Remarks by R Fernandez at the launch of workshops in Kerala to end violence against women

Inaugural event was held on 5 Dec 2015 at St. Teresa’s College Ernakulam to launch a week-long series of UK-supported workshops in Kerala to end VAW.

The other day someone showed me a video clip of a ‘social experiment’. It showed a couple in a park; the man loudly arguing with and striking the woman. Both were actors of course, not a real couple. Passersby saw and heard the woman’s cries. Some slowed down but continued on. A few stopped and stared with curiosity or concern, before moving on. Not one stepped up to separate the couple or challenge the man. The clip ended with an eerie question – would you stop to help? What would you do? Our best answers may shame some of us. But it is a question worth posing. Not just today but every day. We need to test our perceptions, our attitudes, our habits. Our gathering today is a sign of that desire to reflect, to learn.

We are grateful to our partners Lawyers Collective, Cultural Academy for Peace and HRLN. We are grateful to Kerala’s Legal Services Authority, Directorate of Public Prosecutors and Police Academy for their support.Thank you Sr Vinitha and Dr Sajimol and the faculty and students of St. Teresa’s for hosting this important launch event in Kerala. As one of the leading women’s colleges in India you have shown solidarity with this national project. We are honoured to have Hon’ble Justice Kurian Joseph with us. Thank you Sir, for your presence and your support. We are delighted that the workshops in Kerala coincide with the UN’s 16 Days of Activism marked internationally. We thank you all for being part of a movement, nationally, globally.

Our thanks to Kerala’s Home Minister Mr Chennithala, Social Justice Minister Dr Muneer and Kerala’s Chief Justice Bhushan for the framework that they have helped create and nurture over the years. It is because you and your colleagues have collectively worked so hard that such workshops have any impact at all.

On International Women’s Day earlier this year, the President of India said and I quote: “equality, liberty and dignity are not a distant goal or fond aspiration of the women of our country. It is one of their sacred rights. It is not a privilege that they should seek. It has been a key element in the codes of conduct that our ancient societies prescribed for themselves more than 3000 years ago. This is our culture, this is our heritage.” Unquote.

So, how has the UK been making a difference?

In 2010 the UK published a cross-government strategy, A Call to End Violence Against Women & Girls. In March 2015, the government published a report detailing progress. Achievements include making domestic abuse an offence, criminalising forced marriage, new stalking laws, strengthening the law on female genital mutilation.

In July 2015, the UK launched a new £3.2 million fund that helps local authorities prevent and tackle domestic abuse. This supports the existing £40 million already dedicated to VAW support services and specialist helplines in the UK.

The UK is supporting development of a code of practice to reduce and tackle VAW on university campuses. A third of the UK Cabinet comprises women.

Last month the UK led global discussion to tackle online child sexual exploitation at the WePROTECT summit in Abu Dhabi.

The UK is working to ensure that all publicly funded advocates have specialist victims’ training before dealing with sexual offence cases.

How has the UK been making a difference in and with India?

The UK supports projects across India: building awareness around safety and sexual harassment among girls, ensuring greater social participation of tribal women, capacity building of civil society organisations who work with women. Last month, the UK supported a delegation of Indian women leaders to the UK to improve our shared understanding of gender issues and priorities. So, in India, the biggest way we are making a difference is through partnership. Workshops we are supporting this week in Kerala are a sign of that. We hosted similar workshops in Tamil Nadu last month.

In Kerala, we are making a difference in three ways

  • First, we hope that officers attending the workshops in Ernakulam and Thrissur will take back new learning to their districts and towns across Kerala.
  • Second, flowing from these workshops will be a newly designed Learning and Sharing Manual that can be used by VAW practitioners across India, to better understand and contextualise historical and new legislation and practice. The draft should be ready early next year and we hope the final version will be launched soon after at a national dissemination event in New Delhi.
  • Third, we are launching today the Malayalam version of two VAW booklets that we had supported publishing - meant to help survivors and practitioners. Thanks to Kerala’s Social Justice Department these booklets will be bulk printed and disseminated to women and VAW practitioners across Kerala.

Finally, we are all responsible for what we do - and choose not to do: our thoughts, our actions, our words, our silences matter. We shouldn’t always be looking to someone else to ‘make a difference’ – NGOs, the government, the police, the judiciary, academia, the media. Yes, they all have a role but every time there’s an incident or threat of it, we must ask ourselves: What is our response? What is my response? What am I going to do?

Let’s make a difference - through partnership. I hope today’s launch event and the workshops to follow will significantly strengthen our resolve to respond – positively, immediately, humanely.

Stuart Adam, Head,
Press and Communications
British High Commission, Chanakyapuri
New Delhi 110021
Tel: 44192100; Fax: 24192411

Mail to: R Fernandez

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Published 5 December 2015