Women and Gender based Violence in Bihar || WOMEN IN DOMESTIC SPACES || DOMESTIC VIOLENCE || While overall crime rates have decreased in the state, crimes against women have increased (Satija, 2013). According to the most recent National Family Health Survey (2015-16), 33% of ever married women aged 15 – 49 in India have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence from their spouse. But very few seek help – only 14% of women experiencing physical or sexual violence sought help in 2015-16 – a steep decline from 24% in 2005-06According to the 2015–16 National Family Health Survey (NFHS) IV, Bihar recorded among the highest rates of domestic violence; 45% of ever married women in the age group 15–49 had experienced emotional, physical or sexual violence, compared to the national figure of 33% (International Institute of Population Sciences and ICF, 2017). The survey also revealed that only 13% women who experienced physical or sexual violence sought any help. This indicates a culture of silence, and the normalization of violence in the private realm. Crimes against women in the state have seen a significant increase in the last decade. Analysis of NCRB data for the year 2018-19 reflects kidnapping (50%) as the major crime against women in Bihar followed by Dowry Oppression (20%) Rape (12%) and Dowry Death (6%) (Gender Report Card, 2019)
The analysis of Women helpline data for 2018-19 indicates domestic violence as the prime violence against women (64%) which points to the difficult negotiations and oppression in the domestic space. While looking at these data it’s important to mention about the ‘culture of silence’ around violence against women which endorsed and perpetuated in the socio-cultural geography of state like Bihar and can be attributed to low reporting of domestic violence cases. A study on exploring the reporting of DV cases in Bihar reflects that only 8.9% of the women who suffered violence have reported it to anyone (Bajwa, Foreman, and Sallomen, 2019).
DOWRY: Although under the Dowry Prohibition Act, the payment of dowry is a punishable offence, it remains a common practice in Bihar. Moreover, despite the laws on protection of women, dowry deaths are still a widespread phenomenon. The NCRB data shows 6% of the crime against women under this section. Dowry seems to be not only prime reason of disappointment at the time of birth of a girl child but also the force behind the gender based discrimination which a girl child faces in health, education and overall development. The relation between demand for Dowry, women vulnerabilities in relation to her safety and child marriage could be well understood. An opinion poll conducted by Centre for Catalyzing Change – Sakshamaa, on behalf of Women Development Corporation, Govt of Bihar among youths in Bihar reflected young people demand for a new comprehensive law, along with a robust awareness campaign and stricter penalization of both takers and givers of dowry. Apart from citing the opinion regarding convincing their parents for not taking dowry, youth also voiced that organizing simple wedding ceremony help curb the practice. The youth raised the issue of increasing community involvement in reporting the crime of dowry ,for most young unmarried women, improved law enforcement came out as an ideal response to combat dowry ,(Ending the practice of dowry in Bihar: Young People’s Perceptions and Recommendations For Action, 2019)
CHILD MARRIAGE: The state of Bihar, a poor performer on human development indicators, is a significant contributor to the high prevalence of early marriage in India. Over 42 percent girls, who are currently between the ages of 20 and 24 years, were married before attaining the legal age of marriage. As such, 11 percent of early marriages among girls, and 8 percent of early marriages among boys in India are contributed by Bihar alone. There are 11 districts in the state, where one in two marriages among girls take place before reaching 18 years of age, namely, Sheohar, Sitamarhi, Supaul, Madhepura, Begusarai, Samastipur, Khagaria, Sheikpura, Gaya, Nawada, Jamui. Worryingly, in four districts, Begusarai, Gaya, Nawada and Jamui, more than 30 percent of marriages among girls, occur before they turn 16 years of age (NFHS 4).
Although the dropout rates at secondary level declined from 62.85 in 2012-13 to 56.6% in 2016-17 but, only 48% girls are enrolled in secondary schools. Poverty, marriage and attitude towards girls’ education have be recognized as some of the prime reasons behind girls’ low enrolment and high dropout rate. In addition, the prevalence of child marriage is over 50% in 11 districts of the state, where over 42% girls are married before the legal age. Evaluations of some of the programmes aimed at curtailing child marriage suggest mixed-results in attaining the programme objectives.
