Bollywood, the large Hindi-language film industry based out of Mumbai, India,  is speaking out against rape and the abuse of women. Seeking to spread awareness about these issues within and without the industry, the campaign’s targeted audience is all people throughout the country. The initiative is led by a top radio station, with actor John Abraham as its ambassador. The entire movement utilizes the slogan, “Now the nonsense ends, change begins.”

The focus is on women’s safety at work, at home and in public spaces, which builds on previous campaigns emphasizing the need to change sexist language and to stop acid attacks against women. Bollywood is attempting to draw pressing issues within Indian society into the spotlight.

On the radio, celebrities like Abraham have begun to use their influential positions to voice their backing for the anti-rape movement. This comes as a pivotal change because in the past, stars normally avoided speaking on any pressing social issues.

The public outcry and protests after the 2012 gang rape and death of a young woman in Delhi are in large part responsible for the change in attitude. While a number of celebrities were advocates for social change before, the shocking Delhi incident resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of movie stars and individuals in the general public taking a stand against rape culture.

Celebrities’ participation in the anti-rape effort helps maintain the pressure to change both social and political views on rape. In India, like in many countries, rape is a critical problem. The number of reported cases increased by 902 percent from 1971 to 2012. Due to social stigma and shame, many cases still go unreported.

Although the backbone of India’s anti-rape movement remains predominantly with the public and the media, Bollywood stars’ involvement is helping to strengthen and sustain it. For example, actor and director Farhan Akhtar is using many different media outlets to lead the MARD, Men Against Rape and Discrimination, which seeks to redefine the perception of masculinity.

Others are making movies that directly address the issue of gang rape, such as producer Siddhartha Jain’s film “Kill The Rapist?” Scheduled to premiere in October 2014, the movie allows audiences to participate in deciding what should happen to the rapist in the story. The overarching message of the film aims to deter potential rapists and engage the public about the need to report rapes.

And all of these efforts appear to be bringing change. In the capital alone, the number of reported rape cases increased dramatically from 433 in 2012 to 1,036 in 2013.

The film industry, though, has often reaffirmed misogynist culture on screen by objectifying women and even, at times, condoning sexual harassment in their movies. Despite the fact that not all of Bollywood has completely shed its sexist and male-dominated ways, the stance many stars are taking demonstrates that both the industry and all of India can change their attitudes about women.

Although completely redefining public opinion about rape and the role of women in society will not occur overnight, the positive steps taken in the public, the media and in Bollywood have made the issue part of the mainstream dialogue. With continued efforts to raise awareness and encourage conversation, the people of India seek to better protect and value the rights of women.

– Kathleen Egan

Sources: Aljazeera, The Scotsman, The Washington Post
Photo: Curry Culture

reproductive health
Modern conflicts continue to uphold the old adage “when elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers.” Women and young children are the most vulnerable members of society for a variety of reasons, meaning they must endure the hard end of the stick when conflict rolls through their communities.

Children are vulnerable for obvious reasons – they are physically weak, ideologically malleable and typically do not have nearly as many financial resources as adults. Their plight is apparent on the United States’ southern border, where thousands of Central American children are seeking shelter after fleeing rampant violence in their home countries.

Women also lag behind men concerning access to financial resources. Widows are left in a rough position after their husbands are killed during armed conflict, having to care for their children and make a livelihood in the absence of a male head-of-household. In addition, rape is a prominent consequence of war and can leave the victim physically, emotionally and socially scarred. Women are often the target of sexual violence, which leaves stigma, disease and unwanted pregnancies in its wake.

Women are most exposed to the setbacks of conflict when they are with child. The World Health Organization reports that out of the 10 countries with the highest maternal mortality rates, eight of them are experiencing conflict.

A recent publication by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that, “Conflict can negatively impact all aspects of reproductive health, directly through damage to services, gender-based violence and forced displacement of populations, and indirectly through reductions in the availability of basic health care and breakdown of normal social institutions.”

The RCOG report also states that humanitarian emergencies lead to 170,000 maternal fatalities each year, and that 15 percent of displaced women face life-threatening complications during pregnancy.

Conflict prevents women from accessing reliable contraceptives as well. An increase in unwanted pregnancies leads to a rise in dangerous abortion practices, which account for 13 percent of maternal deaths worldwide.

In light of rising global migration and ongoing conflicts, humanitarian workers must continue to be particularly sensitive to reproductive health issues if they wish to help the most exposed victims of violence.

