Recent Resources for Feminists
Australia: Forensic proof of victim’s “freeze fright” acquires legitimacy to convict Canberra rapist Print E-mail

 Sunday April 6, 2014

Jury convinced by expert evidence on "freeze fright" response in rape victims

By Katrina Marson

Doctors report that half of all rape victims report that they experienced a freeze reaction in the course of their assault. (Andrew Quilty)

History was made in the nation’s capital this past fortnight when, armed with one Victorian precedent, a prosecutor successfully argued to lead a very particular kind of evidence in a sexual assault trial. For the first time, an ACT court heard expert evidence from a doctor specialising in medical and forensic sexual health about the feeling of paralysis that approximately half of rape victims report experiencing during the course of their assault. Finally, the oft-discounted "freeze fright" reaction that victims of rape have reported time and time again was afforded legitimacy.

The court heard from a doctor with extensive experience in forensic medicine and specialist expertise in sexual health. The doctor gave evidence that the freeze fright reaction has been documented in approximately half of rape cases decade after decade since the 1970s. The doctor explained that the parasympathetic nervous system, which is part of the autonomic nervous system and not under our voluntary control, can "kick in a way that ... can give us the sense of being immobile and not being able to move". She also dispelled the suggestion that a person’s psychological make-up was a relevant factor affecting how a person responds to a traumatic situation. "Whilst we might expect where we use our brain, our cognitive functions to make a decision about how to respond, the autonomic nervous system is so strong that [it] overrides actual responses." The jury delivered a guilty verdict early last week.

The doctor’s evidence was that half of all rape victims report that they experienced a freeze reaction in the course of their assault: unable to move, unable to resist, unable to cry out. Half is not a minor proportion. So how many courts have heard rape victims give evidence that he or she could not move while being assaulted? How many friends, family members, public commentators have asked of a rape victim who froze: "Why didn’t you resist or try to get away?" Certainly, many jurors have wondered the same. Indeed, historically that question has been put in cross-examination to many victims of sexual assault with the implication being that the victim must have consented.

For a long time, the law and the public consciousness had failed to recognise that submission is not consent. While that has changed in recent years, there does seem to remain a demand for evidence of resistance to prove the absence of consent. Now we have a precedent allowing for expert evidence to be led in a criminal trial that a reaction absent of resistance is common. Now, based in the legitimacy afforded to scientific or expert opinion, we have "proof" that a freeze reaction does not necessarily indicate consent.

How disappointing that the voice of victims has not been heard before this: that victims are not permitted to be experts on their own reaction, or that their account is not sufficient proof of their state of mind. It is disappointing that an awareness of this as a "legitimate" reaction has not been a part of the public consciousness to a greater degree.

As the majority of sexual assault trials involve female victims, this is symptomatic of the silencing of the female experience. The female voice, politically and in the public sphere, still often falls on deaf ears. The criminal court room is an institution which has long been guilty of excluding the female experience from its understanding of human behaviour. The "ordinary person" recognised by the law is often, in fact, an ordinary man. Yet the public consciousness plays a significant role also, as all sex crime trials in the ACT must be heard by a jury. If a woman’s experience does not accord with the general public consensus (in turn informed by a predominantly male perspective) it has often been dismissed or discounted.

The recent Skype case in the ACT and the Steubenville rape case in America are but two examples of this. Both involved a group of young men who engaged in an enterprise to humiliate and degrade a young woman. In the first, the woman was unaware that the consensual sex she was engaging in was being broadcast via Skype to a group of her male counterparts in the Australian Defence Force Academy. In the latter, a young woman was sexually assaulted and images of that assault were disseminated via social media. Both are instances where the aftermath saw the condemnation of the woman and the lament for the lost futures of the offenders. The women’s experiences in both cases were vehemently repugned by the public and the institutions around them.

While the law and the public consciousness have come a long way in accommodating the female experience, I live in hope that one day the voice of a woman who reports her experience will be afforded validity without requiring the support of an "expert" opinion. Yet herein lies the rub: given the legitimacy we as the public place on forensic expertise, this may indeed be a good way to get there.

Katrina Marson is a lawyer in the ACT. The views expressed here are those of the author alone.
 Monday April 7, 2014

Fright freeze precedent will change consent in ACT rape trials

By Michael Inman/Courts reporter for The Canberra Times.

(Julian Kingma) A Crown prosecutor, dressed in wig and gown, strode into a Canberra courtroom late last month carrying a precedent from Victoria.

The precedent, for the first time in the ACT, allowed an expert to tell a jury it is not uncommon for rape victims to ''freeze'' during an attack.

That evidence not only proved crucial in convicting a man of rape, but made history by changing the way consent will be interpreted in Canberra courtrooms.

The victim of the crime reported she froze during the assault, unable to move or respond.

The expert, Sarah Martin, director of Canberra's Sexual Health Centre, told jurors studies had shown partial or full paralysis was suffered by about 50 per cent of victims of sexual assault.

Dr Martin said the sensation could be attributed to the nervous system's automatic reaction when faced with danger.

''A trauma response or a fright response, a freeze fright response, combines both extreme fear and a sense of being unable to get away and a sense of being unable to move or respond.''

Canberra lawyer Katrina Marson, writing in an opinion piece on the issue, said that historically, rape victims were legally required to prove physical resistance in order to show they had not consented.

Ms Marson said while the law had changed there seemed to remain a misconception within the community, and therefore among jurors, that if a victim did not physically fight back or run away, particularly in sexual assaults, it meant in some way they had consented.

The precedent to lead expert evidence on the matter would hopefully help change community attitudes towards victims who had ''frozen'', she said.

But Canberra University legal academic Patricia Easteal said the legal shifts had not stopped defence counsel using a lack of fight or physical resistance as a ''dirty trick'' to discredit victims and suggest they had consented.

Professor Easteal said many in the community continued to unconsciously and consciously adhere to a lot of the mythology of a ''good rape'' versus a ''bad rape''.

''A good rape involves resistance: she fought back, so she got hurt and these injuries are evidence,'' Professor Easteal said.

