and very strong state presence and strong legislation which even dictates to corporates how they should form their boards,” she points out arguing that implementing strong sanctions against gender violence can make the difference.
Dr Tavares, who took on her new role just this month, says that she finds the work done for women’s empowerment by UN Women in 16 districts of five states, where they supported women who head panchayats, had a positive “ripple effect”. “When women are in positions of decision making, they make decisions differently, more attuned to safety, sanitation, water resources and health of families. They also have a different style of dialogue… things do change because of them and they also manage to change attitudes. We worked with 67,000 elected women representatives, that’s a big number but not so big in India. We are also supporting efforts for women to access different kinds of livelihoods opportunities.”
Coming back to violence against women and the horrific December last year incident of rape of a young woman in the Capital, UN Women under its ‘Safe Cities’ programme has conducted safety audits in Delhi and is now doing it in other cities. To take the gender violence and women’s safety issue to the next stage, Dr Tavares says that the organisation is currently piloting an application which can be used to alert the police station, the hotline and can provide legal and medical help to women in distress. “It has gone through the test phase and is being piloted in Rio currently. We hope to soon be piloting it in Delhi as well. The idea is that women then have access to help in a situation that is dangerous,” she explains.