india_women's_rights
News related to India in recent years has focused on a distressing part of life in the nation. That is to say, a purported prevalence of rape has come to the forefront of the nation’s international presence. Recently, for instance, a Danish tourist vacationing in New Dehli was allegedly raped by two men. The attention has brought to light what many people allege is a burgeoning ‘rape culture,’ and a society that views women’s rights as less than important.

The attention has pushed Indian politicians to address the issue more fervently, as the nation has a poor record on pro-women rights. Gender inequality is, however, firmly embedded in the foundation of the nation’s culture, which can be seen by powerful figures such as the head of India’s National Intelligence Agency stating, “If you can’t prevent rape, you enjoy it.” Such a statement clearly demonstrates that an outdated mentality towards women’s rights persists in the nation, a mentality where blaming victims for rapes seems to be the main attitude toward this epidemic. For instance, Madyha Pradur, India’s Home Minister, blamed the Swiss rape victim for her attack, stating that if she had notified local authorities about where she planned to travel, the attack most likely would not have happened.

Gang-rape has historic roots in India, having been used since the creation of Modern India. It was especially used as a “weapon of oppression” against women throughout the nation. Rampant unemployment has led to men developing “personal alienation,” coupled with deeply “ingrained misogyny.” It’s argued that gang-rape has been a budding phenomenon, only growing due to a legal and court system which has been mostly indifferent to the concerns of women, or wholly incompetent in dealing with an upsurge of rape cases.

Conditions have been improving in recent years, however. In comparison to more developed nations like the United Kingdom, Indian rape convictions were much higher. Only about 7% of rapes in the United Kingdom actually led to convictions, where-as India had a conviction rate of 24.2% in 2012, a stunning rate considering it’s developing nation status which gives it less resources to deal with the issue.

Rape cases are, furthermore, being more publicized in India, as shown through the increased reporting on rape throughout the nation. The major catalyst for India was the infamous Dehli gang rape of 2012, which brought into focus, the welfare of women in the nation and how authorities handle the delicate nature of rape and assault cases. The Dehli Gang rape occurred in December of 2011 and led to major protests that rocked the nation as well as the creation new legislation that refocused anti-rape laws.

As it stands, the amount of reported rapes increased, doubling from 143 reported between January and March of 2012 to 359 following the Dehli gang rape. As tragic as the rape was, it has turned rape into newspaper fodder, with major media outlets in India reporting “each and every rape case.”

The Indian nation is hopeful for change. With rapists being held more accountable for their actions, the nation may overcome this widespread epidemic.

– Joseph Abay

Sources: IBN Live, TIME, ABC News, CNN, NDTV, Think Progress, Telegraph, The Daily Beast, Huffington Post, Spiegel Online
Photo: The Guardian

Village Council Orders Young Woman to be Gang Raped
An unidentified young woman in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal was gang-raped by 13 men because of an order by her village’s council on January 20
. The rape was a punishment by the council because she had agreed to marry a man of her choosing, Khaliq Sheikh, a village outsider. All 13 men were arrested, including the council’s chief who not only ordered, but also participated in the rape.

After hearing that an outsider had proposed to the young woman, Balai Mardi, the village’s chief, immediately started taking action against the couple. People in the village went to the woman’s house to detain Sheikh, and the next day villagers took both he and the woman to the town’s square and tied them to trees.

Mardi told the couple to pay fines of about $442, and after paying the amount, Sheik was allowed to leave. The woman’s family refused to pay the fine, which is when Mardi reportedly ordered men in the village to “enjoy her.”

She was repeatedly raped in Mardi’s hut, after which he told her that if she or her family reported the rape to the police, her house would be destroyed.

Despite the risks, the young woman and her family went to the police, and all 13 rape suspects were arrested and charged with “rape, wrongful confinement, verbal threats, and assault.”

Meanwhile, the young survivor was admitted to the hospital and is in stable condition.

Expressing a feeling of betrayal, the survivor’s mother states, “The crime was committed by our own people [who] tortured my daughter and dumped her at home late at night.” The young woman asserts that her own neighbors were among those who raped her.

In 2010, in the same region as this recent rape, village elders told a woman to take her clothes off and stand in public for having “close relations” with a man from a different caste.

Sunil Soren, a leader from another village nearby, asserts that people in the region “respect our women a lot,” but that the young rape survivor was “in an objectionable situation” that “pollute[s] the minds of youngsters.”

“In the excitement, some wrong things happened,” Soren states.