''If she just shut down, she didn't get additional injuries, so it's not a good rape.''

Professor Easteal said crimes against women had undergone massive reforms in recent years, including in areas of sexual assault and family violence.

But the rape law expert said there was a ''huge gap'' between the black letter of the law of the reform and how it was actually implemented and practiced in the courtroom.

''The law is written in shades of grey … [it] is open to interpretation and it gives barristers plenty of leeway to argue because she didn't fight back then there must have been consent.''

Canberra Rape Crisis Centre chief executive Chrystina Stanford said the ACT precedent had been a positive step forward in clarifying the law for sexual assault.

She said part of the struggle with prosecutions had been juries were asked to be trauma experts.

''Which simply can't be the case - it takes expert evidence or prosecutors to raises awareness of juries so they are better informed to make decisions around sexual assault cases,'' Ms Stanford said.

''The better educated juries can be, better outcomes will be inevitable in sexual assault cases.''

The knowledge could also be used to re-empower the victim, Ms Stanford said.

Statistics estimate that only about 10 per cent of sexual assaults are ever reported to police.

The common reaction of victims of sexual assault was to blame themselves and feel an overwhelming sense of shame, Ms Stanford said.

Ms Stanford said the challenge for organisations like the CRCC was to help victims overcome those emotions and help them realise they were a victim of a crime.

Ms Stanford said she hoped future reforms would introduce a new legal test for the accused to prove they had gained consent, rather than the victim showing they had not agreed to sexual activity.

''It would be an amazing shift. Rather than the victim feel like they're on trial, instead have the accused on trial to prove that what they did was legal.''

Support is available for victims of sexual assault by calling Canberra Rape Crisis Centre on 6247 2525 or visit

Pakistan: Unlike male counterparts, rural women accused of Kari humiliated, killed, sold for honour Print E-mail
 Pakistan ~ April 13, 2014


Away from urban centres: Karis are still accused, humiliated, sold for honour, and killed

By Sher Ali Khalti

“Help me father, help me mother, help me my gracious God,” cried the helpless girl in the presence of the whole village, but no one was ready to help her. “I am not Kari (name given to a woman of ‘loose morals’ in tribal culture). I am loyal to my husband; I know and respect my culture,’’ she was saying.

She was running to save her life when a man came and hit her again and again with an axe. She shrieked with pain and died within minutes.

The scene described above does not belong to a horror movie. This is reality and the incident happened in a village in tehsil Rojhan, South Punjab earlier this year and is mentioned in an FIR. This woman Meer Bibi belonged to caste Jatoi, married to Khayali Lallani. She was murdered by her own husband. He blamed his wife for illicit relations with her cousin Chhero s/o Naukar. Nobody verified the accusation.

It is a custom that the husband cannot be wrong. If he says his wife is Kari, no one can challenge him as per society’s rules and customs.

An FIR No.45/14, serial No.25232, date 10.3.2014 was lodged by the police under section 302/311 PPC against Khayali Lallani. The state became complainant to discourage compromise between the two parties. ASP Rojhan Shabir Ahmed Sethar told TNS, “The killer had no sign of repentance on his face; he admitted with pride that he had declared his own wife Kari and killed her.”

The ASP said it was the first time that he had registered a case where the complainant is the state. Otherwise, usually it’s the heirs who become complainants. After some time, they forgive the killers who are then released. This encourages this practice.

A common practice is that a person declared Kara has to give his sister in marriage to the person whose wife is declared Kari. The Kara has to pay a fine to the tune of Rupees one lakh to the husband of Kari. The Kari is killed but if she survives the matter goes in jirga.

Karis are sold and married in other provinces.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has an overall estimate of such cases in Pakistan which says 1265 women were killed in the name of Karo Kari from 2009 to 2013. This data is based on the number of reported cases. Many cases go unreported.

HRCP reports say Karis were killed by firearms or sharp instruments. Some have been reported to be poisoned. They say the murders are pre-planned and are not sudden reactions prompted by ghairat. Women are always killed and men are not.

Husain Naqi, veteran journalist and human rights activist with HRCP, says “Karo Kari or Kala Kali is being practiced in South Punjab and Sindh. NGOs, civil society, media and judiciary have played their role against this inhuman custom. Still such incidents occur in huge numbers at places where the literacy rate is abysmally low. NGOs must conduct workshops and enhance awareness among the people to discourage this crime.”

A person who holds jirga in South Punjab, Balochistan, Sindh and KP told TNS on condition of anonymity that jirga is the most primitive legal institution. “Society is built on the basic unit of family. Sanctity of marital relation is based on the concept of honour. Woman plays a pivotal role in maintaining that. Jirga is the only integrating force which stabilises family and respect for each other.”

He says whoever violates this basic discipline must pass through the same process of agony which he or she has inflicted on the whole society. “If state can take revenge from the accused, why can’t jirga play the same role on a small scale,” he asks.

He says jirga is more acceptable “because it is a product of society while state is an artificial structure which commands with sheer naked force. Jirga is respected because it upholds longstanding customs.”

According to lawyers, Article 9 of the Constitution guarantees that no person should be deprived of life or liberty, save in accordance with law. Karo Kari is not in accordance with law. The victim of Karo Kari is not given the right to defend in accordance with the judicial system of Pakistan.

Similarly, Article 25 of the Constitution grants equality to citizens. A woman in any big city of Pakistan cannot be humiliated or punished as Kari while the women in faraway rural areas do not enjoy the liberty, security of life and certainty in law. They also say that if the state becomes a complainant in all Karo Kari murders, they can be stopped.

Fareeda Shaheed, Executive Director Shirkat Gah ­ Women Resource Centre who has been visiting Rajanpur often to investigate Karo Kari cases, tells TNS the practice of killing in the name of Karo Kari, Kala Kali and honour is going on in all four provinces of Pakistan. But the situation in district Rajanpur is very alarming. She says she has faced threats each time she went to Rajanpur.

She further says that a Kari belonging to South Punjab is sold in Balochistan so that she is totally cut off from her relatives. If she belongs to Sindh she is sold in KP, while the Kara has to leave his area for one year. “The relatives of Kara try to settle the case. This process is called Khaer or Haer in local language. Only after that, Kara can return.”

