The year to protect women

Let 2013 be the time for the world to stand up to gender violence

Last year’s contrived and cynical “war on women” fairy tale – a political ploy alleging (gasp!) a lack of free contraceptives – seems even more banal today, set against stories of rape and gang rape around the world.

 

A particularly brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old Indian student on a Delhi bus Dec. 16 – after which she died – has provoked demonstrations in India and horror globally.

Five men and one juvenile have been arrested in the case, in which a woman traveling with a male friend on a bus was repeatedly assaulted on the moving vehicle and later dumped on the road with her bloodied friend.

Since then, another female bus rider was gang raped in Punjab. Seven more have been arrested in that case.

The first case had already galvanized an urgent women’s rights movement in India.

It ought to be a global movement, as the outrage of rape and gang rape and subjugation are a worldwide scourge. Some cultures seem to breed more misogyny than others, but no nation is immune.

“What would have happened if this incident happened in, say, Lagos or Abuja? Let me tell you what would happen: Nothing,” a Nigerian woman writes in the United Kingdom’s Guardian newspaper.

“There are numerous cases of rape and gang rape in Nigeria (the infamous Absu gang rape being the most widely reported to date thanks to the proliferation of social media), yet many go unreported. The few that get reported to the authorities are either not pursued by the police or the victim is advised to keep silent lest she disgraces her family.”

The punishment a patriarchal society doles out to women, she writes, “can take different forms but the most devastating, most intimate and most violent against the female person is rape.”

Meanwhile, a gang rape in Steubenville, Ohio, earned the disgust of the civilized world after a Steubenville High graduate was seen on video joking about the savagery visited upon the woman in that case.

These are just the most egregious of the cases that we know about. There can be little doubt that the actual incidence of rape and gang rape is vastly underreported, as primitive notions of individual shame, and the cultural lunacy of blaming the victim, are rampant.

Such cases should prompt a worldwide discussion on the status of women in the year 2013. It is unconscionable that so many women are victimized so savagely, or are living under the threat of it. It is beyond comprehension that such unspeakable acts are perpetrated on women, on such a widespread basis, at the dawn of the 21st century.

This past week, a government panel in India acted on more than 80,000 public suggestions to compile a list of recommended changes – from more ardent and expedited prosecution of sex cases to expanding the roster of crimes against women. Great steps, all – but truly, cultural changes will be the key. Boys worldwide need to be brought up to respect girls and their basic human rights.

We are proud to live in a country in which the status of women is among the best in the world. But we have so much further to go, and, again, even in this country there are horrible crimes against them, and horrid attitudes toward the victims.

We need less violence as a whole, but violence against women is quite targeted, gender-based and sadly epidemic.

Let this be the year that the world finally, belatedly, spoke as one: Enough violence against women!

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