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How can women remain safe in today’s sex obsessed society? | Vimla Patil

The lonely girlDo scantily or provocatively-dressed women attract trouble? Do women who live alone make good targets for sexual perverts?

Women’s rights groups all over the world are fighting for their freedom to dress and live as they please. “Men must change their aggressive and lascivious attitude towards women and stop treating them as sex objects,” they say. Is this really possible? Will men ever change their ‘hunter’ and ‘hunted’ attitude towards women? If not, what should women do to keep themselves safe while enjoying their careers, leisure pursuits and a busy social life?

However, though protests and morchas are an important and effective manner of attracting public attention to the problem of sexual harassment of women, it is important for women themselves to be conversant with the laws and guidelines set up by the Government for their safety.

A group of women activists from Harvard University visited India to have a dialogue with their Indian counterparts and to create a wider awareness of the rampant rise in cases of sexual harassment of women around the world. They claimed that as the 21st century hurtles on, women continue to be unsafe at educational institutions, workplaces and even within their so-called ‘safe’ homes! They held several press conferences and argued strongly for women’s rights to dress as they please, have a career and social life of their choice and to feel free to go anywhere they choose as equal citizens of their nations.

Many headline-hitting protests were organised all over the world and their echo was heard in India. For instance, ‘slut walks’ or ‘Besharmi Morchas’ were organised in Bhopal, Delhi and Mumbai with women demanding to dress as they wish and to socialise at bars and night spots of their choice. These riveted media and civil society’s attention on the rampant sexual assaults and harassment that women face in life. The media strongly supported their strident call for freedom from sexual harassment saying that if the mode of dressing caused the male gaze to go awry, why would there be sexual crimes against children? Why would working women living alone be attacked even in their homes? Why would roadside Romeos continue to harass college students or working women? The debate continues with various suggestions coming from the government and civil society.

However, though protests and morchas are an important and effective manner of attracting public attention to the problem of sexual harassment of women, it is important for women themselves to be conversant with the laws and guidelines set up by the Government for their safety.

In 1997, the Supreme Court framed the Vishakha Guidelines under which, employers were required to set up procedures and committees to deal with cases of sexual harassment at workplaces. The Court recognised such cases as a systemic discrimination against women and addressed such crimes by creating mandatory prevention guidelines and defining rules which are known as the Vishakha Guidelines (the name is derived from the famous case Vishakha vs. Others). The guidelines are applicable to all government and private sector organisations, hospitals, universities as also unorganised sector businesses. Employers and heads of institutions are directed to institute conduct rules and preventive measures to stop sexual harassment of women at workplaces. They have to set up procedures through which women can make their complaints heard and addressed.

More recently, the Government of India passed an anti-sexual-harassment bill to protect women, including millions employed as domestic help, against sexual harassment at work. This bill clearly defines sexual crimes which include crude sexual remarks, demand for sexual favours or any act of physical advance or an unwelcome touch. The bill defines a domestic worker as a woman employed to do household work for remuneration in cash or kind. Further, it states that a complaint committee must be set up where ten or more women are employed. Heavy fines for non-compliance and repeat violations could lead to serious consequences like closure of businesses or cancellation of licenses. The bill covers not only employees, but also clients, customers and daily wage earners.

Without doubt, women will welcome these legal provisions and have more confidence in the law and order system. But simultaneously, there are precautions that women themselves can take to save themselves the trauma and humiliation of sexual harassment of many kinds.

Here are some suggestions based on the specific experiences of Indian women.

Dress as you please but bear in mind three rules: person, time and place of your presence

Bollywood is a huge influence on Indian women today. Unfortunately, Indian films make female stars into sex objects in film after film, with sexy exposure which leaves little to the imagination.The innumerable fashion weeks and the designer clothes which svelte models display also influence women. What Katrina Kaif and Kareena Kapoor wear in their roles in a film is desired by most urban women. Sometimes, their clothes go beyond the line of decency for real life situations.