“In Sindh when women committees were made at taluka and district level by the government, such incidents decreased. These committees were made to monitor police stations. FIRs were lodged under the pressure of these committees,” she says, adding that Karo Kari is an attitude which must change. How does honour lie in this practice, she asks.

US: Ever-rising sexual assault within the military- The War Within where 88% of victims are women Print E-mail

 USA ~ Wednesday April 16 2014

The War Within

More than 80,000 accusations of sexual assault have been made by active-duty members of the U.S. military since 2006. Only a small fraction of perpetrators are convicted, and most victims find the process fails them in many ways. With reports on the rise, more and more social workers are having to confront issues unique to the military.

How Common is Sexual Assault in the Military?
Nearly 80,000: Sexual assaults reported by active-duty military members between 2006 and 2012
34%: Increase in sexual assaults (both officially reported and not) between 2010 and 2012

Active duty members experiencing unwanted sexual contact by year
2006: 34,2001.    8% of men6.    8% of women
2010: 19,3000.    9% of men4.    4% of women
2012: 26,0001.    2% of men6.    1% of women

Assault Usually Goes Unreported
26,000: Service members who experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2012
3,374 Sexual assaults officially reported to the Department of Defense in 2012
238 Individuals convicted of sexual assault in 2012

Restricted vs. unrestricted reporting (1)

Within the military, there are two ways victims can report sexual assault:
Restricted: Confidential reporting where legal action is not sought and the victim seeks medical treatment and/or counseling.
Unrestricted: Victims seek medical treatment and/or counseling and will explore legal options.

Types of official reports made by year
            2005     2006     2007     2008     2009     2010     2011     2012
Unrestricted reports     2,0472     2772    0852    2652    5162    4102    4392     558
Restricted reports     327    670    603    643    714    748    753    816

A Look at the Victims
Though most assaults will go unreported, thousands of service members still are telling their stories.
Gender of victims (2012) in unrestricted reports
Male    12%
Female    88%

Age group of victim
Age 16-19        18%
Age 20-24        51%
Age 25-34        25%
Age 35-49        4%
Age 50 and older        <1%
Age not available        <1%

Type of offenses reported
Aggravated sexual assault and sexual assault    28%
Rape                        27%
Abusive and wrongful sexual contact        35%
Nonconsensual sodomy                6%
Aggravated sexual contact            4%
Indecent assault    <1%
Attempts    <1%

Top reasons for sexual assault going unreported:
70% Did not want anyone to know
66% Felt uncomfortable making a report
51% Did not think the report would be kept confidential

Failing the Victims?
How satisfied were sexual assault victims with the services they received after reporting the crimes?
Rate of victims reporting they were satisfied:
Sexual assault advocacy61%
Counseling    52%
Medical care    49%
Overall reporting process    35%
Length of investigation    33%
Informative process    26%


India: Increasing foeticide/infanticide further exposes women to bride-buying & trafficking perils Print E-mail

 Wednesday 9 April 2014

India's missing girls: fears grow over rising levels of foeticide

Skewed gender ratio caused by killing of thousands of girls has given rise to a system of bride-buying and trafficking

By KumKum Dasgupta


 Foeticide in India is driven by the fear of high wedding and dowry costs and an often inadequate response from authorities. (Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images)

In a village in India's eastern state of Bihar, a baby girl is born. Her father, desperate for a boy, drowns the infant in a vat of milk in front of his neighbours.

Thankfully, this is not a true story. It is the plot of the film Matrubhoomi: A Nation Without Women, which Time magazine named as one of the 10 best films of 2003.

Set in 2050, the film imagines the long-term social effects of foeticide and infanticide. It conjures up bleak, male-only villages where residents engage in illegal activities such as human trafficking, gender violence and bride-buying. And while male-only villages are not a reality in India, rampant foeticide is – especially in the north, where the crime is tearing at the social fabric of the region.

In Jind, a prosperous, agricultural district in Haryana, the situation is so dire that a local group says it has written to the BJP prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and even the AAP leader, Arvind Kejriwal, from Haryana, urging them to act. Bachelors there are also using the general election, which began this week, to demand that politicians find them brides in exchange for their votes (Scroll down to read).

The bahu-dilao-vote lo (brides-for-votes) slogan was coined by the Jind-based Kunwara Union (Unmarried Youth Organisation), which was founded five years ago by social activist Pawan Kumar. "We not only want politicians to eradicate unemployment and female foeticide, but also find ways to get bachelors married," says Kumar.

While census data shows that India's overall gender ratio is improving, its child gender ratio is on the decline: between 1991 and 2011, the country's female-male gender ratio rose from 927:1,000 to 940:1,000, but its child gender ratio fell from 945:1,000 to 914: 1,000.

Jind, however, still lags behind. In 2001, the sex ratio in this district, which is a two-hour drive from Delhi, was 852:1,000; by 2011, it had risen to 871:1,000. Overall, Haryana has the worst sex ratio in India at 861:1,000. Despite its economic status, the capital is scarcely doing better: the gender ratio in Delhi stands at 866 females per 1,000 males.

More worryingly, the latest annual health survey data from the census office shows that in many of India's least-developed states – Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Assam – girls are disappearing not so much from foeticide as from infanticide. It is reflected in the substantial fall in the gender ratio in the 0-4 age group in several districts across nine states. As many of these are India's most populous states, this amounts to the killing of hundreds of thousands of very young girls.

Although the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act was passed in 1994 to bring an end to foeticide, there is growing concern about its effectiveness. There are numerous reasons why it still goes unchecked: sometimes district health officers are unaware of the provisions of the act; sometimes families and doctors collude in the practice, and records from ultrasound clinics are rarely scrutinised by health officials.

In January, the supreme court was sufficiently worried by foeticide rates that it ordered states to report on the implementation of the law. Poor health communication strategies could also explain the prevalence of the practice. "During training of local level health workers, I have seen that they fail to distinguish between abortion and female foeticide," says Roki Kumar, an activist with Breakthrough, an NGO that works in Harayana.