For instance, the evaluation of the bicycle scheme for girls in Bihar concluded that it increased girls’ age-appropriate enrolment in secondary schooling by 30 percent, reduced the gender-gap in age-appropriate secondary school enrolment by 40 percent, and may have generated positive externalities in terms of changing patriarchal social norms that proscribed women’s mobility outside village (Prakash and Murlidharan 2014; (Muralidharan and Prakash 2017). However, girls in the state generally tend to marry once they reach 18 years of age. Evaluation of a similar scheme in Gujarat suggested that a bicycle alone does not make much of a difference (UNICEF 2012; cited in Jha et al. 2016). It could be because of the fact that while Bihar’s scheme was applicable to all girls enrolling in class 9, Gujarat’s scheme was limited to the girls for below poverty line (BPL) families only (Jha et al. 2016).
Child sexual abuse, an issue which emerged as a heinous crime with the Muzaffarpur short stay home case, brought into the spotlight the need for proper review and monitoring of shelter homes in the state with adherence to quality standards and child rights benchmarks.
WOMEN IN PUBLIC SPACES:
Rapid advances in educational attainment of women and girls in recent years in the state have not translated into labor market outcomes, and women remain confined to household and agricultural work. Women’s workforce participation is substantially lower than that of men and they are predominantly confined to domestic work and agriculture, including animal husbandry. Bihar has the lowest labour force participation rate among women (aged 15-59) in India, just 4.4%. This is significantly lower than the male LFPR in the state – close to 71% of men in Bihar (aged 15-59) are in the labour force.
A minority of women in rural Bihar works in locally available jobs in the health and education sectors, which are deemed socially acceptable; however, cultural and social norms restrict their mobility and do not allow them to go far from their homes to work. The Rural FWPR is at 2.5 %. Some women also undertake home-based work in diverse sectors such as agarbatti (incense sticks) making, rolling bidis (indigenous cigarettes), and papad (a food item) making. Home-based work is acceptable as it offers flexibility with respect to the numbers of hours worked and the possibility of simultaneously looking after young children (SEWA Bharat, 2014). While most women are engaged in the agricultural sector, they own only 14% of the landholdings in the state.
In contrast, men migrate to work in distant labor markets, predominantly in urban centers across India. While this has allowed them to access non-agricultural occupations and facilitated their movement out of agriculture, there has been a simultaneous feminization of agriculture in rural Bihar (Datta, Rodgers, Rodgers, & Singh, 2014). Migration being overwhelmingly male is not coincidental; it needs to be understood in a social and cultural context that is embedded in patriarchy. Men go away to work while women stay behind to care for children, the elderly, their homes, and lands. In the absence of men, many women have taken on additional tasks, while the former continue to stay away from domestic and care work within households. This sexual division of labor, entrenched in patriarchal norms, restricts women’s entry into and access to non-agricultural jobs or occupations outside the rural economy.
Therefore, there is a latent female workforce in rural Bihar that faces a systemic bias, while men’s migration has further contributed to and accentuated this segmentation of the labor market by gender (Datta, 2019) Bihar also displays a high incidence of caste-based violence and gender based violence. Probably threat of GBV is the reason why one is not surprised to note that in spite of being close to 50% of urban population they comprise only 19 per cent of “other workers” and yet 84 per cent of their trips are by public, intermediate public and non-motorized modes of transport (Census 2011).While 73 per cent of trips by “other workers” in urban areas are by sustainable modes of transport, women and girls’ share is only 14 per cent.
In a study conducted on women’s mobility and public infrastructure by Centre for Catalyzing Change – Sakshamaa, on behalf of Women Development Corporation, Govt of Bihar found that 1/4th respondent women have faced sexual harassment while commuting: staring, lewd comments and stalking of which more than 3/4th incidents were on streets,(Women’s Access to Urban Transport in Urban Bihar,2020). Women bear a double burden of road safety as well as the perceived fear and experience of sexual harassment.
A study titled “Women in Bihar: Access to Government Employment and Skilling Opportunities”, 2019, found that only 50 % of the reserved seats reserved for women in government jobs have been filled. Women are significantly discouraged from labour force participation by the perception of higher crimes-against-women; and this relationship is particularly strong when society attaches a high stigma cost to crimes-against-women.
