"In my teens, I was violated by not one, but three men from my family. Yet, I was never able to talk to my parents about this. They do not know about it till today. We talked about a lot of things, but when it came to matters of sexuality… mum’s the word was the motto… I was afraid that my parents, who switched channels when characters kissed on the TV and evaded uncomfortable questions, would hold me guilty for what happened."
Gender violence has existed for centuries. Yet it was only a couple of decades ago that this issue started getting the attention it deserved. However, with gender violence becoming a widely-discussed topic, the mindset of people towards it is gradually changing. Parents now are more aware of the severity of damage it can cause to the victim and are keener than ever to protect their children, especially girls. Many schools have also taken up the issue and are conducting various programmes to educate both children and parents about gender violence and the ways to tackle it.
The continuous debate and focus on gender violence has also helped in changing its definition and widening its scope. It is no longer limited to just sexual abuse or inappropriate touching. Gender violence now includes all forms of violence perpetrated against a person of a particular gender with the intention to cause physical, mental, economic or sexual harm. Violent acts that are now covered under gender violence include:
- Domestic violence – Physical violence against any family member or corporal punishment of children at home.
- Sexual violence – Rape, child sex abuse, sexual harassment, trafficking of women or children, and forced prostitution.
- Forceful practices – Traditional practices such as female genital mutilation, forced pregnancies, honour crimes, female infanticide, prenatal sex selection and dowry.
- Emotional violence – Verbal abuse leading to destruction of self-esteem, manipulation and issuing threats.
With violence against children also being included in the fold of gender violence, it has become important for us to make our children aware of this issue. Not only do we need to sensitise our children to gender violence but also need to make them a part of our struggle against it. This will go a long way in ensuring that our children do not become perpetrators of such crimes themselves and learn how to protect themselves from such crimes. As parents, it is our responsibility to raise children who believe in a gender violence-free world. To be role models for children, some of the things parents should practise and remember are:
You Reap What You Sow
Meena (name changed), a teacher from Mumbai, says that inculcating good values should start with parents. According to her, “Children learn a lot by seeing how their parents behave. It is important that parents watch their words and actions when in front of their children. We have had an instance at our school where a girl and a boy from the pre-primary section were found hiding under the desk, the girl showing the boy her genitals. On investigating the incident, we came to know that the parents often got intimate in the presence of the child.”
The way men and women treat each other at home has a profound impact on children. Witnessing incidents such as his father beating his mother, or taunting her about her inferiority, or his grandmother abusing his mother and pestering her for more dowry has a profound impact on a child’s thought process.
It shapes the way a child perceives the power equation between the two genders. When a child who grows up in an environment where women are persecuted, chances are high that he might commit crimes against women.
Keep Communication Channels Open
The advancement of technology and communication has made every type of information accessible to almost everyone. While they search for information, children may also come across gender-based innuendos or other such harmful content. In such a scenario, it becomes almost impossible to protect the innocence of childhood for long. Therefore, it is better that our children learn from us about their sexuality, their bodies, and the differences between the genders, before they imbibe half-cooked ideas from the media and friends.
Bestow Body Awareness
It is never too early to talk to children about their bodies, and explain the differences between the bodies of the two sexes. Giggling away or hushing questions about why a boy’s genitals look different from that of a girl, or admonishing children if they accidentally expose their private parts in public, may cause them to associate a sense of shame with their bodies. This can lead children to develop skewed notions about sexuality. Prominent blogger Sakshi Nanda nails the issue in her blog, where she says, “If we introduce them (children) to the idea of body early enough, through examples and practice, as something to be cared about, respected and presented in a certain manner, then the idea of shame attached with its various parts will find no place. This will not erase the curiosity but will, perhaps, make them regard another’s body with equal care too, and wipe out the mocking tones and the red faces, both.”
Keep Those Answers Straight
It is perhaps best not to erase curiosity, but to satiate it with as truthful answers as possible. Gowri, mother of a four-year-old, says, “When my son came and asked me what the uncle on the TV was doing to the aunty, I was flabbergasted. How could I explain a rape scene to the child? Yet, even as I was reeling under the effect of the question, I realised, that in a world where their van drivers or neighbours molest two-year-olds, it was absolutely necessary that I gave my son the knowledge he required to protect himself from such situations.”
While you can avoid watching explicit visuals when your child is with you, when such things get thrust unexpectedly upon you, take it as an opportunity to have that ‘talk’ with your child. Instead of dimming the TV brightness or switching channels, in as simple terms as possible, answer your child’s questions. This serves dual purposes. One, you ensure that your child doesn’t get half-baked knowledge from dubious sources, but only correct information from a source he can trust. Two, you send out signals to your child that he need not feel ashamed or guilty to discuss such topics with you. Encourage your child to take you into confidence and share with you anything that makes him uncomfortable, so you can take appropriate action at the right time.
As a mother, I have promised myself not to let my child go through what I had to. Yet, sensitising our children to gender violence will not happen in a day. One chat or awareness session is not enough to instil the sense of gender equality and respect in a child. A change in the mindset of people who are most important to the child and seeing you practice what you preach will make him imbibe the values you cherish.
To dream of a world that is free from gender violence, we must start with living that dream today, so that our children follow in our footsteps tomorrow.