New findings from an International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) survey show that 95 percent of women and girls may not feel safe from sexual violence in public spaces in India’s capital of New Delhi, where the brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old woman on a bus sparked international outrage.
The household survey was conducted by ICRW during the two months before the December rape that resulted in protests nationwide in India and in the swift arrest of five alleged perpetrators. The survey is one element of a larger ICRW project called Safe Cities that is underway in partnership with UN Women, the Indian government and the New Delhi-based organization, Jagori, and is part of an overall effort to make Delhi a safer city for women and girls.
The survey reached about 2,000 women and 1,000 men, ages 16 to 49. Researchers say the findings are representative of most men’s attitudes and behaviors toward women and what most women experience when they step outside of their homes in Delhi.
Indeed, nearly 75 percent of women and girls surveyed said they had faced sexual violence in their own neighborhoods. Nine out of 10 reported experiencing sexual aggression or violence – from obscene comments, to being groped, stalked or sexually assaulted – in a public space in their lifetime. Six out of 10 reported this for the last six months preceding the survey.
Nearly 65 percent of the women and girls said they feel fearful or extremely fearful when they go out alone at night.
Meanwhile, half of the men ICRW surveyed said they had sexually harassed or been violent with a woman in a public setting at least once in their lifetime. Male respondents blamed women for being the brunt of harassment, with three out of four men agreeing with the statement, “Women provoke men by the way they dress.” Two out of five men partially or fully agreed that women moving around at night “deserve to be sexually harassed.”
Such attitudes among men and the sexual violence women experience in the market, at parks and on public transportation are – and have been – par for the course for generations in Delhi, said Nandita Bhatla, senior technical specialist for gender and development in ICRW’s Asia Regional Office.
“We urgently need to change men’s attitudes and behavior toward women, which are deeply rooted in patriarchal norms that are engrained from childhood and persist,” said Bhatla, who directs the Safe Cities project for ICRW. “Indian society continues to apply a different standard for boys and girls. Every act that grants privilege and power to boys over girls, feeds into the mentality of inequality and violence.”
However, the outrage ignited by the gang rape of the physiotherapist student who later died of her injuries could represent a turning point in society, Bhatla said.
As the trial gets underway for the accused perpetrators, ICRW and its partners are continuing to develop the Safe Cities project. Among other efforts, they plan to roll out two major interventions to address safety in Delhi’s public spaces and conduct a follow-up survey.
Does the New Delhi Rape Mark a Turning Point? ICRW's Nandita Bhatla explains how diverse groups have galvanized to ensure a safer environment for India’s women and girls
95% Women Feel Unsafe Outdoors – Results from an ICRW survey about sexual violence against women in public spaces in New Delhi are featured this Times of India article.
Beyond Rape Trial, a Bigger Question about Women’s Status in India – The Christian Science Monitor quotes ICRW’s Priya Nanda in this feature that appeared on the day court proceedings began for the five men accused of the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old New Delhi woman.
India Confronts the Problem of Violence Against Women – During this National Public Radio broadcast, ICRW's Priya Nanda discusses the vulnerability of women and girls in public spaces in India and the root causes of their unequal status in society.