WILPF India and the Human Rights Programme are engaging this week at the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women Session. We have submitted a report that raises awareness on many issues related to peace and freedom for women in India.
WILPF is increasingly worried about lack of implementation of UNSCR 1325, increasing militarisation, continued violence in the Northeast of the country and discrimination of minority women in Gujarat.
Women’s participation and UNSCR 1325
Structural and institutional inequality persisting in India is the major cause of the various forms of discrimination against women, which manifests itself in all public and private spheres of life. This is exemplified in women’s political representation, which is significantly low in houses of parliament and other decision-making bodies. Further, women’s role in peace-building has also failed to be acknowledged by the State as mandated by UNSCR 1325. In the Kandhamal district in Orissa, conflict and riots led to forced displacement and consequent human rights violations. Peace Committees in refugee camps were organised to deal with the situation, but not a single woman was involved. The State needs to exercise a clear political will towards the inclusion of women in conflict resolution, as it is the only way to ensure that their rights are protected in post-conflict situations, such as refugee settings.
Weapons and Militarisation
The presence of a militarised society constitutes a serious threat to women’s safety and empowerment by fostering an insecure environment that hinders women’s participation in society. The rise in gun culture is a main component of this insecurity that hinders women’s right to freedom of movement for fear of being subjected to violence, including sexual violence, and contributes to a more generalised culture of violence against women. India is currently the largest importer of arms in the world and is constantly increasing defense spending. The standard set by the government is filtering into civilian culture, and is fueling a significant increase in private gun ownership and a culture of violent masculinity. Besides increasing the likelihood of violence, gun culture creates an atmosphere of impunity and normalised acceptance.
Additionally, the failure of the government of India to make available the necessary resources to address critical gender equality needs is directly linked to the growth of defence and security spending. We also wish to raise our concern that public expenditure on the maintenance and modernisation of nuclear weapons is shielded from transparency and democratic oversight under the pretense of “national security”.
Violence by Security Forces in the Northeast of the Country
The Armed Forces Special Powers Act is an extreme example of militarised responses of the government. Under AFSPA, the governor of a state can declare an area as disturbed, which in turn gives armed forces extraordinary powers. In reality this means that members of the security forces can steal, arrest, harass, confiscate money, enter premises, use any force deemed necessary in their opinion, including shoot to kill, without any real legal recourse being available to the victim. Its continuation amounts to state sanctioning of human rights violations, especially of women, as there is concrete evidence of mass rapes and other forms of harassment of women by the armed forces.
There is momentum, and a willingness from the highest levels of government to alter the institutionalised violence and discrimination present as a result of AFSPA.
We urge engagement with local women’s peace and disarmament movements, and the articulation of a clear policy of armed violence reduction in the Northeast. Such an approach must include the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1958 and a clear process of de-militarisation, and the implementation of the Justice Verma Report’s recommendations on the prevention of violence against women in the Northeast.
Status of Women in Gujarat
Finally we would like to bring attention to the situation of violence in Gujarat, where the communal riots in 2002 resulted in women being subjected to rape, looting, destruction, abuse, and some were even burnt alive.
There were no efforts made to provide any kind of protection to women and there was no existing institutional mechanism through which they could seek justice. Crimes are also terribly underreported. These violations have also had a negative effect on women’s access to social and economic opportunities, as both Muslim and Hindu women face systematic discrimination.
For more information, have a look at WILPF’s report: “Caught Between Arms: The State of Women’s Rights in India”