While foeticide is driven mainly by the fear of high wedding and dowry costs, it is exacerbated by the preference for sons as family sizes shrink, and by an often inadequate response from the authorities.

In certain states – in direct contravention of the law – hoardings advise parents against having girls, warning: "Pay now, save later".

The skewed gender ratio has given rise to a system of bride-buying in the affected states: although girls and young women are lured into marriage by promises of a happy and secure life, once purchased they can be exploited, denied basic rights, put to work as maids and, in many cases, abandoned.

Marriage to "imported brides" makes caste, language and culture immaterial as long as money is paid to the girl's family and a male child is born. Most of them come from poverty-ridden villages of Assam, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar and Orissa, and are sold because their families need the money.
Despite the prevalence of the dowry system in the north Indian states, some men are more than ready to pay for a wife.

Fortunately, some states are trying to act. In Rajasthan, Shikshit Rojgar Kendra Prabandhak Samiti, an NGO, is working with the government to identify ultrasound clinics that offer tests to determine gender. Under the joint sting operations, pregnant women visit clinics and then report staff who break the law to officials.

Worthy actions, no doubt, but individual efforts cannot change the overall situation: India urgently needs a proper and more focused series of initiatives if it is to transform the status of its women.
 March 14, 2014

'Bahu dilao, vote pao' in Haryana

CHANDIGARH: Can an unmarried man demand a bride from a candidate ahead of Lok Sabha elections? You can in Haryana, a state with the lowest sex ratio in the country - 877 women per 1,000 men.

The gender imbalance caused by female foeticide has become so acute that members of these unions and elders in many villages say they will raise the issue when politicians arrive for poll meetings. "The villagers will raise this issue, though in a lighter vein," said Sunil Jaglan, sarpanch of Bibipur village in Jind.

The "bahu dilao-vote pao" slogan came from the Kunwara Union, set up in Jind in 2009 by Pawan Kumar, now its chairman. "The government must not only attack female foeticide but also find jobs for young men in Haryana. Unemployment is also a factor for us not getting brides," he said. The union had even organized a protest march five years ago to demand brides.

Senior INLD leader and Kalayat assembly segment MLA Rampal Majra said, "We may have to deal with this issue once campaigning begins. The government should generate more jobs for youths and make a serious effort to curb female foeticide."

However, Congress Lok Sabha candidate from Hisar Sampat Singh said, "Former chief minister Om Prakash Chautala would often woo voters with promises of conjugal bliss to unmarried men. But, we believe this is a social issue and can be resolved only with awareness."

According to Shyam Sunder, secretary of the Red Cross Society of Yamunanagar, each of the 7,000-odd villages in Haryana has 150 to 200 youths who are 25-plus and unmarried. Twenty is considered the ideal age for marriage in rural Haryana.

Pune-based NGO Drishti Stree Adhyayan Prabodhan Kendra, which surveyed 56,520 residents in 92 villages of Haryana in 2010, had found that 13.5% men in the age group of 25-29 were unmarried.

The government claims many gender sensitivity schemes have been launched but women activists like Jagmati Sangwan feel that a mass movement is required to save the girl child in Haryana.

India: Ignoring the Women’s Charter, country’s vanishing women “not even a blip on the horizon” Print E-mail
 Sunday Magazine ~ March 30 2014

The Other Half



Scroll down to also read "Women's Charter for the 16th Lok Sabha Elections - 2014"

No empowerment here. (The Hindu /Paul Noronha)

Where have all the girls gone in a country full of men?

Mumbai’s taxi drivers are repositories of earthy wisdom. They come from all parts of the country. A few are grumpy. Some are silent. But mostly they are loquacious, if you ask them the right question.

In the last couple of days, I have been at the receiving end of some down-to-earth and commonsensical opinions about life, values and politics from such taxi drivers.

The first, a young taxi driver from Vasai, which is on the outskirts of Mumbai, informed me that he was actually a “Hindu Brahmin”, but loved Jesus Christ. Without much prompting, he then proceeded to predict that Narendra Modi would win the elections. Would he vote for Modi, I asked. Not necessarily, he said. Then whom would he want to vote for? Arvind Kejriwal, he said. Why, I asked. Because, he said, he had watched Kejriwal’s TV interviews. He was convinced that this was a good and honest man. More than that, he was educated, qualified, had a good job and yet gave it all up to do something about corruption. These were the kind of people India needed in politics, he asserted. Above all, he said, this was the only man who had the courage to take on the richest and most powerful man in India.

The other was a Tamilian who had lived in Mumbai for 35 years but continued to read a popular Tamil newspaper (that now arrives in the morning because it is printed in Pune). Despite the many years in Mumbai, he had a clear view of Tamil politics. There was no doubt in his mind that “Amma” would sweep the polls in Tamil Nadu. Why, I asked. Because she has looked after the poor, he said. And she does not discriminate between Hindu, Muslim, Dalit and Christian.

More important, he continued, she has addressed the problem of families not wanting to give birth to a girl child. He then proceeded to explain to me in detail the government schemes that encourage families to look after girls. He also gave graphic details of how families kill infant girls. He was clear that this was an evil practice and must be ended. And he gave credit to “Amma” for putting in place monetary incentives to help raise the value of girls.

So, corruption and schemes that help the poor and stop female infanticide were the issues these two men talked about. Corruption features in election talk. And every party ruling a state, or the centre, speaks of its pro-poor schemes. But what about India’s steadily disappearing women?

Results of the Annual Health Survey conducted by the office of the Census of India ­ reportedly the largest sample survey in the world ­ have recently been released. The survey covered 20.94 million people and 4.32 million households in 284 districts in nine states.

While the survey has a lot of interesting information on several aspects of health, including infant and maternal mortality rates, its findings on the sex ratio ­ at birth, in the 0-4 age group and overall ­ are perhaps the most significant.

According to the survey, in 84 of the 284 districts there was a fall in the sex ratio at birth. In some districts like Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand, the sex ratio at birth was as low as 767 girls to every 1,000 boys. That is a worrying sign as it suggests that the law to prevent sex-selection has not succeeded in creating enough of deterrents against the practice of aborting female foetuses.