What the slinky models display on ramps makes women yearn for similar figures and glamour. However, such women are in the public eye and are undoubtedly envied for their hot, voluptuous bodies and sensual performances. But remember that these stars/models work in a controlled environment. They are rarely in workplace or street scenarios and do not face the same situations as aam women. Most of them have heavily-guarded homes, bodyguards or security persons around them and their movements are monitored carefully by their trained staff. Any attempt to harass them in any way would hit headlines and invite trouble instantly. For most women, there are no such privileges. So it is advisable to dress and conduct oneself depending upon the person one is spending time with, the place one is visiting or the time one is out of a safe environment. It is unfair, but true, that every woman must constantly have a sharp awareness of her surroundings to notice the first signs of any sexual attention.

Develop a keen instinct for places, people and situations

They say a woman is born with a keen apprehension of her surroundings. Work on your instinct to notice the first sign of danger and notice if you are being followed, stalked or watched. Keep your phone handy with the contacts of your friends or family available quickly in case you feel you may need help. If you are out late at night or in a locality which is known for its Romeos, make sure your friends or family know where you are and what time to expect you back home. Inform your family about your schedule for the day so they know where you are likely to be at what time. Building a network of protective people is a must whereas unnecessary bravado can lead to disasters. If you need to hide an activity from your family, perhaps you are doing something wrong.

Try not to indulge in drinking or watching porn or even serious partying in suspicious company.

Many times, such activities lead to an assumption on the part of your male companions that you might be willing to indulge in a sexual fling. Be sure you do not use language, gestures or attitudes which encourage misbehavior. Be in control of your social and sexual life so that whatever you do, it is strictly your personal choice, made after correct understanding of the person and the place. Try not to be influenced by media reports of celebrity parties and night life excesses which often look attractive!

Choose a confidante correctly

Be careful not to talk about your private life to many people. Traditional Indian wisdom decrees that nine kinds of secrets should never be divulged. These are your wealth and earnings; your age or efforts to remain young; your sexual experiences; your family or marital problems; your health problems; your spiritual pursuits and religious beliefs; your victories and losses; your anguish at insults and hurts and finally, others’ confidences reposed in you.

Know the laws regarding sexual harassment and how to deal with it

The Vishakha Guidelines of the Supreme Court require your employer/company to set up a panel to deal with cases at your workplace. It is an advantage if several women employees group together to support each other in such situations. Study the latest law passed by Parliament and be aware of your rights while being careful to take precautions to protect yourself from unwanted sexual approaches.

Keep your home and environment safe

Check your car for any abnormal changes. So also track the keys to your home, car, office, locker etc with care and accuracy. The recent case of lawyer Pallavi Purakayastha who was violated and killed by a security guard should be a warning signal for us. Feed the police control room number 100 as well as the numbers of your trusted friends and family members in your speed dial so that you can reach them quickly. Do not leave door keys or car keys in unsafe places and do not give them to unknown people or domestic help. Avoid being alone with strangers if you live alone. Make sure your neighbors know your approximate daily routine. Leave your number with trusted neighbours so that they can contact you in an emergency.

Cultivate the habit of controlling your senses and responses to the world around you

Again, Indian wisdom says that six qualities can lead to personal disasters. These are: Arrogance, greed, over-attachment to indulgence, lust for sensual pleasures, inordinate anger and finally ruinous jealousy. Wanting legitimate pleasures and benefits is natural. But when the limits of reason are crossed, disastrous consequences can happen. Sexual harassment is often seen by menas ‘acceptable’ or ‘welcome’ because of these qualities. Avoid showing off your money or sensuality and try not to share sexual downloads or videos which can misguide sex offenders. Try not to encourage sexually-potent compliments. It is sad but true that women have to be careful in choosing or trusting their male company.

Honour your body – it’s the only one you have

Develop healthy habits of eating, building strong relationships, working hard for your goals and choosing the right company. Try not to desecrate your own body and mind with irresponsible habits and instant sexual or material indulgence which leave permanent scars. Celebrate life with success, good health and a responsible and fulfilling family life. Our culture tells us clearly what is permanent and what is transient. Leave the transient alone and work as hard as you can for the permanent. This is the golden thread of sanity that should run through our lives and loves to keep us safe and happy

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