EXCLUSION FROM THE DIGITAL SPACE
A recent study by Harvard Kennedy schools reflected Women’s limited usage of mobile phones in India. According to the report only 38 per cent women use phones in the country compared to 71 per cent men. The lack of access to digital platform and along with absence of digital literacy not only deprives women from availing various development opportunities aimed at them but also prevent them from accessing the social support services available for redressal for situation of violence against them. The study among adolescents under the project ‘Understanding the lives of Adolescent and Young Adults’ in Bihar brought out the issue of lack of digital accessibility and knowledge . In case of unmarried adolescent in the age group 15-19 years, they may have access to mobile phone but the regular access to internet has high disparity where 20.2 % of boys have the access as compared to 2.7 % of the girls in the age group. (Udaya, 2017).This also has adverse effect on access to information about livelihood entitlements among women and girls. When compared on ‘awareness of employment exchange or employment counselling Centre’ 8% of male respondent in the age group 15-19 years showed knowledge on the same compared to 6.4% of girls in the same age group which further reduced to 4.2 % among married women of the same age group (UDAYA,2017). It may be inferred that the lockdown during pandemic must have further intensified women’s social isolation where they are unable to access phones with relevant privacy to reach out for help.
COVID MAKES WOMEN MORE VULNERABLE
COVID-19 increased the women’s vulnerabilities towards domestic violence as quarantines and social isolation along with economic recession at the household level can intensify violence. “Domestic violence cases were found to be doubled than what it was before the lockdown. Bihar has been one of the states with highest numbers of DV cases reported at the NCW Helpline during the lockdown. Women headed organizations, working on various facets of gender based violence have shared that VAW during the lockdown has not emerged as one of the most urgent concerns for many organizations working with women in Bihar as possible survivors are somewhat cut off from their social networks and are unable to share or seek help and the need to respond to the pandemic has overshadowed the issue.
Physical and emotional abuse has emerged as the most common form of VAW during the lockdown. With the return of migrants, women were compelled to spend more time on household and care work while curtailing their own hours of rest and even sleep. Increasing frequency of sexual demand from the husband implies intensification of emotional, physical and psychological stress for women, already struggling with acute time poverty during the lockdown.
In last more than a decade of political regime in the state there has been a significant amount of work done for women development in social, economic and political domains. Bihar is one such initiative that focuses on development of women, through different programmes sponsored by state government, central government and through different NGOs to empower women and to make them self-reliant, state has started the Mukhyamantri Nari Shakti Yojana (Chief Minister Women Empowerment Scheme). To encourage girl child to study further, and to reduce the school dropout amongst girls, the Mukhyamantri Balika Cycle Yojana (Chief Minister Girls Cycle Scheme) is launched by the state government. The Beti bachao beti padhao, a central sponsored scheme encourages education of girl child. Since the sex ratio of Bihar is 918 per 1000 male (Census, 2011), which is below the national average and further to improve the sex ratio and stop female foeticide, state sponsored Mukhyamantri Kanya Suraksha Yojna (Chief Minister Girl Security Scheme) has been adopted. A women helpine and One Stop Centre has been launched to provide support the women, who are victim of domestic violence. The centre provides medical, psychological, legal and counselling support.
As promised to the female voters of Bihar, during his election campaign, the CM enforced a policy for complete prohibition on liquor in Bihar in the year 2016. It has been argued that the rationale behind the policy is that alcohol consumption is the primary reason for violence against women (Kumar & Prakash, 2015). The state government has launched big push programmes of Women Empowerment, along with prohibition on liquor, to complement the policy decision.
Launched in 2016, the state government affirmative action initiatives, formalizing 35% reservation for women in all government jobs has increased public sector hiring of women (Gender report card, 2019)
A state wide campaign against dowry and child marriage has been launched in Oct 2017 and is being enforced. To address the various issues of gender based discrimation faced by girl/women in the life cycle, the ‘Mukhya Mantri Kanya Uthan Yojana which is a conditional cash transfer schemes which address multifaceted issue of health, education along with addressing child marriage as the prime issue.