Equally worrying is the decline in the sex ratio in the 0-4 age group. This was visible in 127 districts and was significant in 46 districts. Rajasthan recorded the lowest levels in this category, while Chhattisgarh recorded the highest. The reason for the decline in this age group is clearly neglect of girls after they are born. Otherwise, there is no reason that more girls should die than boys. Overall, the sex ratio was worse in urban areas than rural, suggesting again that the availability of sex selection technology and higher incomes contributed to this decline. In a state like Jharkhand, for instance, while the sex ratio at birth was 961 in rural areas, it was as low as 903 in urban areas.

In this election season, where rhetoric is king, the reality of India’s disappearing women ­ who everyone seems to want to “empower” ­ is not even a blip on the horizon. Yet, it has been evident for decades that all this talk about “women’s empowerment” has little meaning if we are unable to deal with the despicable attitudes and practices that guarantee that girls will not be born, and if they are, that they will not live to become young women.
 Vol - XLIX No. 11, March 15, 2014

Women’s Charter for the 16th Lok Sabha Elections – 2014

We, the women of India, feel that the outcome of these elections will greatly impact women’s struggles for safety, equality and progress. On behalf of crores of women from diverse sections of society from rural and urban areas, across the length and breadth of our country, we wish to draw public attention to the issues that have affected women in recent times. The concerns highlighted here need to become part of the mainstream political agenda in the forthcoming elections and in future government policy to ensure equality and dignity for the women of this country across social groups.

The undersigned women's organisations have pressed for inclusion of these issues in the political party manifestoes.


Part I - Preamble
As India once again goes into another general election for the 16th Lok Sabha, we, the women of India consider it a crucial battle, coming as it does in the wake of increasing sexual violence, honour crimes, atrocities against dalit, adivasi and minority women, together with rising unemployment, hunger, and relentless price rise. The aggressive pursuit of pro-corporate neoliberal policies by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance II (UPA II), with its huge loot of public resources on the one hand, and inadequate expenditures on economic and social development on the other, has resulted in severe miseries for the people. The Bharatiya Janata Party is seeking to utilise this rising discontent to its political advantage. Backed by a willing corporate media, it is projecting itself as the alternative. However, as we have experienced earlier, its economic policies are no different from that of the Congress. The BJP’s record in the states where it is in government on socio-economic development, equity, social justice and corruption is far from satisfactory. Along with other constituents of the Sangh Parivar, it has launched an extremely vicious and communal electoral campaign in order to polarise the people and consolidate its votes. It is projecting as its Prime Ministerial candidate, the very person who as Chief Minister oversaw the 2002 Gujarat pogrom. The BJP and its parent Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ideology stands for divisiveness, disunity and a highly conservative patriarchal attitude towards women.

We, the women of India, feel that the outcome of these elections will greatly impact women’s struggles for safety, equality and progress. On behalf of crores of women from diverse sections of society from rural and urban areas, across the length and breadth of our country, we wish to draw public attention to the issues that have affected women in recent times. The concerns highlighted here need to become part of the mainstream political agenda in the forthcoming elections and in future government policy to ensure equality and dignity for the women of this country across social groups.

Violence against women has increased manifold in the last five years. The crimes against women statistics reveal 68 rapes (3 rapes every hour) and 23 dowry deaths per day (almost 1 every hour). Over 2.5 lakh cases of crimes against women have been recorded every year. The conviction rates on the other hand continue to remain very low - at 24% for rape cases, 32% for dowry deaths and a paltry 21.3% for all crimes against women. This is a severe indictment of the failure of the criminal justice system to address the issue of crimes against women.

Women from Dalit and Adivasi communities face structural violence and rape from those who wield enormous social and economic power. The demand to amend the Prevention of Atrocities Act to make include certain acts like parading, denying entry to public places, etc. was not acceded by the UPA II government despite repeated demands that the caste system prevent dalit women particularly non access of land ,discrimination at all spheres of life. The untouchability still prevents them to have access in the society and all economic development activities of the nation. The attacks against women from the north east are on the rise and have raised the serious issue of racial discrimination and violence.

The spate of crimes in the name of honour continue, the most recent being a gruesome incident of gang rape of a adivasi girl in West Bengal and the beheading of the couple in Rohtak, Haryana. More and more such crimes are being reported from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu. The government has failed to take action against khaps and other such extra constitutional bodies who encourage such criminal acts, for fear of losing political support. There has been a singular failure on part of the UPA-II government to enact a special law to deal with crimes of honour, despite recommendations from the Planning Commission’s Working Group on Women’s Empowerment. The Empowered Group of Ministers that was set up to look into the matter has been quietly withdrawn.

The horrific gang rape and murder of a young medical intern in the capital city in December 2012 saw unprecedented outrage and anger flowing into the streets all over the country. It resulted in the preparation of a comprehensive report by the Verma Committee, whose recommendations constituted a big step forward in the struggle for women’s rights. Unfortunately, the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, 2013 passed by the UPA Government was a piece meal legislation that does not fully address the various dimensions of violence against women. It failed to address the important issues of marital rape exception, does not acknowledge the social, economic and political power of those who rape with impunity women from the most vulnerable sections of our society, does not protect young boys and girls who are in a consensual relationship between the ages of 16 and 18 years from the criminal consequences of statutory rape; does not accept the recognition of command responsibility, excludes Armed Forces Special Powers Act from its purview and retains the death penalty.

The recent demands by young women for personal freedom and choice and an equal right to public spaces and the rising protests against crimes against women have led to a sharp conservative and patriarchal backlash that blames women themselves for the violence against them. Their clothes, their very presence in public spaces, “modern values of freedom”, “free association of young women and men” are conceived as the causes of rising sexual crimes. For the Sangh Parivar, this presents an opportunity to reinforce the myth that “Hindu” women were safe and secure in a “glorious India” of the past. The attacks on young women sitting in a pub in Bangalore or questioning young couples in public spaces and opposing inter community relationships are examples of such moral policing. The Islamist fundamentalist forces are no less conservative, with attempts to impose dress codes, ban the use of mobile phones by young women and prohibit co-education. There are attempts to reinforce control over women in the name of safety through the creation of extra-constitutional bodies and “women’s safety neighbourhood groups”. It is unfortunate that such views are shared by a large number of people, including government officials and members of the judiciary, whose opinions influence policy.

