India’s got a big problem, but it’s not the only one
Yesterday brought sobering news that six men had been arrested on Sunday over the rape of a woman on a coach in the Indian state of Punjab.
The men reportedly abducted the 29-year old after she boarded the service and took her to an unknown location, where they took it in turns to rape her, before dropping her off close to her in-laws village on Saturday morning.
The reports come less than a month after the horror story that’s haunted Australian headlines for the last month: the gang rape and brutal murder of a 23-year old physiotherapy student on a bus in New Delhi. India and its violence-against-women crisis has become the subject of an international media enquiry that seeks to bring these atrocities to light and to hold someone – the Indian government, the Indian people, the Indian police – to account.
And this is not without just cause. According to a study released by the Thomas Reuters Foundation in June last year, India is globally recognised as the fourth most dangerous country in the world for women (preceded only by Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Pakistan).
The root cause of violence in India must be addressed. But in focusing too specifically on the crisis in India, we run the risk of coming to understand violence against women as India’s issue. And that it most certainly is not.
While the police in India must be more vigilant, the accused must be held to account, and the Indian government must continue to prioritise violence against women in its legislation, it is the patriarchal culture that plagues India that is to blame for the violent rapes of the two women who have featured in our news in the past month.
Violence is used in a male dominated culture as a means to maintain control over women. Because of course, violence propagates fear of violence. If you live in constant fear of violence, you’re unlikely to challenge those who may be violent towards you.
Patriarchy in India permeates every facet of life. Women are traded like dispensable commodities for lucrative gains such as dowries and trafficked to become sex slaves. Millions of baby girls are killed before they are born, simply because they are girls.
But here’s the thing. India struggles with specific cultural atrocities that aren’t necessarily experienced by the rest of the world (although other equally violent practices plague other countries and regions).
But these atrocities that plague India are symptoms of patriarchy. Patriarchy – in all of its forms, and with its varied symptoms - remains a dominant feature of the world we live in.
Women all over the world experience domestic violence. Globally, at least one in every three women, or up to one billion women, have been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in their lifetimes. Usually, the perpetrator is known to the woman. One in five women will be the victim of rape in her lifetime.
Violence against women is not just India’s issue. It is our issue. It is our issue as a global community. It is our issue as Australians, as men, as women. It’s time that we came to understand that it’s the responsibility of everyone everywhere to overturn the prolific patriarchy that remains – to varying degrees – everywhere in the world.
The attacks on women in India over the past month are horrifying, and we must rally in response to them and demand that the world is made safe for women to catch public transport without fear. But we must remember that these shocking incidents are not the only way that women experience violence, and that it doesn’t just happen in India.
On the 14th of February, the One Billion Rising Campaign will see one billion women across the globe call for an end to violence against women and girls. Demands to the Indian government are likely to include the instatement of protection officers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, and the establishment of a specialist women’s group to review all women related government policies and build a feminist perspective towards social justice.
These measures will address the root causes of gender inequality in India, and in Australia, we must support those in India making those demands. The recent attacks in India are atrocious. But they have generated international media attention around an ever-present issue that is rarely discussed on such a large and public scale.
Let’s not miss this opportunity to acknowledge a global problem for what it is, and to make the decision to overcome it once and for all, by getting caught up in the example of violence against women in India. Let’s stand in solidarity with women in India and simultaneously use this moment in history – here and now – to commit to overturning the culture that is producing this violence by demanding a world which is free of patriarchy.
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