The Worst Country On Earth To Be A Woman.
The Worst Country On Earth To Be A Woman.
A protester at a rally demanding the state government to ensure the safety of women. Picture: Reuters
Not far from where I live, in a hospital in the south of Delhi, a 23-year-old woman clings to life, after a trip home from the cinema became a living nightmare. Brutally raped and beaten on a bus by a gang of six men, her naked body was then thrown from the moving vehicle. Doctors have described her intestinal and perineal injuries as life threatening. In a critical condition, she remains on a ventilator, unable to breathe unaided. Her future is uncertain.
The incident has captured the attention of the nation. There has been a collective outpouring of shock, outrage, grief and anger. "Delhi's SHAME!" screams one headline. "Save women, save India!" shouts a protester and poster at India Gate. Bollywood stars and cricket icons have weighed in on Twitter. Distressed MPs have wept openly in Parliament. There have been marches and demonstrations across the country. There have been strident calls for the death penalty for the perpetrators and a groundswell of support for the introduction of capital punishment for convicted rapists. India is in crisis.
Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has called it a "shockingly extraordinary case". I, too, was shocked by the case. I was shocked by the sheer brutality and severity of her injuries and the location in which the crime took place, but I am sad to say I was not surprised. The awful tragedy is that there is nothing extraordinary about what happened on that bus. Women in India are in grave danger, suffering in a culture where sexism and misogyny lead to horrific violence against women.
I have been travelling in India since early August and based in Delhi for the past few months. Overwhelmingly, I have loved my time here, but I have not felt safe. From research released earlier this year that found India to be the worst OECD nation for women, to my conversations with women who live here, to my personal experiences, I am convinced that India is the worst country on earth in which to be a woman.
When I arrived in Delhi, the first thing I noticed was the staring and leering. As I grew more confident and began to navigate the city alone, I started hearing obscenities and lewd comments on a daily basis. Conversations with girlfriends and older women warned against the perils of crowds, be it the mixed gender carriages on the metro, catching the bus or religious festivals: in any crush of people I could expect groping and molestation. Being followed; the car driver who propositioned me for sex; the billboards that appeal to me to "Save the girl child!" from sex-selective abortion; the cautionary tales of women in my extended circle who have been brutally raped at various hours of the day or night.
To this list add acid attacks, dowry murders, domestic slavery, sex trafficking, rape, gang rape, a woman raped every 22 minutes, mostly with impunity. I, along with every woman in India, live with all this, or the threat of this, on a daily basis.
My experiences are filtered through the lens of my privileged position in Indian society. Protected by my comparative wealth and by my nationality, I am in a far better position than most.
If you are reading this in Australia, then you are too. Consider the physical impact of the violence and brutality to which women in India are subjected. Imagine the psychological and emotional effects of living in an atmosphere of danger and fear.
The events of the past week have earned Delhi the moniker of "rape capital", but it is gross oversimplification to focus on this city alone. The prevailing attitudes that allow these incidents to occur are India-wide. India, home of the Kama Sutra, where it is still forbidden to show the act of kissing on the Bollywood screen. Some point to these countervailing pressures, the complex interplay between modernisation and tradition, as the reason for the disastrous rates of violence against women, as if this liminality is somehow to blame. This simply is not true. So-called "traditional values" are used and abused in order to justify hateful attitudes and acts towards women. This is sexism and misogyny at work.
At a time when Australia is making its largest concerted effort to strengthen bilateral ties with India and pundits are pointing to all the points of convergence (democratic values, shared love of cricket, common language, mutual gains from trade) it is important that we make a clear-eyed assessment of the status quo.
If we as a nation are to embrace India fully - as I think we ought - we must disavow any form of cultural relativism when it comes to this issue. We must apply pressure, in whatever way possible, to call for change.
I cannot bear the hypocrisy of a Prime Minister who, when it is politically expedient, rails against sexism and misogyny domestically, but fails to make it a priority in our dealings internationally. Do our obligations to women, or our concern for the welfare of women, end at our national borders?