For women, one of the biggest betrayals has been the utter failure of the UPA II to pass the 33% Women’s Reservation Bill, despite its majority in the Parliament. With the exception of the Left parties, not a single opposition party seriously pressed for its passage, and some openly opposed it. Along with the failure to have more women in decision making bodies, it means that women are unable to exercise an effective role in policy making.

Several laws such as the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence, anti-dowry laws etc. have been enacted due to the protracted struggles of the women’s movement have been rendered ineffective due to grossly inadequate provision of finances, personnel and infrastructure. An additional allocation for the Nirbhaya Fund, of 1000 crores this year carries little meaning if the survivors and victims of sexual violence are unable to access the funds for rehabilitation and relief purposes. A similar allocation made grandiosely in the last budget has been spent only partially, and in a non transparent manner.

The 2011 Census figures have brought to the fore the further and steep decline in child sex ratios (CSR) from 927 to 914 between 2001 and 2011 and spread across 27 states and UTs. Recently released data from the 2011 Census shows a sex ratio of 919 for the age group for the age group 1 – 6 years, and even lower at 911 for 7-15 years, showing a gross neglect of the girl child. This is a damning indictment of the policies of the Central and some State governments and an exposure of the utter failure to implement the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act. The government has taken virtually no action against those doctors and medical technologists who are out to make profits, without whose collusion sex selective abortion cannot occur. The PcPNDT Act continues to be violated with impunity. The monitoring and supervisory bodies are dysfunctional.

Despite a Constitution that mandates equality, women still do not have the right to property on the same terms as men. It varies according to personal and community laws that are patriarchal and deny women equal right to inherited and matrimonial property. Due to women’s struggles, the government was forced to incorporate changes in the Hindu Succession Act in 2005. Even where law has given a right, conventions and practices do not recognise them. Women are still compelled to make relinquishment deeds since there is no bar on doing so.

One of the most striking failures of the UPA government has been its inability to check the unrelenting rise in prices of food and other essential commodities. For seven long years since 2007, India has lived with persistent double-digit food inflation. Prices of potatoes have doubled and even quadrupled over this 5 year period, onion prices have at an average doubled from already high levels, and the increase in rice, wheat and groundnut oil too is between 50 to 100% per cent. LPG and kerosene prices have increased enormously causing huge strains on family budgets. The privatization of public services like health, education, transport, etc. is also increasing family burdens.

The singular pursuit of high economic growth has been accompanied with chronic food deficiency and hunger. As per the 2013 UNDP Human Development Index, India ranks 94th out of 199 countries in the Global Hunger Index. According to the World Food Programme, each minute, five Indians die of hunger which makes 7000 each day and 2.5 million people dying of hunger in India every year. The NSS reports falling average consumption of calories from 2246 per capita per day in rural areas in 1972-73 to 2020 in 2009-10, and from 2107 calories to 1946 in urban areas. The high growth states of BJP-ruled Gujarat and Congress-ruled Maharashtra are amongst the worst where malnutrition is especially pronounced for children and women. Almost half of India’s children under age five years (48 %) are chronically malnourished while seven out of every 10 children age 6-59 months in India are anaemic. 36% of women are undernourished, with a BMI less than 18.5, indicating a high prevalence of nutritional deficiency. Over half of women (55 %) are anaemic.

Food security has been severely impaired by the weakening of the PDS, the continuation of the hopelessly flawed targeted system and the exclusion of large sections of the poor in the name of their being APL. Four years after the expiry of the ‘100 day’ promise, the National Food Security Act was finally passed by both Houses of Parliament, at a time when 70 million tonnes of foodgrains were being held as stock by the government, four times in excess of the buffer norms. Far from being universal, the Act falls guarantees only 5 kg of food grain per month to 67% of Indian households, 75% in rural and 50% in urban areas. This is well below the ICMR’s 14 kg requirement. It does not ensure availability of sugar, pulses, oil and other essential items. This is resulting in irrational exclusions of many people.

UID-enabled Direct Benefit Transfer and Direct cash transfer schemes are being projected as an efficient means of transferring subsidies. In reality, once cash transfers are introduced, the prices of food and other commodities and services will be deregulated and left entirely to the market forces and further push up prices. The UID biometric technology is unproven and the infrastructure costs huge. There is no guarantee that DBT cash will actually be used for buying the commodity for which the cash is given. The implementation of schemes that are based on cash transfers to bank accounts like MNREGA, old age pension, widow pension, etc show that the problems of corruption and undue delays continue. At present the LPG Cash Transfer Scheme has been suspended but has caused great hardship to women while it was being implemented.

Government’s own surveys show that women are increasingly out of work. Even those who are working are doing lowly paid work under highly exploitative and insecure conditions. More and more women are being pushed into unpaid domestic and outside work. Despite several cases of inhuman torture and sexual exploitation there is yet no law to protect domestic workers. Mechanization has led to a huge decline in availability of agricultural workers. Many poor women are being pushed into unsafe and exploitative migration and trafficking.

The Unorganised Sector Workers Act of 2008 cruelly excludes most poor women workers by limiting beneficiaries to the BPL category. There is a need for a single window system which caters to workers from all occupations and industries especially when women are simultaneously in multiple occupations.

The MNREGA has been an important instrument for addressing rural unemployment and distress. It witnessed a high participation of women which rose from 41% in 2006-07 to 52% in 2012-13. But the average days of work per household has fallen from the 54 days per annum peak in 2009-10 to 45 days in 2012-13. The fall is entirely due to the cut in fund allocation by the centre, which has not kept pace with the wages in the programme. High productivity norms, difficult working conditions, long delays in payment and the unequal wages received by women have continued thereby sabotaging a good Act.

