NEW DELHI, India: Nearly a decade since the gang rape and murder of a student on a bus shocked India, state spending to combat violence against women and girls is “grossly inadequate”, Oxfam India said.
Funds earmarked for setting up helplines, opening crisis centres and introducing gender-sensitisation training for officials remain unspent, the charity said in a report analysing the country’s budgetary commitment to boosting women’s safety.
A fund named after the 23-year-old woman who was raped and killed in 2012 is low on resources and under-utilised, found the Towards Violence Free Lives For Women report – noting that a rape takes place every 15 minutes in the country of 1.3 billion.
It analysed India’s budget over the last three years and found the country was spending just 30 rupees (about $0.41) per woman or girl annually to fight gender-based violence.
For the 80 million women and girls who suffer sexual violence, the budget allocation reached about 102 rupees ($1) per head.
“That is grossly inadequate,” Amita Pitre, lead specialist for gender justice at Oxfam India, said.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Indian women have suffered increased violence and job losses and taken on more unpaid care work, but Pitre said the government’s gender budget for 2021-2022 was only marginally higher than last year.
“You would expect more would be done for their food security, social protection and to address the violence they suffer, but you don’t see it,” she said.
Indian’s government set up the Nirbhaya Fund to “enhance the safety and security of women” after the bus gang rape spotlighted India’s appalling record on gender-based crimes, but campaigners said pledges for gender justice have not been met.
Dubbed Nirbhaya – the fearless one – by the Indian press, the victim could not be named under Indian law.
Pitre said state money allocated to the fund had been used for strengthening forensic laboratories and improving emergency response services, but that these were not “exclusively for women” and had benefitted broader law enforcement efforts.
Almost 34,000 rape cases were reported in 2018, about the same as the previous year, and just over 85% led to charges and 27% to convictions, according to government crime data.
India has nearly 600 one-stop crisis centres to help women access police services, counselling and doctors, and an equal number of short-stay homes and shelters for women fleeing domestic violence or social ostracism, official data shows.
About a third of Indian women have suffered domestic violence, the Oxfam India report said, citing government data, and women’s campaigners said much more remained to be done.
“There are only a few shelters offering short-term stay and have the poor capacity,” said Renu Mishra, executive director of the Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiative, a women’s rights charity.
“The number of women… in need of shelters would be in the tens of thousands,” said Mishra, whose organisation in the city of Lucknow recorded about 400 domestic abuse cases in 2020.