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 Such a statement clearly demonstrates that an outdated mentality towards women’s rights persists in the nation, a mentality where blaming victims for rapes seems to be the main attitude toward this epidemic.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

A teenage girl in Morocco committed suicide last month after being forced to marry her rapist. Her death occurred amidst debate over a controversial article of Morocco’s Penal code which allows rapists to avoid a jail sentence if they marry their victim.

The article in question, Article 475, received global attention after a similar case in March 2012 in which Amina Filali, 16, drank rat poison after being forced to marry her rapist. At the time, activist Abadila Maaelaynine said on Twitter, “Amina, 16, was triply violated, by her rapist, by tradition and by Article 475 of the Moroccan law.”

In Moroccan society, a woman who loses her virginity – even by rape – is considered unfit to marry. “There’s a mentality that says that a girl that’s no longer a virgin is worthless,” said Khadija Riyadi, President of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH). She went on to say that families feel like they cannot support an “unmarriagable” daughter and to make her marry her attacker seems like the only solution.

Opponents of Article 475 pressured U.S. president Barack Obama who met with Moroccan King Mohammed VI on Friday to urge the king to repeal the article.

A move to protect women from violence was submitted to the Moroccan parliament earlier this month, a year after the initial idea was proposed. Justice Minister Mustapha Ramid told Al Jazeera, “Until now, it’s still just a law project that’s being considered by parliament but hasn’t been rectified. We have not yet formally edited the article.”

“Delays in legal reform in Morocco are leaving women and girls exposed to abuse,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International. “Unless the gap is closed between the authorities’ rhetoric about improvements to the law and their delivery of these changes, more lives will be at risk.”

– David Smith

Sources: Al Jazeera, The Telegraph, All Africa

UN Women is an organization that was created in July 2010 by the United Nations General Assembly. The organization’s full name is the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women; its mission is to promote gender equality throughout the world and champion women from all walks of life.

Many women in the world face discrimination in the workplace, and receive fewer opportunities when it comes to career and educational advancement. UN Women sees this kind of gender discrimination happening all over the world, and makes it a part of its agenda to ensure that women have basic and equal human rights. Women are often denied access to health care, and even worse, they lack the political voice to change such conditions because of their stark under-representation in governmental decision making.

One of the major issues on the UN Women’s agenda is the end to violence against women. In a 2013 global review, published by the World Health Organization, it was reported that 35 percent of women in the world have experienced some kind of violence from an intimate partner. UN Women also focuses on the different aspects that are associated with violence against women: sex trafficking, child brides, rape, and sexual harassment in the work or education place.

Partnering with government agencies is an effective way that UN Women is able to take action against the various forms of discrimination against women. UN Women channels its efforts on implementing laws that will help protect women against threats like violence. It also advocates for policies that will open up more economic opportunities for women.

The wage gap between men and women is something that UN Women takes very seriously and seeks to bring to a close by implementing policies that argue for fairness in the workplace. A large part of the organization’s mission to empower women comes from its dedication to spread awareness in response to the AIDS epidemic. Women make up 54 percent of all people living in the world with HIV. UN Women has made it a job to spread awareness on the factors connected to the spread of HIV/AIDS. With the help of its partners, and resources UN Women has been able to broadcast the voice of women living with AIDS and it takes steps to help prevent the spread of the disease.

UN Women is gaining momentum and acquiring more support. Actress, Nicole Kidman, showed her support for the organization during an acceptance speech at the Variety Magazine Power of Women Awards event. Kidman encouraged her audience to see the desperate need for women’s equality in the world.

– Chante Owens

Sources: UN Women, Daily Mail

Dating as far back as the Japanese occupation of Nanking in 1937, rape as a weapon of war has been prevalent in conflicts throughout the 1990s and continues to be used today.

A common misconception is that rape is simply a by-product of war. Sexual violence is certainly occurring in every conflict around the world but its role has evolved from an unfortunate effect of war to a tactic used to humiliate and control entire populations.

The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution (UN Resolution 1820) in 2008 defining the use of sexual violence as a war tactic and calling for an end to impunity for those who perpetrate such acts. This resolution came too late for many, including the over 20,000 Muslim women and girls raped in Bosnia during the Bosnian War as well as the estimated 200,000 women and girls raped during the fight for Bangladeshi independence in 1971.