The agrarian distress is unabated. It is reflected in the high and continuing rate of farmers’ suicides and distress migration. As per NCRB data, a total of 2,70,940 Indian farmers have committed suicide; the yearly average between 2001 and 2011 is 16,743, or 46 suicides a day. Women are still not recognised or registered as farmers, they are left out of the credit ratings, and excluded from the debt waiver schemes. The recommendations made by the Swaminathan Commission, which included specific measures for women, have been ignored.

Public expenditure for the provision of universal, affordable or free services like food security, health, water & sanitation, child care, etc. has sharply declined even as taxes foregone on account of concessions to the corporate sector and other elites have remained as high as 6-8% percent of GDP. As per the CAG reports, lakhs of crores of rupees have been lost on account of corruption in high places which could have been used for development of the common people.

The open plunder of natural resources by corporates with government facilitation has had adverse implications for women, who have the primary responsibility to collect fodder, fuel, water, minor forest produce, etc. The encroachment and annexation of natural resources and the widespread displacement on account of land acquisition and large projects has meant that these resources have become less accessible and more expensive, increasing women’s work and drudgery. The absence of adequate rehabilitation and resettlement takes a heavy toll off women.

The Government has been swift to safeguard corporate interests with concessionary loans, but has denied women’s self help groups lower rates of interest as part of priority sector lending. The Micro Finance Institutions (Development And Regulation) Bill, 2011 came in the wake of demands to effectively regulate and control the highly unfair and exploitative practices of microfinance lenders which drove some borrowers to suicide. However, UPA’s draft Bill was totally inadequate and pro-MFI with no interest caps or ban on for-profit MFIs and was rightly rejected by the Parliamentary Standing Committee.

Secularism has been under siege. The communal forces, led by the Sangh Parivar, have been unleashing communal violence against minorities in states like Uttar Pradesh. Caste and community identity are being used to polarise society. But the government has refused to intervene and take stringent action to safeguard those affected by communal violence. Regional and ethnic chauvinism is raising its ugly head in many states. It is a matter of deep concern that the mainstream political parties are not just unwilling to stand up boldly against divisive hate politics but are actually using it for narrow political gain.

Successive governments have failed to address the needs of minorities. The UPA government failed to act in a substantive manner on the plight of the Muslim minorities highlighted by the Sachar Committee report. It has ignored the claims of Dalit Christians to reservation under the SC category, as recommended by the Justice Ranganath Misra committee. It has betrayed the cause of social justice by hastily passing a Bill in the Rajya Sabha that keeps 47 Institutes of excellence outside the purview of reservations for SCs and STs.

It is time for women to stand up to protect the secular pluralists heritage of our country, push for alternative policies that will effectively deal with the agrarian crisis and the recession, for a government that is conscious of the need to protect the rights of the economically and socially oppressed sections and will work for their upliftment, a Government that will recognize the rights of women and will work towards gender equality and justice.

On behalf of the undersigned women’s organisations, we call upon all political parties national, and regional, to include our following demands in their election manifesto for the 16th Lok Sabha elections. We will conduct a widespread campaign amongst the electorate on the basis of this Women’s Charter.

Part II: Charter of Demands
Political Reservation
· Enact the 33% Women’s Reservation Bill to reserve one – third seats in Parliament and State Assemblies for women.

· Legislation for at least 50% reservation for women in all decision-making bodies;

· Enact the Constitution (One Hundred and Tenth Amendment) Bill, 2009 after necessary amendments to enhance reservation for women from one-third to one-half of the total seats in the Panchayats and Municipalities; provide similar reservation for the offices of Chairpersons.

Food Security and Price Rise:
· Remove the cap on ‘Priority’ households in the National Food Security Act and universalise the PDS to exclude only tax payers. Ensure a minimum entitlement of 35kgs or 7 kgs per person, whichever is higher, of foodgrains per household. Special drives to ensure ration cards to all, especially single women, unorganized sector workers, disabled, migrants and street dwellers.

· Strengthen the PDS and provide pulses, sugar, tea, edible oil, salt, milk and vegetables at controlled prices through ration shops. Take strict action against hoarders and blackmarketeers under the Essential Commodities Act. Ban futures trading in essential commodities.

· Remove the cap on number of domestic LPG cylinders available at administered prices. Ensure a minimum quota of at least 5 litres of kerosene per person at controlled prices through the PDS shops. Provide subsidized LPG for cooking Mid Day Meals and ICDS Centres.

· Reduce the prices of petrol and diesel by cutting excise and customs duties.

· No to cash transfers and linkage of Aadhar for availing of essential commodities especially food and fuel through the PDS.

· Universalise the ICDS. Ensure hot cooked meals in ICDS, MDMS and other nutrition programs.

· Control the price of all essential drugs.

· Stop the export and auction of foodstocks and instead provide them to the states.

· Extend procurement of all food crops at remunerative prices in all areas of the country.

Employment and Wages:
· Remove the 100 workdays cap in the MNREGS. Revise work norms and ensure payment of minimum wages to women. Ensure implementation of crèches at worksites.

· Enact an Urban Employment Guarantee Act

· Regularise ICDS, ASHA, Mid Day Meal and other scheme workers with minimum wages pensions and social security benefits. .

· Implement the Unorganised Workers Social Security Act of 2008 by universalizing its provisions for all workers irrespective of all occupations and industry. Provide adequate budgetary support to implement various social security schemes in a single window system.

· Implement a special protective legislation for agricultural workers for minimum and equal wages, maternity benefit and pensions and other social security for them.

· Recognise working women in the organized and unorganized sector as independent economic units.

· Ensure equal and index linked minimum wages of at least Rs 10000 per month.

· Implement a universal and mandatory child care schemeSet up Committees and ensure implementation of the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act. Amend the Act to expand the definition of workplaces to including homes and farms and remove the penalty clause.

· Ban FDI and control the entry of big business houses in retail trade.

· Include women’s Self Help Groups as part of priority sector credit sector and provide them with loans at 4%. Ensure adequate training and marketing support for their products. Pass a law to stringently regulate MFIs.

Social Development:
· A minimum universal non-contributory publicly funded pension for Rs 2000 per month for all women above the age of 55 years, all widows and all disabled women irrespective of age.

