“A Four Week Online Certificate Training Course on Healthcare & Gender Equity: Emerging Dimensions, Policies, Impact & Way Forward was organized by the Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC), at the IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi and Center for Ethics (CFE), Yenepoya (Deemed to be University), Mangalore from August 28th, 2023 to August 31st, 2023. Inaugurating the session Fiza Mahajan, a visiting researcher at IMPRI, welcomed the speakers and participants to the program with an introduction to the eminent panelists.
Professor Vina Viswani, Director, Centre for Ethics; Professor, Department of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, Yenepoya (Deemed to be) University, Mangalore conducted an enlightening session on Gender Justice in Forensic Medicine, accentuating the pivotal role that gender justice plays within the field of forensic medicine. She initiated the session by underlining the profound significance of gender justice in forensic medicine and its broader implications for society.
In the context of sexual assault, the forensic examination of victims is a critical process that involves the meticulous collection of physical evidence and medical information. Professor Viswani emphasized the paramount importance of conducting these examinations in a sensitive manner that caters to the unique needs of the victim, transcending traditional gender norms. She highlighted a prevailing deficiency in the existing framework of forensic medicine, urging a more compassionate and humane approach to dealing with such cases. Central to this approach is the recognition of the victim’s humanity and the acknowledgment of the profound trauma and assault they have endured.
Autopsy and Death Investigation
Gender disparities are also evident in the realm of autopsy and death investigations. Notably, male bodies are disproportionately subjected to autopsy procedures compared to female bodies, even when the circumstances surrounding the death appear similar. This gender-based discrepancy underscores the urgency of promoting gender equality in death investigations and autopsy procedures, ensuring that the gender of the deceased does not influence the trajectory of the investigative process.
The Role of Gender Justice in Forensic Medicine
Gender justice, as elucidated by Professor Viswani, is a fundamental principle that necessitates the equitable and respectful treatment of all individuals, irrespective of their gender identity, gender expression, or biological sex. Achieving gender justice demands the shedding of preconceived notions and societal biases that can permeate one’s behavior, ultimately impacting the pursuit of justice. In the realm of forensic medicine, the pursuit of gender justice extends to a recognition of the distinctive needs and challenges faced by individuals with diverse gender identities.
Conflict, Violence, and Gender-Based Atrocities
Throughout history, conflict and war have been characterized by the use of sexual violence and gender-based atrocities as instruments of subjugation. Incidents such as the notorious Nirbhaya case, the gang rape in Delhi, and more recent events in Manipur involving sexual assault, public humiliation, and the instrumentalization of women in war serve as distressing reminders of the persistence of such violence. These heinous acts encompass a spectrum of atrocities, including genocide, sex slavery, domestic violence in various forms (physical, mental, emotional, and economic), and systemic abuse.
Impacts of Atrocities
The impacts of gender-based atrocities encompass emotional violence, which entails the internal deprivation of love, affection, concern, sympathy, and care. It also extends to the deprivation of a woman’s custody of her children. Financial violence, on the other hand, involves the withholding of financial resources and essential necessities for daily life, including the confiscation of assets owned or earned by women. Intellectual violence encompasses the denial of the right to participate in decision-making and discussions on critical issues. Additionally, other forms of violence may include the denial of education, access to healthcare, reproductive rights, and more. Cyber violence, often rooted in gender-based targeting, particularly affects women and girls, coercing them into abusive relationships through the exploitation of recorded videos.
Challenges in Achieving Gender Justice
Several challenges hinder the attainment of gender justice, including deep-seated gender biases and stereotypes held by investigators, which can significantly influence the direction of investigations. The underrepresentation of women in positions of authority within forensic institutions further perpetuates unequal treatment and hampers progress toward gender justice. Patriarchal notions, entrenched in society, encompass ownership over women’s bodies, sexuality, labour, reproductive rights, mobility, and autonomy. These notions, deeply ingrained in societal structures, have contributed to the systemic perpetuation of gender-based violence. Prevailing ideals of male superiority further enable men to exert extensive control over women’s lives and legitimise this control through violence, a manifestation of deeply internalised patriarchal conditioning. Media objectification, which increasingly portrays women as objects, exacerbates these issues.
Prevalence of Violence Against Women
Gender-based violence is a pervasive issue that affects both developing and developed countries. Globally, one in every three women has experienced violence at some point in her lifetime. This form of violence has far-reaching consequences, impacting women’s and girls’ survival rates, health, education, and their ability to contribute productively to society. The mortality and disability rates among women resulting from gender-based violence are comparable to the rates of major diseases, such as cancer.
To address these challenges and promote gender justice in forensic medicine, a comprehensive legal framework is imperative. Such a framework should comprehensively address gender-based violence, ensuring anonymity, confidentiality, and informed consent for victims, ultimately safeguarding their rights and well-being. Ethical considerations grounded in informed consent, privacy, and confidentiality rights are pivotal in establishing a safe environment for survivors of gender-based violence. It is crucial to recognize forensic examination as a fundamental human right for survivors of violence, ensuring that these examinations are administered promptly, sensitively, and without discrimination.
Sensitivity in forensic examinations for survivors of gender-based violence necessitates an understanding of the unique experiences encountered by survivors from diverse backgrounds. The concept of intersectionality is central to this understanding, acknowledging the intersecting forms of discrimination that individuals may face, impacting their ability to access justice equitably. Cultivating a culture of understanding, respect, and empathy for survivors and their diverse experiences and cultural backgrounds is integral to the pursuit of gender justice. To achieve this, it is imperative to challenge the ingrained biases within legal, social, and medical systems and strive for a more just and equitable approach to addressing gender-based violence.
In summary, Professor Vina Viswani’s session illuminated the critical importance of gender justice in forensic medicine. Her discussion underscored the necessity of adopting a compassionate and equitable approach to issues related to sexual assault and autopsy procedures, prioritizing the respect, dignity, and sensitivity of all individuals, regardless of their gender identity. The pursuit of gender justice is an essential step in addressing systemic gender biases and violence, fostering a culture of empathy and understanding for all survivors’ diverse experiences.
Acknowledgement: Aasthaba Jadeja is a research intern at IMPRI.