West Bengal is 7.5% of India’s population, but in 2012, the area made up 13% of reported crimes against women. This figure could be because of a higher rate of crimes or that the police in the area take rape more seriously.

Village councils are prevalent in rural parts of India, where they enforce strict values and can be involved in choosing partners for marriage. These bodies often discourage marrying outside of the village, partially for fear that communal land claims will be weakened.

Multiple rape cases in the last year have put India in the global spotlight and caused profound anger over sexual violence against women. These crimes have led to changes in law, with 20 years the maximum sentence for rape, and broader awareness of the problem in India. There is, however, little evidence that rape is more common in India than in other nations.

Like all nations, in India, many victims fear reprisals if they report sexual abuse, and this young woman in West Bengal is no exception.

During an interview, a fellow villager and family member of one of the rape suspects said that the woman “is a bad character.”

She continues, “She was going around with this non-tribal man. We told her not to, but she didn’t listen…If she dares to come back to the village, I will kill her.”

Kaylie Cordingley

Sources: New York Times, New York Times, Los Angeles Times
Photo: Glenn Losack

Morocco Overturns Law Protecting Child Rapists
Up until this week, Article 475 of the Moroccan penal code allowed those convicted of “corruption” or “kidnapping” of a minor to marry his victim and avoid prosecution. That is, Moroccan law held that a person who rapes a child could evade punishment – by marrying his victim.

Rooted in traditional views holding that the loss of a daughter’s virginity is a stain on her family, the law has been encouraged by judges to spare families from shame.

Yet for one family, the law has cost them the ultimate price.

Article 475 came to international attention in 2012 when 16 year-old Amina Filali killed herself after being forced to marry her rapist. Filali was accosted on the street and raped when she was only 15. When she told her parents two months later and they took the matter to court, the judge pushed marriage.

“It is not something that happens a great deal – it is very rare,” reported Abdelaziz Nouaydi, who runs the Adala Association for legal reform. Sometimes, he conceded however, families of victims would agree to a marriage out of the fear that their daughters would be unable to find a husband were it to get out that she had been raped. The families, then, would push the marriage onto the daughter in order to avoid a scandal.

According to Filali’s father, it had been the prosecutor who had advised his daughter to marry. The perpetrator, Moustapha Feliak, initially refused the marriage arrangement; yet given that the penalty for the rape of a minor was 10-20 years in prison, he ultimately accepted the marriage. Filali apparently complained to her mother multiple times that her new husband was physically abusive but her mother only counseled patience.

Seven months into the marriage, 16 year-old Filali swallowed enough rat poison to end her life.

Her death received extensive media coverage and sparked protests throughout a number of Moroccan cities. Furthermore, a Facebook page titled “We are all Amina Filali” was formed in the days after the suicide and proceeded to grow exponentially. A campaign was also started by the international advocacy group Avaaz that demanded the government adopt promised legislation to aid in fighting gender-based violence. By the time Avaaz turned the petition in to Morocco’s parliament, more than a million signatures had been collected.

This week’s new amendment proved that these efforts were fruitful, however, though activists hailed Morocco’s new legislation, many express that more should be done. For example, on one hand, says Fatima Maghnaoui, who heads a group supporting female victims of violence, “it’s a very important step. But it’s not enough… We are campaigning for a complete overhaul of the penal code for women.”

Amnesty International agreed with this view calling Wednesday’s amendment a move in the right direction but also “long overdue.” The global human rights group pushed for a comprehensive strategy to protect Morocco’s women and girls from violence: “It took 16-year-old Amina Filali’s suicide and nearly two years for the parliament to close the loophole that allowed rapists to avoid accountability. It’s time to have laws that protect survivors of sexual abuse,” the rights group’s deputy regional director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said.

Kelley Calkins

Sources: BBCGlobal PostHuffington PostAl Jazeera
Photo: Alif Post

philippines_human_trafficking
New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith and his congressional team traveled to the Philippines earlier this week to meet with victims, aid workers and government officials in the regions hit by Super Typhoon Hayian.  The U.S. government has spent $50 million in emergency aid to the Philippines, providing much needed food, water and emergency medical care. However Smith says that rising human trafficking in the Philippines is also a major issue. The Philippines is a large source for both sex and labor human trafficking. The poor are especially vulnerable to human trafficking in the aftermath of natural disasters when they have lost their homes as well as their communities and are looking for a way out.

