Woman’s Marches in the US to
the global #MeToo campaign, the issue of
women’s rights has well and truly permeated society’s
But this should not disguise the fact that women’s rights on
a global scale – and specifically women’s safety – is still
very much in its infancy. Thousands of women and girls each
year are victims of gender violence in India – and the most
recent statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau
show that crimes against women have
increased 34% in the past four years.
This figure provides only a glimpse of the actual number of
crimes against women and girls – as the vast majority of
victims do not come forward and seek help from the police.
So while the figures demonstrate a growing level of willingness
by women to come forward and report these crimes, there is
still a need to address how the police treat victims.
For the past two years Sheffield Hallam University’s
Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice has been
working in India, leading a project to improve access to
justice for women and girl victims of violence.
Justice for Her is a collaborative effort with the Indian
police across the vast and densely populated states of Delhi,
Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab.
From day one the aim of the project was clear: we wanted the
police to prioritise the protection of women and girls who
have been victims of violence, so they could be fully supported
at their most vulnerable time. And we wanted women and girls
to be safe and not fear being victimised again.
Following its inception in 2016, Justice for Her developed
a training programme for police officers and lawyers in India,
on how they can more appropriately and effectively deal with
these cases and secure justice for victims.
This training involved a wide range of approaches, including
role play, group discussions, lectures, simulation exercises
and self-reflection workshops.
The aim was for the police to have full ownership and feel
empowered and fully equipped to deliver appropriate support
and protection to female victims. We brought together police
officers, lawyers, NGOs, and members from civil society,
encouraging them to share their experiences of dealing with
female victims of crime.
We also visited all the states and met with individual stakeholders
to ensure the training programme was informed by them – as
well as being designed to meet victim’s needs and the nuances
of each state.
In Delhi, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab we met committed
and enthusiastic participants, who had a genuine thirst for
learning. We also met participants who needed to be challenged
about their perceptions and stereotypes.
Beacons of justice
The training programme has now been successfully delivered
in the four states to senior police trainers working across
a range of police training academies. And also to those with
a strategic remit of dealing with crimes against women.
We have changed the way police officers are trained about gender
violence – with more focus on empathy, the victim and moral
principles. This has helped to challenge police strategies
– many of which now prioritise gender violence. And has created
an empowered police force who have the ability to perform
their duties more effectively – without prejudice and discrimination.
All of which is important, because if Indian citizens can see
the police as beacons of justice, protection and safety –
for female victims and the communities they serve – there
will be fewer victims pulling out of the criminal justice
system. This will in turn help to address the limited impact
of the government’s recent
legislation to deal with violence against women and girls.
Such has been the success of the project, the training will
now be included in the curriculum for many new police recruits
in the four states, as well as rolled out to existing officers
in the field. This means that potentially tens of thousands
of police officers will be able to better support women and
girls who seek justice.
Part of the project also included senior Indian police officers
coming to the UK to see how British police officers tackle
gender violence. As a result, the Madhya Pradesh state police
has committed to open 51 one-stop victim support centres
for women – having seen a similar model when in the UK.
Students and female police officers dance as they take part
in a campaign to end violence against women and girls.
These centres will provide much needed support and crucial
services to female victims of violence – such as legal advice,
medical attention, DNA testing, counselling. These centres
will meet the needs of thousands of vulnerable women and
girls every year and will undoubtedly not just change lives,
but in some cases save them.
Justice for Her is a huge step forward in improving access
to justice for women and girl victims of violence. But more
is needed, much more. The seeds have been planted and now
must be spread to other areas of India.
This article originally appeared on The Conversation.