Is self-defense enough to ensure women’s safety?

Is self-defense enough to ensure women’s safety?

The outpouring on social media about the appalling case of Sarah Everard, from women across the world, reflects that in each of our minds, this violence could have happened to our sister, our daughter, our colleague or our friend. 

While reading about Sarah Everard’s case we started thinking about so many similar cases which had happened in India such as Nirbhaya, Asifa, Unnao, Kathaua, Jisha, Imrana to name a few. A survey by Thomas Reuters Foundation in 2018 ranked India as the most dangerous country for women. India recorded an average of 87 rape cases daily in 2019 and overall 4,05,861 cases of crime against women during the year, a rise of over 7% from 2018, the latest government data released on September 29, 2020.

We have spent years being taught what we, as women, should do to keep ourselves safe. In schools and even at home our teachers and parents gave us safety lessons on how to avoid attack or encouraged us to learn self-defense. We were taught to carry a key between our fingers as we walk, to sit near the bus driver, to choose brightly lit streets and carry pepper spray. There was no equivalent lesson for boys.

These are messages about personal safety that are often passed from woman to woman. They are well-intended and come from a place of care and love, but how come it is still so widely accepted in society that it is a woman’s responsibility to prevent an attack?

While we teach women to adapt their lives to keep safe, there is little work being done to educate men against chauvinistic attitudes or aggressions, such as cat-calling, inappropriate touching or advances that make so many environments hostile for women.

It’s time that as a society, rather than teach women to live in fear, we address the attitudes, behaviour and violence that lie at the root of it. There is no comfort in this being a rare event. It should not be luck that we make it home from a walk or work or a friend’s house. 

We as a society need to involve boys and young men in the prevention of sexual violence by bringing behavioural changes, attitude changes, work towards teaching anti-sexism. Some of the amazing organisations working towards the same are MARD (Mard Against Rape & Discrimination), Oak Foundation, Equal Community Foundation to name a few. 

Till we are able to work as a society to bring this mindset shift in people, here are a few tips which we as women can take to keep ourselves safe. 

  1. Always be aware of your surroundings. 
  2. Always remember to lock your doors when driving.
  3. Limit distractions in parking lots or deserted spaces.
  4. Never walk alone, especially at night.
  5. Text a friend/relative to keep them up-to-date on your whereabouts if you are out at night.
  6. Scream at the top of your lungs.
  7. Hit the body parts that are the most tender to give you a chance to run and get help.

Sound off in the comments any efforts that you think are helping work with boys and men or if you have ideas on how we can bring this shift together sooner! We’re happy to summarize the resources in a follow up blog.

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