Sexual violence against women is a pressing matter, one that continues to worsen. Women’s rights activist Aasha Ramesh talks to Joyeeta Chakravorty about how the change needs to begin at home and in school with sex education and gender awareness made part of the education system.
Activist Aasha Ramesh waits quietly at a cafe in the scorching summer heat. A well-known champion of women's rights, who is part of the national resource group for National Rural Livelihood Mission for gender training, is also a member of the advisory committee for drafting the State Policy for the Empowerment of Women.
"Let's talk about this burning issue over a cup of cold coffee," she smiles, as she discusses her thoughts on the growing numbers of sexual crimes against women.
"Now and then, you find officers in the Education Department who are concerned about gender sensitisation and manage to change a few rules in its favour. However, when the leave, the rules change again. What we need is for this sensitivity to prevail and for the issue to be incorporated with the educational structure in our country," she said.
Sex education in schools has been a longstanding demand as far as activists are concerned although little progress has been made on this front, save for, as Aasha mentioned, the occasional sympathetic officer. "All schools need to offer sex education, including those run privately. That sexual harassment only takes place in schools is a misconception we need to rid ourselves of as soon as possible."
Dressed elegantly in a bright green top and a skirt, she pauses in a sudden moment of sympathy for the woes of the journalist, what with the heat and the traffic! "It's remarkable how much this city has changed," she said. "I remember how we used to cycle from home to college without having to worry about a thing. Which brings me to another point - given the atmosphere of the time, the need for sex education in schools is even more pressing now than it used to be."
Aasha, who is currently occupied in another bit of research involving women's rights, has travelled the country extensively through her work. Have any other cities made more headway with safety for women? The situation is the same everywhere. We need to mould the children in their formative years to make them more conscious, aware and respectful of one another. Men need to grow into responsible citizens who don't believe in holding society responsible for their masculine demands by molesting or using physical force against the opposite sex. That's why it's important to start young, moulding children in their formative years to make them more conscious, aware and respectful of each other.
Sex education is important but it is imperative that it be presented appropriately. "The module has to be developed in such a way that men understand their responsibilities and realise that women cannot be reduced to sexual objects. This machoism attitude needs to be broken down. Unfortunately, we live in a city where every incident is followed by a blame-game, with the girl invariably bearing the brunt."
Where does one begin? Progress is nearly impossible without government support and changes at the policy level. "The onus lies on the state, if it wants to create a violence-free environment," Aasha agrees. "Parent-teacher meetings should take place regularly as well. Often, parents from more affluent homes also resist the thought of their children being exposed to issues that concern sexuality," she remarked, adding firmly that parents in rural areas are far more open to discussing these matters.
Aasha concludes with a smile, "I hope you can grow old in a society which does not report of such gory crimes and violence against women.”...