– Kayla Strickland

Sources: Tech Times, Trust.org
Photo: Flickr

Last month, two girls were found hanging from trees in India’s Katra village. Another woman claimed she was gang-raped by four police officers. India has had a women’s rights problem for a while now, yet it is only increasing, despite more strict laws. The body of a 19-year-old was just recently found hanging by her scarf from a tree in Uttar Pradesh, making her the state’s fourth female victim in only two weeks.

Rape in India is a rising problem, yet one that is not easily solved. According to official statistics, around 25,000 rapes are committed every year in India, though the number is thought to be much higher due to a common fear of punishment and social stigma. Simply, the problem lies in attitude, not a lack of legislation or protection. “Even though the laws are there, many people feel they can get away with anything, an attitude that some of our politicians have gone out of their way to encourage,” said Ranjana Kumari, a prolific women’s rights activist in New Delhi.

Certain politicians have only exacerbated the problem. Earlier this June, Madhya Pradesh state Home Minister, Babulal Gaur (who oversees police,) claimed that rape was a “social crime,” which depended on the man and woman. “It is sometimes right and sometimes wrong.” Gaur’s statements came just months after Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav opposed the death penalty for rape, claiming “boys will be boys. Sometimes they make mistakes.”

The most recent victim was thought to have been raped and murdered by two men who she told her family had been bothering her. While they have filed a report claiming their suspicions in her death, the case is basically smoke and mirrors: a district police officer told the New York Times that a preliminary postmortem examination found no evidence to suggest rape.

Unfortunately, this ability for men to “get away” with their crimes is exactly what has caused it to spread to this extremity. “This is not something that is particular for Uttar Pradesh,” said Amnesty International India’s senior researcher, Divya Iyer, on the most recent death. “These sporadic news of rapes bring the issue to the fore, but it is important to see it as a continuum. For every case of rape, there are many more that are not reported, because of the stigma attached and the fear of reprisals. It is important to hold politicians accountable for their statements in order to send the right signals to the community.”

— Nick Magnanti

Sources: Fox News, Religion News, Time, NY Times
Photo: Asia Society

Since military conflicts erupted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the 1990s, rates of sexual violence have increased significantly and become a major issue across the region. Though conflict in the DRC officially ended in 2003, fighting has continued and taken more than 5 million lives since the war began almost 20 years ago.

Sexual violence in the DRC, along with related crimes, have been called the worst in the world, particularly in the eastern region of the country. A study from the American Journal of Public Health states that in the DRC, 1,152 women are raped every day, and an estimated 12 percent of the female population of the DRC has been raped at least once.

Research has shown that many of the sexual attacks are related to armed conflict, and thus, the United Nations Development Program is helping the DRC strengthen its military justice program to make it fair, just and constructive in helping sexual violence victims.

Across the regions, trials are taking place following years of conflict and acts of violence in the DRC. Many soldiers have not been punished for their actions due to their special treatment in the military system, but the civilian courts are working their way through cases with the support of the UNDP. Thirty-one convictions and 9 investigative missions into serious war crimes under the International Criminal Court have resulted from UNDP support.

“It was important that the case be tried here because it is the exact location where the incidents [of rape and murder] occurred,” said Captain Magistrate Bienvenu Muanansele, from the Tribunal Militaire de Garnison de Goma. “These trials held before the people of Bweremana show the people how justice does its job. The law prevails, even for the military.”

The UNDP is also supporting the DRC military in training soldiers to understand the law, the consequences of violent attacks against civilians and human rights. A total of 2,432 soldiers and officials have gone through this training process.

In addition to these steps to reduce violent acts by soldiers, many organizations are working to provide support and community for female sexual violence victims. Masika is a rape victim and founder of a rescue center for sexual violence survivors. After being exiled by her parents in-law, she decided to offer community and support to other women who had experienced sexual assault. Following an army attack in the nearby marketing town of Minova, 130 rape victims came to Masika’s camp.

The stigma against rape victims in the DRC is so severe that in many cases, women are exiled from their families and ostracized. However, women support groups are beginning to provide community as rapists are being brought to justice.

An organization called SAMWAKI, or A Voice to Rural Women in Swahili, works to provide information and training for rural women through community radio. The group aims to increase women’s knowledge on topics from health to farming, and provides listening groups for victims to share their experiences.

Similarly, AFEM (L’Association des Femmes des Médias du Sud Kivu) offers journalism training and a space for women to be a voice for sexual violence survivors. Founded by young journalist Chouchou Namegabe, the organization aims to increase women’s representation in the media.

