A recent poll conducted by the Thomas Reuters Foundation shows that gender experts believe India to be one of the top five most dangerous countries in the world for women. This is a result of human trafficking, forced marriage and violence against women. This poll puts India on par with Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan and Somalia when it comes to women, safety and gender equality.
READ this article: Afghanistan worst place in the world for women, but India in top five
I’ve been aware that life for women in India isn’t easy, but the “top-five” moniker was truly surprising. Apparently, this carries over to all classes, level of income and education. It may manifest itself somewhat differently depending on ones cast and socio-economic level, but women, no matter their situation, face significant obstacles as a result of their gender.
Despite the fact that India has a tradition of strong female political leadership, there has yet to be a broad collation across cast, class and education levels promoting the rights of women. This may be part of the reason why there has been less of a broad cultural shift to eradicate gender-based discrimination and violence.
READ this article: The plight of India’s women
Currently, newsfeeds and blogs are a flurry with reports and opinions on gender-based violence in India in the wake of the recent rape and murder of 14-year old Sonam in Uttar Pradesh state. Many argue that this tragedy occurred as a direct result of India’s cultural bias against women. I find this argument hard to believe, as violence against women occurs in all countries regardless of their respective stances on gender equality. What is a more compelling argument, is the lack of justice that Sonam’s family will likely experience as a result of her gender. This break down in the justice system is where the lack of equity becomes all the more apparent and dangerous for women.
Changing cultural views on women is a lengthy and comprehensive process that can take decades if not generations to accomplish. However, fixing a broken and unequal justice system need not. It can be accomplished through a series of political reforms, requiring strong political will and a broad commitment from those involved in planning and overseeing the reforms. It demands the right balance of incentives and punishments to make certain that those who are responsible for implementing the reforms at the local level are working towards the objectives of the reforms. This would not only ensure that women are protected from gender-based violence it would help to promote a cultural shift in the acceptance of violence and discrimination against women.
I realize that the scope of the reforms that I have suggested here are by no means easy. Its significantly more difficult when it is the justice system itself that it is committing the crimes, as in the case of Sonam. This is why this reform would need to be broad in scope and a mixture of ideological objectives and practical incentives and punishments. However, I would be curious to hear from some of our WIPA readers regarding their perceived feasibility of such reforms. Is this just a nice idea? Or is this something that could be achieved with the right political will?