Self-defense: A simple step towards ending violence against women

Violence against women:

            Violence against women (VAW) is one of the significant problems in the country. It is very underreported because of multiple personal and societal reasons like embarrassment, fear of retaliation, the family’s privacy, and victim-blaming issues by society [1]. According to a study conducted by WHO, at least 1 in 3 (~35%) women faced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime.[2] Many forms of violence occur in various situations like Rape, Marital rape, Domestic violence, Dowry Violence, Honor Killings, Acid throwing, forced marriage, Force-feeding, Sexual harassment, Stalking, etc.,[3]

The situation in India:

            Many forms of violence are either unreported or neglected especially in Inda. This is due to certain beliefs and cultural values followed in the country. The main reason for this is believed to be the gender inequality index at 0.488 (2019); this puts India at the bottom 25% in the world’s rankings. [4]

crimes against women

From the graph above, we can see that the number of cases are increasing every year, and these are just the reported ones. Government data shows that 99% of sexual violence cases are unreported, which might be valid for other crimes. [6]  So, the numbers on the graph are on the lower side.

Situation worldwide:

According to a study conducted by WHO, this map shows the prevalence of crime across different regions.[7]


Source: WHO [7]

WHO also assessed the health impact on the individuals who have suffered violence, and here are the statistics[7]

  • Twice as likely to experience depression
  • 5 times more likely to have HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis, Chlamydia, or gonorrhea.
  • 42% of women who experienced sexual violence have suffered injuries as a result.

So, Just like India’s situation, VAW is prevalent across different regions and is mainly observed in the developing nations.

Impact of COVID-19 on violence against women:

Reports by UN WOMEN show that crimes against women have intensified during the pandemic, especially domestic violence.[8] Reasons for the increase in violence could be the strain put on money and health, which heightened tensions in the family, and living in confined spaces added to this.[9] There were limited resources to help women, as many of them were diverted to aid COVID patients in many countries.[8]

Coming to statistics, Argentina has seen a 25% increase in emergency calls, Cyprus and Singapore has registered a 30% increase in distress calls. A similar situation was witnessed in different countries like Canada, USA, UK, Germany, etc.,[9]

Leading causes of VAW:

            Understanding the causes will help solve the problems at the root level and take precautions, which is a very complex exercise looking at the minimum shift of attitude over the decades. Some of the leading causes are lack of fear in the perpetrator’s mind about getting caught and being punished, perpetrators’ belief that they have the right to abuse, long history of unequal power dynamics between man and women, gender inequality, to remain dominant and discrimination. [10] To deal with these causes, changes are needed from different levels of the socio-political system.

Existing laws to protect women:

There are many laws in place to help women fight against violence. The important ones are

  • Violence against women reauthorization act of 2013: This law helps victims of sexual assault and domestic violence[11]
  • Family violence prevention and services act (FVPSA): This provides shelters and resources to victims of domestic violence and their children[11]
  • Sexual harassment of women at workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act of 2013: This act is in place to ensure women’s safety at the workplace.[12]
  • Protection of women from the domestic violence act of 2005: This is a civil law enforced to protect women from physical and mental abuse at home. [12]
  • Dowry prohibition act of 1961: This act provides safety against asking or taking dowry at the time of marriage. Dowry is also one of the main reasons for abuse in the country[12]
  • The immoral traffic (prevention) act of 1956 (ITPA): This law is put in place to limit prostitution by cutting down various aspects of sex work, reducing trafficking. [12]

Solutions to protect women:

To protect themselves, one should be self-reliant and not always depend on higher authorities to take action. With the prevailing crime rates, it is more than necessary for every woman to stay safe and use self-defense techniques. Many crimes that happen against women can be stopped if there are systems that make girls physically and emotionally strong to stand up for themselves.

Self-defense techniques promote confidence to tackle the attacker. They empower the ability to use your hands and feet with certain swiftness and emerge victorious from an undesirable situation. Self-defense is not just a tool to protect oneself. It also embeds self-confidence, which helps in achieving much more.[13]

Different initiatives taken by NGO’s/ Companies:

Along with the constitutional laws, so many other sectors and organizations work together to stop this

  • Loreal:

Along with an NGO Hollaback, Loreal has come up with a program called STANDUP against street harassment. This is a training program that helps prevent street harassment and create safe and inclusive spaces for all. This has two training programs which tells what to do “when you see it happen” or “If it happens to you.” You can check out the website here and signup.[14]

  • Red brigade Lucknow:

The vision of this NGO is FLOW (Fearless life of women). They believe that the way to achieve this is to learn self-defense and be self-reliant. They want to propagate the idea of self-defense using “NISHASTRA” (New Instrument against Sexual Harassment and Stand Against Rape Aggression), which has been very useful from their experience.

This technique is a blend of learning’s from various methods, incidences, situations & real experiences shared by sexual violence survivors. Many countries’ self-defense techniques that precisely fit for self-defense against sexual violence are also included in the training. You can check out their website here [15]

The way forward:

  • Women should be made aware of different helplines and services that are present in case they experience violence.
  • Work with men from various backgrounds to sensitize them about the issue
  • The government should tie-up with NGOs and various organizations to eradicate the stigma around the problem so more people will report and help end this problem.

Mounica Rudra is a PGP 2nd-year student at IIM Ahmedabad





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