· Increase public spending on Education to 6% and on Health to 5% of the GDP.

· Regulate and bring social control on private educational and health services. Promote public funding of education and health systems.

· Universal and free public health care for all. Control prices of essential drugs and provide them free of cost in public facilities.

· Regulate and monitor clinical trials.

· Enact a Central law to provide free and compulsory education in the age group 0-18years, with special emphasis on the girl child.

· Universalise ICDS and extend it to all habitations. Increase expenditure on supplementary nutrition schemes including Mid Day Meals.

· Universalise all health, welfare and educational schemes without any conditionalities. Remove the two child norm. Give priority to single women, SC, ST, minority women headed households and disabled women.

· Implement special packages for the rehabilitation of women and children in households affected by suicides of farmers, handloom workers, agricultural workers, etc.,

· Implement the recommendations of the Sachar Committee and the Rangnath Mishra Committee for reservations for Muslims in educational institutions and jobs.

Land, Water, Natural Resources
· Distribute surplus ceiling land to landless households with joint pattas to women.

· Ensure land for house sites for all homeless, with priority to single women in rural and urban areas in the joint names of women and men.

· Prevent the diversion, acquisition, encroachment and takeover of common lands like pastures, community forests, scrublands, etc and ensure user rights for women over them, especially for those from SC, ST, migrant and nomadic communities.

· Treat women as Project Affected Persons in all relief and rehabilitation measures, minimize displacement, no displacement without prior informed consent; and ensure alternative means of employment and livelihood for women displaced due to infrastructure, urbanization and industrial projects.

· Stop privatization of water resources and drinking water schemes in rural and urban areas. Give priority to water for agricultural and drinking water purposes.

Resource Mobilisation and Budgetary Allocations:
· Increase substantially public expenditure on economic and social development programmes for the people, maintain integrity and ensure full utilization of allocated resources, stop budget cuts on pro-people works.

· Provide central budgetary support for the effective implementation of the PWDV Act, anti-Sexual Harassment Act, Prevention of Atrocities Act and for schemes to support survivors of crimes against women, particularly sexual assault, acid attack, honour crimes and sectarian violence.

· Discard privatization and the failed PPP model which subsidizes the corporate sector, worsens service delivery and raises costs/user charges/fees for the consumers

· Stop proliferation of liquor vends as a source of revenue mobilization.

· Ensure that all Ministries and Departments effectively allocate at least one third allocations for women. Ensure a minimum of 30% allocations for women within schemes for SC, ST, Denotified Tribes, Minorities and other socially deprived groups. Ensure that allocations for sub-plans for dalits and tribals are not diverted.

· Stop giving tax concessions to the rich and corporate sector. Raise taxes on the wealthy and the corporate sector and unearth black money in order to increase the expenditures on public infrastructure, health, education, welfare schemes, etc.

· Make available data of beneficiaries of different welfare schemes disaggregated on the basis of sex, caste and community groups in order to enable a proper assessment of their outcomes on different social groups of women.

Protection of Civil Rights
· Enact a comprehensive law against communal violence. Ensure speedy justice and adequate compensation to the victims of communal violence, particularly rape survivors and children.

· Amend the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to include obstructing the use of common resources such as wells, ground, social and economic boycotting, prevention of participation in elections, etc. Fill up the backlog in all SC, ST and other reserved posts in a time bound manner. Give reservations to Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians.

· Provide for the reparation and compensation of families of wrongfully confined minority and tribal youth.

· Take stringent action against army, para-military and security personnel indulging in human rights violations in disturbed areas. Repeal the AFSPA.

· Enact an anti-racist law to ensure greater security of people from the North-East.

Violence against Women and Legal Issues:

· Implement all the recommendations of the Justice Verma Committee Report. Include sexual violence against women from SC, ST and minority communities as aggravated sexual assault. Make marital rape an offence. Safeguard S498A of the Indian Penal Code.

· Fast track all cases of violence against women within a legally bound period of time.

· Stringent implementation of the PcPNDT Act. Safeguard women’s right to safe abortion.

· Protect young couples in a relationship and their right to choose a partner. Enact a comprehensive stand alone law to deal with crimes in the name of “Honour” and khap panchayats.

· Amend the criminal law so that the statutory rape provision does not apply in consensual sexual relations between young couples when the girl is 16 years or more and the age difference is 3 years or less.

· Enact a comprehensive law to prevent trafficking of women and children for labour and sexual exploitation. Oppose the proposal to delink prostitution and trafficking.

· Enact a law for equal rights in marital and inherited property for all women. Strengthen laws relating to maintenance for women and children. All family laws should give equal rights to women in marital and inherited property.

· Ensure equal rights and equal laws for women from all communities. Make registration of marriages compulsory.

· Introduce and enforce a stringent liquor policy to control production and sale of liquor. Delegate powers to women gram sabhas and ward sabhas to permit opening liquor vends in the area.

· Re-orient the educational syllabus to inculcate values of gender equality and conduct multi-level campaigns against regressive anti-women practices such as dowry, which hunting, etc.

· Repeal Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and decriminalise same sex adult consensual relationships.

· Enact a comprehensive law against superstitions and irrational practices.

· Institute and implement a Code of Conduct for the prevention of anti-women derogatory statements by persons in public office.

· Draft and implement a gender-sensitive Media Code.

· Strengthen the autonomous functioning of the National and State Commissions for Women, the selection and composition of the members must be made through an institutionalized, independent and transparent process and Members should be not be political appointees but should be experienced professionals and women’s rights activists.

· Promote and financially support Women’s Studies Centres in all Universities.

· Ensure minimum 10% of Plan fund for gender budget. Gender auditing should be strengthened.

Vimal Thorat (AIDMAM)  Jagmati Sangwan (AIDWA) Ms.Annie Raja  (NFIW) Indu Agnihotri (CWDS)

Dr. Mohini Giri (GOS) Jyotsna Chatterjee ( JWP ) Azra Abidi  (MWF) Leila Passah (YWCA) Veena Kohli  (AIWC)

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