Congressman Ed Royce hosted a house committee on foreign affairs hearing in Fullerton California on November 27, 2013.  One of the speakers was Angela Guanzon, who traveled to the U.S. from the Philippines in 2006 in hopes of a better life. “I worked 18 hour days and had to sleep on the floor in a hallway,” Guanzon said. “My co-workers and I were threatened if we tried to escape.”

Human trafficking is what the State Department, law enforcement officials and NGOs are calling “modern day slavery.” Following narcotics, it is the second most profitable criminal enterprise worldwide and the Philippines has the second largest victim population. Many poverty stricken Filipino women leave their families in the hope supporting them from abroad.

Approximately 1 million Filipino men and women migrate each year, currently there are 10 million Filipinos living abroad. Many of these workers are subject to forced labor and harsh conditions, not just in the U.S., but in Asia and the Middle East as well.  Women who work in domestic positions often suffer violence, sexual abuse and rape. Traffickers use local recruiters in villages and urban centers who often pretend to be representatives of government sponsored employment agencies.  Furthermore, victims are required to pay “recruitment fees” that leave the workers vulnerable to forced labor, debt bondage and prostitution.

Many Filipinos live in poverty and are often swayed by recruiters who offer work and a better life. Furthermore, the vast majority of victims are also women and girls; 300,000-400,000 are women and 60,000 -100,00 are children; over 80% are females under the age of 18.

To combat this, the Philippines government created the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 and has made minor improvements since then. For example, it increased funding to the anti-trafficking agency from $230,000 to $1.5 million and went from eight full time staff members to 37. They were also able to repatriate 514 Filipinos from Syria in the winter of 2012, 90% of whom were trafficked. Even with an upgraded version of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, much work still needs to be done in the Philippines and in the U.S. to ensure that women and the poor in the Philippines are not vulnerable to modern day slavery.

– Lisa Toole

Sources: CNN, NJ.com, ABS CBN, HumanTrafficking.org
Photo: The Guardian

adolescent_girl_pakistan_flood
“I am 17 years old. In the relief camp, when I was sleeping in the night, I was raped. I did not know what had happened to me. I do not know the face of the man. I had heavy bleeding…now I see some disturbances in my body and when my mother took me to the hospital, I was told I am pregnant”.

This is what a young girl from Tamul Nadu in India experienced after a tsunami devastated her hometown. Like her, millions of other girls in developing countries are the hardest hit by disasters in comparison with other segments of the population. Not only do women receive non-preferential treatment during emergency rescues, but they are also at a greater risk of sexual exploitation, child marriage, and being deprived of an education.

According to a report released by Plan International, a child rights NGO, girls fare far worse during disasters than the rest of the population. Given their gender, age, and humanitarian status, girls and women experience a triple disadvantage during crises since pre-existing inequalities and vulnerabilities are exacerbated.

In this way, a 14-year-old girl in a slum will experience a flood or an earthquake differently from a 14-year-old boy in the same situation. Such is the case of a son and a daughter who were swept away by a tidal surge in a cyclone that hit Bangladesh in 1991. The father of these children is cited as saying that he could not hold on to both and had to release his daughter because “his son had to carry on the family line.”

In other cases, adolescent girls and women are driven to sell sex because they have no alternative to feed themselves and their children. “I don’t work. I don’t have parents to help. So, for around a dollar, you have sex just for that…it’s not good to do prostitution, but what can you do?” said Gheslaine, who lives in a camp in Croix-de-Bouquets in Haiti.

Disasters also lead to an increase in child marriages. Research in Somaliland, Bangladesh and Niger found that child marriage is often used as a community response to crises in which girls are sold for income and food. In Niger, girls are taken out of school, wed and impregnated at the age of 13. Many of them suffer from fistula (a rupture between the birth canal and bladder caused by prolonged obstructed labor) and die.

One of the least prioritized issues during disasters is facilitating education for girls. Although most families would rather continue education for boys rather than girls, girls who receive an education are more likely to be healthy, marry later in life, and survive into adulthood. In fact, it is one of the most important determinants of practically all desired outcomes related to the Millennium Development Goals, from poverty reduction, to reduced infant mortality rates, and to enhanced democratization.

Despite the evidence that confirms that the empowerment of women has a transformative power in all types of societies, this study reveals that the rights to protection, education, and participation are still not granted to most women and girls, especially during crises.

– Nayomi Chibani
Feature Writer

Sources: IRIN, Plan International
Photo: UNHCR