While sexual violence in the DRC continues to be one of the worst cases in the world, both international and domestic groups are working to end the normalization and prevalence of rape. Gradually, soldiers and sexual assailants are being brought to justice, and women are coming together, speaking out and finding community.

— Julia Thomas

Sources: UNDP, The Independent, The Guardian, Washington Post
Photo: ICMHD

When the 14-year civil war in Liberia came to an end in 2003, it seemed that the country could begin the road to recovery, slowly but surely. Despite the economic improvements made, women and girls have continued to be victims of rape at alarming rates.

During the war, children and adults used rape against women to instill fear, cause further destruction and assert superiority. When the war ended, the rape in Liberia continued, pointing to the deep-seated traumatic effects the war left in its wake.

Nicola Jones, a researcher at Overseas Development Institute (ODI), a London based think-tank, explains, “After the war, men are often aggressive, ‘hyper-masculine’ and struggle to adapt to peacetime.” Essentially, after over a decade of being stripped of the basic necessities for survival, men are often overwhelmed with a feeling of helplessness, and raping women and girls is a means of reasserting their masculinity.

The statistics reflect this observation, with 1,002 rape cases reported in 2013 concerning children between the ages of 3 and 14. However, there were only 49 rape convictions, pointing to yet another problem.

Given the stigma around rape worldwide, much of the rape in Liberia goes unpunished when women don’t come forward or the justice system neglects to arrest the accused rapists. The U.S. takes some of the blame for this stigma, often making rape a societal taboo, which as a result, makes women reluctant to come forward and report what happened to them.

Gbowee, an international speaker, activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, commented on America’s lack of action, explaining that “when American women are silent on issues of women’s rights, that attitude permeates the developing world.” When the U.S. sets an example of punishing rapists and accepting women who have been attacked, developing countries may follow suit and see a decline in cases in the near future.

There has been improvement, however, in the number of women and girls who go to the police with reports of rape. Annie Jones Demen, Liberia’s Gender Affairs minister, notes, “We now have more reports on sexual and gender-based violence. Survivors of sexual violence now feel safe to come out to say they were raped.” Since 2006, reports of rape in Liberia have become more common, and as acceptance has become more widespread, more women have seen justice served on their behalf.

The impoverished state of Liberia contributes to the lack of punishment for rapists, with a dearth of facilities to treat those who have been raped. Monrovia, in western Liberia, has the only hospital dedicated to treating rape victims, often receiving between 10 and 15 rape victims every month.

The end of a war brings hope for a brighter future, but in the case of Liberia, the rape problem has remained stronger than ever. Thousands of women every year are raped and left to recover on their own, contributing to a culture that displays complacency in response to the high numbers of rape. The U.S. can lend a hand on the road to justice, as can the media, and aid given to develop Liberia at a faster pace could put rape culture behind them.

Magdalen Wagner

Sources: Malay Mail, IRIN, Trust, Global Post
Photo: flickr


Two 12 and 15-year-old girls were lynched last week in western Uttar Pradesh in India after being abducted, gang raped and hanged by their attackers. The Indian village, known as Katra in the Badaun district, is one of the world’s most impoverished areas.

Most of its citizens work as tillers or take up small, part-time jobs in order to make a living. With hardly any money, most cannot afford a functioning toilet, so they relieve themselves in nearby fields.

Yet this is exactly what would lead to the death of two young cousins after being abducted by three men in the fields of their village. Their attackers hanged the two girls on a tree in the village, which would be on display for the entire community.

Thought by medical experts to have been hanged alive, many are wondering how and why these gruesome attacks could have taken place in a day and age where feminism is, in most parts of the world, on the rise.

India has had a history of women’s rights problems for years. After the gang rape case of a 23-year-old girl in Delhi in 2012, in which four men were all found guilty and given the death penalty, India has been making a concerted effort to tighten their rules regarding violence against women.

Yet this has by no means actually prevented or improved cases of violence against women in the country; in most cases, police insensitivity has been proliferated by patriarchal attitudes of those in governmental power.

The Samajwadi Party is just one example of misogyny’s power in Indian politics. The senior Samajwadi Party leader, Ram Gopal Yadav, spoke of the most recent incident, stating, “[In] many places, when the relationship between girls and boys come out in the open, it is termed as rape.”

Two months ago, party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav claimed that “boys will be boys” and vehemently opposed the death penalty as punishment for acts of rape.