IMMEDIATE ACTION AREAS
SAFETY IN PUBLIC SPACES:
Better roads and last mile connectivity: Women’s mobility is invisible in mobility plans, as they do not report travel behavior by sex, do not include household/care trips, and undercount walking trips and sexual harassment. Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMP) and Comprehensive Mobility Plans (CMP) should have a cross-cutting and a dedicate focus on improving women’s access and mobility. The state needs to revisit the mobility plan with a gender lens.
Safe walking environment: For women, non-work trips constitute 82 percent of their travel in cities. Of these trips, 87% are by walking however, less than 15 percent of the road space is allocated for footpaths ((Women’s Access to Urban Transport in Urban Bihar, 2020).) Fast and rashly driven vehicles, narrow, high, discontinuous, encroached and uneven footpaths are the major causes for the poor perception of the walking environment, followed by water clogged streets, intentional rash driving by men in the presence of women and secluded neighborhoods. Groups of men waiting at corners / shops are a concern for women. This calls for immediate attention towards women safety in public spaces.
Police patrolling after dark: The women’s perception of street/public spaces changes at night as compared to daytime due to various reasons such as deserted streets, a lack of street lighting in the night, fear of theft and anti-social elements and groups of men at street corners/ shops are the key reasons for women’s poor perception of streets in the night Urban transport investments in urban areas of Bihar need to prioritize safe walking and cycling environments in their cities. Women expressed a higher preference for Female Police personnel with increase in Police Patrolling especially after dark and improving streets within neighborhoods (Women’s Access to Urban Transport in Urban Bihar, 2020).
More women in transport sector: Incentivizing registrations of e-rickshaws with women operators may encourage more women to take up transport related livelihood opportunities.
Conduct awareness and behavior change campaigns: Under reporting of women harassment in public spaces indicates the normalization of harassment in patriarchal culture of the state. The campaign on safer mobility can encourage women to raise their voice when faced with harassment and sensitize by standers in assisting women. The campaigns could specifically target staring, lewd comments and stalking faced on the streets, bus stops, inside buses and rickshaws.
PLANNING AND MONITORING
- The State Women Empowerment Policy (SPEW) requires prioritization and review , as women social development needs integrated approach.
- Coordination and Integrated Approach for Women Safety in Public Spaces
Improving the transport experience requires integrated approach among various department such as the Transport Department, Urban Development and Housing Department, Social Welfare and Home department. A coordinating cell such as a Women’s Mobility and Access Cell may act as the nodal agency for coordinating between the departments, monitoring progress and organizing technical and non-technical capacity development trainings.
- Women safety in domestic spaces:
Increase in incidence of domestic violence during COVID has shown how women when isolated from their networks become more vulnerable and hence need support closer to home, whether through community based support service cadre or institutional setup.
Institutional setup: Helpline services: Lockdown during pandemic, restricting the movement of not only violence survivor but also the service provider in reaching out to the aggrieved women. While Bihar has mahila helpline ‘181’ in every district but under situations of lockdown when women are unable to access phones with relevant privacy to reach out for help , the social isolation intensifies their vulnerabilities. This suggests need for extending the helpline services to at least block level.
Community based support cadre: Community vigilance and support structure can play critical role in identifying, reaching out and supporting women and girls who survive violence through local mechanisms.
- Frontline health workers: In the process of providing health and nutrition information, care and services to mothers and children, Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) and Anganwadi Workers, when capacitated, would have the opportunity to screen women for their experience of violence, provide initial, basic advice and link them to official support services like helplines or women police stations with devolution of power to the Gram Panchayat and wards, Panchayat members are increasingly being seen as key catalysts for accelerating transformation in rural India. There is robust evidence to prove the effectiveness of women’s collectives and local governance mechanisms to reduce community acceptance of VAWG and initiate support for survivors. The ‘Do Kadam’ intervention implemented by non-profit Centre for Catalyzing Change and evaluated by Population Council which reflects on how Panchayats, self-help groups (SHGs) and frontline health workers — if equipped with the right perspectives — can identify vulnerable women and provide immediate support. These community cadres can be involved in addressing harmful social practices and achieving gender equality.