25 September, 2011

Structural changes in society stressed to offset VAW

Sana Jamal

Islamabad - Women from South Asian region often experience and face gender inequalities due to rules of a patriarchal social system, which makes it difficult for women to seek their due rights as they have little support from the community and state. To address the concerns of survivors of violence, a number women rights activists from the region gathered at the South Asian Conference on Violence against Women (VAW) to review policies, and institutions in South Asia that have attempted to provide relief to women survivors.

The three-day South Asian Conference which concluded in Islamabad on Saturday (Sept. 24) was arranged by an Islamabad based NGO, Rozan. On the concluding day, the scholars recommended collective struggle to bring structural changes in the society and to introduce legislative measures to combat domestic violence against women. Delegates vowed to eliminate violence from society by addressing the interest of survivors and empowering them in the process, by engaging media.

Zahida Hina, a renowned columnist chaired the first session of the meeting, while others who spoke at the session included Urvashi Butalia (India), Myra Imran and Arfana Malla from Pakistan. The session highlighted the role that media can play in building a more responsive society towards incidences of VAW. The speakers were of the view that, while media has played a vital role in bringing out VAW cases, but at times media has violated its domain by disrespecting the rights of the victim.

The next session intended to draw upon the experiences of working with men and involving them to take affirmative action for ending violence against women. The speakers of the session included Bandana Rana (Nepal), Imran Rizvi (Pakistan), Dr. Santosh Kumar Giri (India) and Maria Rashid (Pakistan).

Bandana gave the details about the experiences of her organization, Saathi Ekantakun, in engaging men in the arena of sports. While, Rizvi highlighted that women and men have different perspectives on violence.
Speaking at the occasion, Dr. Giri narrated his experiences of organizing a transgender campaign and underlined the need for an acknowledgement of the violence in the lives of the transgender community. Maria, Director Programmes, Rozan, said that the lens of masculinities allowed us the opportunity to work with men in more meaningful ways. She mentioned that, “it is important to recognize that all men are not equally powerful in patriarchy and that there are hierarchies within masculinities.”

The participants agreed that the movement needed men as partners, as allies and not as protectors or saviours. The final session discussed the ethical dilemmas faced by service providers when working with violence survivors. It provided a space for reflection for individuals and groups that work with survivors and attempted to identify principles or mechanisms that increase accountability to survivors.

Speaking at the conference, Anuradha Kapoor from India discussed the rights, such as autonomy, for a woman to take decisions. Nazmunnessa Mahtab, Professor, Department of Women and Gender Studies, University of Dhaka reminded the audience that as a researcher, “we are faced with certain ethical challenges which include: resistance from the survivors to face the researchers, the difficulty or responsibility of maintaining confidentiality of survivors.”