The three men responsible for the two teenage girls’ deaths in Katra have been arrested, and two policemen are being held on suspicion for trying to cover up the crimes.

This is not an uncommon occurrence: while a rape is reported every 21 minutes in India, law enforcement failure often results in crimes not being reported or investigated fully. Yet as the case rises in power, world officials are continuing to speak out against these acts of misogyny.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who stated that he was “appalled” by these recent acts, is just one of many to have spoken out. “We say no to the dismissive, destructive attitude of ‘boys will be boys,’” he said. As the government continues to crack down on these acts, many hope its citizens will listen.

 — Nick Magnanti

Sources: The Diplomat, ODT, Scroll, Times of India 1, Times of India 2
Photo: The Story Exchange

Generating an industry worth billions of dollars, human trafficking poses one of the greatest threats to human rights globally. The U.N. defines the act as “a process by which people are recruited in their community, and exploited by traffickers using deception and/or some other form of coercion to lure and control them.”

The problem stems from various elements, including migration floods, political instability, economic uncertainty, dysfunctional state institutions and a rapidly growing sex industry. The U.N. goes on to identify three different elements that must be present for an act to be considered human trafficking: recruitment and transporting, an act of deception or abuse of power and a form of exploitation to which the victim is subjected.

Here are five basic realities of human trafficking that give a snapshot of the current situation:

1. What we see is the tip of the iceberg.

Cases of human trafficking are extremely difficult to detect. Conviction rates from the crime are extremely low: even though 460 different trafficking flows have been identified worldwide, 16% of affected countries reported zero cases between 2007 and 2010.

2. Victims remain tantalizingly close to home.

Most traffickers do not transport their victims across the world. Instead, they tend to keep victims within the region they were taken from. Globally, the trafficking flow with East Asian origins exports the most victims out of the region.

3. Men are trafficked, too.

Human Trafficking is an act of those in power exploiting those who are vulnerable. Women and children, then, with smaller physical stature and less social empowerment, are at highest risk. But that does not mean they are the only victims: men account for a quarter of all human trafficking victims. A third of all trafficked children are boys.

4. It’s happening right now, even in the U.S.

More than 10,000 people are forced laborers in the U.S., and this does not account for all the cases that go unnoticed. Taking those into account, the figure is more likely in the tens of thousands. Most of these will end up in the sex industry, while others will be forced to work in agriculture, domestic settings, sweatshops and in hotels.

5. It’s everyone’s problem.

It is estimated that 20.9 million people work forced labor globally, and this number can be thought of as a good indicator for the number of trafficked people worldwide. Victims have been identified with 136 different nationalities in virtually every region of the world, and all countries play some part in the process, with 118 of them containing victims.

The news is not all bad, though. There are ways to combat these trends, like lessening discrimination, empowering women, keeping children healthy and clear of conflict zones and, as always, battling global poverty.

Currently, evidence shows that in some regions, human trafficking has been on the decline since 2000, and 134 countries have now made laws against it.

– Rachel Davis

Sources: UN(1), UN(2), UNODC, Human Rights Center
Photo: LB International


The lack of toilets is one of the main causes of rape in India.

In Lucknow, India on May 27, two teenage girls went out into the bamboo fields to relieve themselves since they did not have a toilet in their own house. This is common among many of the households in India. The two young girls were raped and killed, then hung from a mango tree in their village.

“More than 60 percent of the rapes in the state occur when the victims step out to relieve themselves because they do not have toilets at their homes,” the state’s top cop says.

According to UNICEF, almost 50 percent of people living in India relieve themselves outside in public due to the lack of toilets.

While the bigger issue due to the lack of toilets is women getting sexually assaulted, another issue to think about is lack of sanitation and the humiliation that women have to go through. The lack of toilets dehumanizes, degrades and makes women feel even more powerless despite all the other issues pertaining to poverty.

According to an article in The World Post, U.N. figures show that out of the 1.2 billion people, 665 million of them do not have a private place to go to the bathroom.

According to a study done by the World Bank in 2010, the lack of toilets in India costs more than $50 billion a year because of deaths and hygiene-related diseases.

Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of the Sulabh Sanitation and Social Reform Movement , an organization that makes low-cost toilets, decided to build toilets in 108 of the houses in the village where the two girls were from.