I would argue that they do not and should not. Tragically, it is too late for the young woman whose life has been irrevocably altered, who even now fights for her life in Safdarjung Hospital.
But it is never too late to strive to change the course of history. As a nation, we can call for change on behalf of the women of India, and we must.
Esmerelda Jelbart Wallbridge is an Australian graduate of Oxford University and the incoming Development Fellow at Operation ASHA, a Delhi-based NGO.Save
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India has so much potential. It's a good candidate for all kinds of aid, because of potential returns are so good. Perhaps people prefer to invest in africa instead of india because of africas natural resources. Indias main resource is its people. A few modern inventions have come out of there, for instance the chip that apple uses in one of its main gizmos (sorry, i forget which one) was invented there.
I cannot believe that it is worse to be a woman in India than it is in Afghanistan under the Taliban.
Makes you wonder if this is the start of some kind of pr villainization of india. I mean these rapes have been ongoing for a long time, and they happen every day. For a successful pr campagne, you need to personalize it, pick out an individual whose situation will push the buttons of the most people. The more buttons in more people that media can push the better it works. Any issue, when the media or govt wants to use it to sell news or manipulate opinion, they look for an individual to use as a focal point. Focussing on masses of people doesn't work. Take the terrorists and 9/11, for another example. They used a saudi arabian. Even though he wasn't directly involved, he came to be the image of the whole terrorist concept, the personalization of terrorism in our day. Just a couple of observations.
Makes you wonder if this is the start of some kind of pr villainization of india.
I agree - and it further makes me wonder who would be behind such a thing?
Pakistan? That would be a laugh - Pakistan does not exactly have a high example for women's rights...
I would see britain as the primary suspect. The british establishment has resented indian hinduism since a long time. It dislikes hindu and would rather side w the muslim. For instance the aryan invasion concept was a british created idea to account for the high level of indigenous philosophy. Note that the rapists in this case were muslims, yet the guardian article (british) was cultivating sympathy for the muslim rapists.
That is interesting, Satanus. I had suspected that the rapists might be Islamics, but had not seen that confirmed.
The Hindu religion - if I understand it correctly - does not have anything like the Islamic disdain for women's rights.
Of course, we have had some perfectly idiotic ideas about it posted here on JWN - including the notion that this crime was caused by POVERTY.
This is nothing new for India (oh, and don't forget about bride-burnings).
Other 'worst' countries for women? Let's see; start with Ogaden, Congo, Saudi Arabia, Syria (okay, ANY country with Sharia law), Albania, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Ghana, to name just a few.
oh, and 26 African countries practice female genital mutiliation .... and it's done here (secretly, of course - don't kid yourself that it's not).
Sunna Circumcision: removal of the prepuce and/or tip of the clitoris.
Excision or Clitoridectomy: excision of the entire clitoris with the labia minora and some or most of the external genitalia.
Excision and Infibulation (Pharaonic Circumcision): This means excision of the entire clitoris, labia minora and parts of the labia majora. The two sides of the vulva are then fastened together in some way either by thorns . . . or sewing with catgut. Alternatively the vulva are scraped raw and the child's limbs are tied together for several weeks until the wound heals (or she dies). The purpose is to close the vaginal orifice. Only a small opening is left (usually by inserting a slither of wood) so the urine, and later the menstrual blood, can be passed.
Mary Daly (Gyn/Ecology, 1978) writes that this is just the beginning of the many repeated torturous "cuts" to the opening-either by the husband or by another woman, to permit intercourse and childbirth-which are then resewn. This occurs throughout the woman's "living death of reproductive 'life.'" Immediate medical results of excision and infibulation include "hemorrhage, infections, shock, retention of urine, damage to adjacent tissues, dermoid cysts, abscesses, keloid scarring, infertility caused by chronic pelvic infections, and psychological maiming."
Talesin - surely you are not actually saying that Indian culture still practices the burning of the wife upon the death of their husband?
The other countries you mention should make it clear that India is far from the worst place on earth to be a woman.