Ending violence against women and girls in Bihar
SWASTH supports the Government of Bihar to help curb violence against women
The United Nations (UN) Declaration on Elimination of Violence Against Women, in 1993, clearly laid that “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life” constituted Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). This put domestic violence in the international spotlight as intrinsically unacceptable, and that it was essentially violated human rights, thus, providing women with the right to seek justice for any atrocities that occur even within their so called ‘safe sanctuaries’ - their homes.
For many women and girls violence can be an everyday occurrence. It may not only start very early in their lives but can take various forms of abuse including physical violence, sexual abuse, rape, incest, forced marriage or even regular verbal and mental torture. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-3, in 2005-06 across India, over 35% of the women between the ages of 15and 49 years reported having experienced physical or sexual violence. Bihar was found to be the most violent state with 59% women reporting spousal violence. Sadly, both men (57.4%) and women (56.9%) justified such violence, clearly pointing to the extent the problem was socially internalised as acceptable part of family life.
NFHS-3 (2005-2006) findings had also demonstrated that spousal violence was correlated with low levels of immunisation and nutrition, and low uptake of contraception, amongst of women. But, when other factors such as education and wealth were controlled for this correlation was not statistically significant, suggesting that if women were economically empowered and had better education, their health and nutrition outcomes would be better. This evidently had huge public policy implications, especially related to physical and psychological health and well-being, nutrition and women’s ability to lead productive lives.
Several developments have been witnessed in India with regard to the country’s commitment to tackle domestic violence. The landmark law - Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, followed by the amendment of Criminal Procedure Code, 2013, the introduction of the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act, 2013 and many other initiatives are proof this commitment. The Government of Bihar too has also taken several steps towards empowering and protecting women.
VAWG has been one of the central issues that the Sector Wide Approach to Strengthen Health (SWASTH) too has tried to help Government of Bihar (GoB) address. An operational plan to address domestic violence in the state was developed by the Bihar Technical Assistance Support Team (BTAST) in consultation with three nodal departments: Department of Health, Department of Social Welfare and Public Health Engineering Department. Key strategies developed under the SWASTH programme for VAWG prevention and response mechanisms were agreed with the Government departments and implemented. One of these key strategies was to support GoB to effectively implement the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA) 2005, through partnerships with multiple stakeholders, strengthening existing institutions such as Women’s Helplines and Short Stay Homes, and through multi-sectoral engagement with various departments including health, education, police and the judiciary. SWASTH has also supported GoB in developing the State Policy for Empowerment of Women and Girls.
SWASTH helped implement these low cost and effective models in some selected districts so that they could be subsequently replicated and scaled-up by GoB across the state. Establishing special cells within in the police stations to counsel women who had faced violence, was one of the new models. Alongside this, BTAST also helped establish linkages with the judiciary through State Legal Services Authority to create an enabling atmosphere for women and girls in Bihar. One of the trained counsellors at a Special Cell says, “Even though the police station in which the cell is based is a women’s police station, which has been functional for the last three years, the Special Cell for Women which is only one year old has received and redressed a larger number of domestic violence cases merely through counselling both parties. Earlier women victims who approached the police stations were misguided and had to go from pillar to post to find a solution, and in many cases the perpetrators were registered under Section 498 A of the Indian Penal Code [Dowry Law] and resolving under this law took 15-20 years, and most of the women’s lives were spent without any relief in sight.”
Engaging with community men and women including youth boys and girls was also considered critical for wider coverage. Through a partnership with Bihar Mahila Samakhya in selected districts community level interventions were taken up. School children were also sensitized to gender and violence issues.
Over the years, SWASTH VAWG strategies have brought about policy, legal and institutional change at various levels in the state and built partnerships with multiple stakeholders to ensure a violence and discrimination free environment for women and girls. While the indirect reach has been much wider, a total of 65,680 women have directly benefited through the various specific interventions. The Government of Bihar now marches on with further strengthening and scaling-up, looking forward to a safe and secure future for women in Bihar.