Security is a complex issue. How do we define to what extent we are secure? Is possessing nuclear weapons and a strong military enough to say that we are safe? I am afraid we are not.
A country's security is not defined by its military prowess, foreign reserves, space satellites, democratic stability, ethnic or religious identity but by, most importantly, the level of security its womenfolk enjoy. Sounds simple. But not so simple on ground.
'Gender stability' is a very key concept, particularly when viewed against the backdrop of socio-economic, ethno-religious or political complexes. A nation can be said at peace by the virtue of the treatment its women receive. Even democratic states which witness high rate of violence against the physically-weaker gender are bound to be unstable and poor in terms of security, just like any other non-democratic regime. When women are deliberately attacked in places like Sudan, Myanmar, Bosnia, Sri Lanka and other parts of the world, then these areas are not judged as a democracy or non-democracy but rather as places that pose the biggest threat to international peace and security.
But even in a country like India, considered the biggest democracy in the world, are the women folk secure? How much better do we treat our women than say, in a country with a conservative set-up? We are yet to overcome the issue of women's reservation in the Parliament or curb the dangerous social problems like female foeticide or lack of women's education just as we struggle to bring into effect an anti-corruption law.
Each of the pressing issues that are related to the women's security, do in a way, affect the entire state and social system. And the story does not end there either. With the globe emerging more and more a connected entity and the consequent socio-economic changes unfolding, chances of violence against women remaining limited within the domestic borders are getting reduced all the more.
China, India face same problem
Like China, India faces a alarming threat in terms of gender instability. These two big Asian countries, often projected as major players on the international stage in the future, the state of the womenfolk is a serious concern. Gender bias in favour of male children could seriously jeopardise the security and safety of both states, irrespective of their political clout.
How can violence against women affect the state's security?
Regular killing of the girl child even before it is born will lead to a situation where there will be, as scholars say, surplus males by a few millions! This will seriously hit the marriage market. Due to the widening economic gaps between the urban and poor, the phenomenon of urban migration is a normal tendency in the developing societies.
Rural or semi-rural masses, including parents of unmarried women prefer a well-off husband for their daughters like all do and this will increasingly make the rural menfolk, socially and economically at disadvantage, a dispensable lot. These people, in a situation of extreme crisis of non-availability of brides, will indulge in illegal activities to maintain a matrimonial balance. Even 'black marketing of wives' can start. This tendency will ultimately intensify already-existing problems like women trafficking and sex-slavery, prostitution, alcoholism, abduction, HIV/AIDS, polluting the socio-economic milieu more. As one scholar has rightly said: "Abundant male has a benefit economically but not socially."
The sexual frustration of these abundant males can prove dangerous for the state amid the already growing problems of economic growth, urbanisation, drug addiction and environmental degradation. Even the married households are not totally safe. Domestic sexual assault against women across the society (fall-outs from inequality in areas of marriage, inheritance and divorce) involves a huge risk and that is the peril of spread of HIV. If this problem is not nipped in the bud, an epidemic is likely to engulf the entire nation.
Women's rights also weaken
From the women's perspective, their lesser number vis-a-vis the men would mean they have a better pool to choose from, for example while finding their husbands, but actually their numerical inferiority means that the socially and culturally predominant gender will keep them under pressure and hence a defeat for the womenfolk in asserting their rights. This will have bigger social, economic and political ramifications.
The gender problem is further aggravated by the fact that we have porous borders with poor and backward countries. Besides victimising women from humble backgrounds within the country, women from Nepal and Bangladesh are also trafficked into India to run the well-oiled sex-slavery business. Considerable political patronage helps it to thrive all the more. In case of China too, the problem spills over into North Korea and Vietnam.
Another socio-psychological aspect says that unmarried males are more prone to indulge in criminal activities and this is another reason why the seriously imbalanced gender ratio can threaten the social security. Historically, Chinese rebels were men who were not married and harboured a feeling of hatred, even towards the married. These people can be reasons for more social tension when they move to the urban areas to avail economic opportunities and more tension will breed more friction and can even to fuelling terrorist activities.
The state will then have to intervene in its police capacity to chase the spiralling violance. Scope for peaceful policy-making will be reduced and chances of an authoritarian mode of ruling will become more relevant. The democracy-loving minds in India. Are they listening?
What is even more alarming is that more internal social fragmentation a nation suffers, more it tries to flex a belligerent muscle outside its own territory as the nationalist stance will help it retain the confidence and faith of its people. Pakistan is one such state which often resorts to display of military muscle vis-a-vis India to divert its people's attention from vexing social issues. In India, too, we see reports of state atrocities against women, a ploy deliberately made to weaken any dissenting force (read Manipur, Kashmir). This not only creates social protests but also a boost to the anti-state forces, putting the security in a greater peril.
Women in decision-making
Finally, a look into women's participation in decision-making. Poor representation of women in the decision-making bodies also lead to peace initiatives crumble comparatively faster for all-men's groups take decisions which are riskier and may not be conducive to settle issues and aggravate them further. The retaliatory politics among African ethnic groups or warlords of central Asian countries prove this. It is no accident that the US has deliberately worked towards empowerment of women in Afghanistan and Iraq, the two countries it had invaded. But how long will the situation be like what it is once the US pulls out?