One of Nirantar’s initiatives is to work on the linkages between Gender based Violence and sexuality. We also feel that instead of Violence against women, the term Gender based Violence can substantiate and explain the work on violence in holistic manner.
To understand the reason behind this, let us start with our understanding of Gender. Gender is a social structure, a category used to divide people into two boxes: men and women. These boxes are designed such that in order to fit into them, you have to display a certain set of characteristics which are forced upon you from the day you are born.
For instance, when a baby is born, the first question always is, is it a boy or a girl? The medical establishment, one of the many institutions that enforce this category of gender, decides what category to place the baby in, based on the genitals of the child. As soon as a baby is born, we have one look at the baby’s crotch and decide what box to place the child in. If the child has a penis and testicles, it is put into the male box, while if the child has a vagina, it is put into the female box. This is where the gendering of individuals begins.
Gendering is the process by which rules of gender (in terms of dress, behavior, interests etc) are assigned to and enforced on the individual by family, friends and larger society. If one follows all the rules of gender, i.e, if one is a masculine man or feminine woman, then one is awarded benefits by society, while if one breaks the rules of gender, one is severely punished. Let us understand this with a few simple examples. If a girl decides to cut her hair short, she is teased by friends, scolded by elders and is told that she is unattractive and no man will want to marry her. That said, it is important to acknowledge that many of us transgress gender norms; we go out at night, we laugh out loud. There are some people who are punished for breaking gender norms too. They are the transgender and the gender queer people. ‘Women’, Transgenders, and genderqueers are punished for one common reason- for breaking the norms laid down by patriarchy- that is- ‘boys’ should behave like ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ should behave like ‘girls’.
Patriarchy makes sure ‘women’ and ‘men’ stay in the ‘fixed’ boxes assigned to them. And anyone who transgresses these norms is punished and they face violence. Now people who are at the margins because of gender roles are not only women but also transgender people.
Then why are we who fight against patriarchy every day, silent about transgender violations. Transgenders face violations ranging from everyday violations in the families, schools to murders and sexual assaults. In families, transgenders are abused mentally, physically, economically for not conforming to gender norms. They are forced to get married, they are forced to wear clothes which do not conform to their gender identity. In schools, transgender children/students are assaulted by fellow classmates, seniors and even teachers. These individuals often face issues of not being able to use bathrooms (that are almost always gendered), punished for wearing the uniform of their choice (that usually doesn’t ‘match’ their genitals), bullying from peers and classmates for not conforming to gender norms, pressure from teachers to dress, talk, and act a certain way.
Further, in biology or life skills textbooks, transgender youth and children never see their issues being represented. Young boys and girls can always find examples of their genders in their school environment and books to model their masculinities/ femininities after. However, this is not the case for transgender individuals who don’t have role models and are constantly ridiculed for their gender non-conformity. As a result of ridicule, punishments and harassment, many transgender youth are pushed out of the school system. Transgender people also face severe street harassments. These include sexist comments, groping of their genitals to murders.
When we say we work on Violence against ‘Women’, who are the women we work with. We work with ‘female assigned at birth’ people who feel like women. If we work on issues of gender, and violence against marginalized people and against patriarchy, we have to also work with transpeople. And this can begin with using the term ‘Gender based Violence’ instead of violence against women.