The public assault on celebrity chef Nigella Lawson, a careerist and independent woman and owner of a £ 23-million empire, by her husband, has drawn worldwide attention.
A recent report by the World Health Organisation says that more than a third of women worldwide are victims of physical or sexual violence, posing a global health problem of epidemic proportions. A vast majority of women are attacked or abused by their husbands or boyfriends. Also, almost two-fifths (38 per cent) of all women murder victims were killed by intimate partners.
A G-20 survey has ranked India as the worst place to be a woman. It is an accepted fact that domestic violence, especially in India, is grossly underreported. Apart from physical violence, emotional or psychological abuse has been extensively practised. As psychological violence is harder to capture in quantitative studies, a full picture of the deeper, insidious levels of violence defies quantification.
The National Crime Records Bureau shows that a crime is committed against a woman every third minute, a woman is raped every 29th minute, a dowry death occurs every 77th minute, and one case of cruelty, committed by either the husband or a relative of the victim, occurs every ninth minute.
The root of the problem lies in the deeply entrenched patriarchy of the Indian society, which has moulded women traditionally into accepting gender dominance. According to the UNICEF’s Global Report Card on Adolescents 2012, 57% of boys and 53% of girls in India think that a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife. Marriage, a sacred institution, is misused to horrific degrees. Marriage has given men the legal sanction to do whatever they want to their wives. Women have been forced to trade off their bodies for unwanted sex in return for financial and social security provided under marriage. Society attaches too much importance to the institution of marriage and this makes it difficult for women to leave a devastating relationship. Our social norms have made it mandatory for women to be married and bear children to justify their existence. Women need to realise that there is life beyond a failed marriage or relationship.
Tehmina Durrani’s bestseller, My Feudal Lord, provides extraordinary insights into the vulnerable position of women caught in the complex web of Muslim society. She writes, “I realised that our marriage was sustained not by relationship but by complicated external forces, my ego, fear of failure in the eyes of family and society, fear of losing my children, fear of losing my status as a married woman…”
Recent times, though, have witnessed an ever-increasing number of women opting to work, changing the social dynamics. This has further increased insecurity in many men, who are unable to accept the changing role of women. They have become hyper-masculine, aggressive and misogynistic. Verbal, physical and emotional abuses are a way to vent their feelings.
It’s high time men changed with the changing dynamics of gender. There is need to introspect on how we treat our women. Just as women have shed their traditional role of demure housewives, men should shed their egos and break free of the stereotypes that come in the way of accepting the role of the other gender.
The needs of women are not abnormal; in fact, they are similar to what men desire — to feel wanted and be loved. As Sridevi, in conversation with Priya Anand at the end of movie English Vinglish says, Muje pyar nahi, thodi si izzat chahye.
(The writer works with the U.N. as a communications specialist. Her email: firstname.lastname@example.org)