– Priscilla Rodarte

Sources: The Star, Huff Post
Photo: CNN

Loutchama was just 12 years old when she was a victim of rape in Haiti. Her attacker, a man named Etienne Rene, and Loutchama’s neighbor at the time, reportedly had noticed none of her family members were home on April 30, 2011. After hearing of the rape, a physical altercation between Rene and Loutchama’s mother, Adrienne, would result in Adrienne’s eventual arrest.  Yet, while Rene, too, was arrested at his home soon afterward and would eventually be put on trial and sentenced to 15 years in prison, Adrienne feels devoid of justice. Loutchama died on August 26, 2013, and Adrienne believes it to be a direct result of Rene’s sentencing.

It would not be until a year and a half after Loutchama and her mother filed for rape against Rene that he would be sentenced. Haiti’s Minister of Justice, Jean Renel Sanon, says that it usually takes “four months” from the time a rape is reported to make it to court. Yet, all too regularly, cases are prolonged. Inevitably discouraged by Haiti’s judicial patriarchy, cases are usually given up by the victim mere months after their happening.

Poverty is a factor, too. Those with more money can afford to have warrants served expeditiously, guaranteeing them quicker justice. Yet, for the majority of poor Haitian women, their cases which are at the hands of the judge can be held stagnant for as long as five years if they are not dropped prior. A UN study conducted in 2012 proved just this. In a sample of 2010 reports, only one of a total of 62 rape cases filed over a three-month period made it to court.

For women like Loutchama, going through the judicial process is a constant reminder of their attack. Many of these women, most who work as street vendors, cannot afford a day off from work to go to trial and, subsequently, resort to unofficial monetary arrangements with their rapists. Of course, this poses a major problem. More often than not, poor rapists cannot actually afford to pay their victims, and zero judicial ties to the promise results in complete injustice.

Now crippled by her daughter’s death and worried for her own safety, Adrienne who, prior to the case, had never even heard of the term “human rights” believes Rene’s payback has just begun. “I’m poor,” she said. “And I will never have justice.”

Yet, Rene’s 15-year sentence may just be the long-awaited beginning of said justice for rape victims in Haiti. Through the recent works of Haitian organizations such as the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, more rapists are being persecuted than ever before. In 2011, 13 of 22 rape cases resulted in conviction. While rape culture in Haiti is still all too prominent, many of these women are just beginning to feel secure enough to stand up for their own human rights.

– Nick Magnanti

Sources: IJDH, JJIE, Salon
Photo: Ehowzit

In light of the recent Santa Barbara massacre, Twitter users have taken the web by storm through the #YesAllWomen hashtag. The result has been incredible: voices around the world have given personal (yet all-too universal) recollections of misogyny as it exists in their professional, social and familial lives. An example of social media’s power to do good in the world, the campaign is only growing as more than a million posts (and counting) have been spreading around the web.

Elliot Rodger killed six students from the University of California-Santa Barbara last week, and wounded 13 others. Just before the massacre, Rodger wrote a 140-page “manifesto” crippled with misogynistic remarks, claiming that he would take “retribution” for the crimes against him and would punish the world for those women who refused to sleep with him. The media frenzy that followed proved unique: the massacre and its aftermath was about more than just one mentally disturbed man exacting revenge. It is about a culture of misogyny and the detriment it can cause.

Today, more than 311 million working-age women live in countries where sexual harassment is not outlawed in the workplace. In many less-developed countries, a third of women are married or in a union by only 18. Around 60 percent of women have experienced physical or sexual violence at least once in their lifetime, and 2.6 billion women live in countries where rape within marriage is not outlawed.

These statistics are what the campaign #YesAllWomen stands for: across the world and in varying degrees, women are still treated as lesser citizens. #YesAllWomen works to teach that we have remained all-too blind, and it is doing so in strides.

Accessible to most of the world at any time or place, the campaign has brought a unique, understandable perspective of feminism to the most-reached platform in the world: the Internet. Yet despite the campaign’s current popularity, many wonder if it will do any good to solve the problem in the long run, comparing the campaign to short-lived, social media frenzies like #BringBackOurGirls (which has died down in response to the now popular #YesAllWomen.)

These social media phenomenons, some argue, do little to prevent or change the actual circumstances of the problem. Yet it can be argued that their real success is by infiltrating and educating by providing a much-needed lesson as to why misogyny is a serious problem we must work to fix. #YesAllWomen attempts to bridge this problematic gap.

– Nick Magnati

Sources: CNN, Chicago Tribune, UN Women, Foreign Policy
Photo: The Province