Sexual violence has become a common element of 21st century war. To be able to combat its prevalence, we must first understand the methods and reasoning behind its use.

Perpetrators utilize sexual violence in conflict situations for many different reasons. Rape can be used as a method of ethnic cleansing, as was seen in the Bosnian War. Serbian fighters raped Muslim women to produce Serbian offspring and thereby “cleanse” the population. During the Sudanese War, however, the Janjaweed militia typically used rape as a scare tactic to humiliate, intimidate, and punish the non-Muslim women and communities. Currently in Colombia rival groups are using rape and murder as part of a punitive code to strengthen control in specific regions.

Not only is rape considered the most invasive of war crimes, it has long-lasting consequences for entire communities and countries. Sexual violence during conflicts has contributed to the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases in multiple regions. In addition, mass rape has produced a new generation of young adults that are growing up with only one parent or as orphans because their mother was killed during the conflict. This has long-lasting ramifications for countries that will only be seen in the coming decades as this generation reaches working and reproductive age.

It appears that the use of rape as a war strategy will continue to be employed in conflicts across the globe as long as the culture of impunity surrounding this crime persists. Although the United Nations made sexual violence an official war crime in 2008, the International Court of Justice has yet to find efficient means to indict and prosecute the many thousands of people guilty of this heinous crime.

– Sarah C. Morris 

Sources: BBC, UNICEF, United Nations
Photo: The Wip

The First Rape Center in SomaliaThe Elman Peace and Human Rights Center, the first rape center in Somalia, opened its doors for the second time in 2011. The reopening was a brave move by two women working to drive social change in their war-torn country. According to the Executive Director of the center, Fartuun Abdisalaan Adan, “Staying in Somalia is very risky. You never know what’s gonna happen.”

Ilwad Elman’s parents, Fartuun and Elman, originally created the center as a safe haven for child soldiers in the 1990s. When her father was killed by warlords in 1996, the family sought refuge in Canada and the center was closed. In 2011 Ilwad and her mother returned to Mogadishu and reopened the Elman Center to include rehabilitation services for victims of sexual violence in addition to former child soldiers.

The center, which has a clinic and a classroom, employs a holistic approach to help victims, using counseling and skills training and emphasizing sports, art, and literature. Sexual violence is currently a widespread problem in Somalia, although the government continually denies it. Last year, the U.N. reported that at least 1,700 women were raped in IDP (internally displaced person) camps in Mogadishu. The UN also stated that men in the military commit 70% of Somalia’s rapes.

The consequences for a woman reporting a rape can be almost as severe as someone who perpetrates one. Just this past February, 27 years old Lul Ali Osman Barake was sentenced to a year in jail after she reported being raped by men she says were government soldiers. She was convicted of making false accusations and defaming a government body, while her attackers went free. Incidents like this make the work of the Elman Center that much more important. When women are afraid of the consequences of reporting sexual violence, they rarely seek vital help or medical attention they desperately need.

“Rape is a well-known weapon of war, so that is one thing that is undeniable,” said Ilwad. “There’s also harmful traditional practices and the social protection structures that were in place but were destroyed by conflict”, she adds.

Rape isn’t just happening in the IDP camps, Ilwad said, but also in the wider community, “which is also affected by rampant abuse of sexual and gender-based violence.” Elman says she believes a multitude of factors is to blame, namely conflict. Conflict is nothing new to Somalia, which has been experiencing turmoil for nearly two decades.

Despite the instability, corruption and poverty that plagues Somalia, Ilwad and her mother refuse to give up and fight to bring peace to protect human rights in their country.

– Erin Ponsonby

Sources: CNN, The Guardian, Good
Photo: Facebook

Zainab Hawa Bangura, UN Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, believes we have the ability to make rape a thing of the past. She sees preventing the rapes of thousands of women and children as her top priority. She is responsible for all sexual violence in conflict globally.

Bangura was asked in a recent press conference about how she is responding to the allegations that Syrian citizens are facing sexual violence in their conflict, as well as how this sexual violence has reportedly begun to spread to the refugee camps. Her response stated that the conflict in Syria hasn’t even begun.  She was invited to Syria to conduct investigations, however she has not agreed to go. Bangura would like to travel to Syria on her own terms to ensure her security, as well as her ability to complete thorough investigations into the allegations of sexual violence.

She believes that so little information about the rapes is being leaked because of the reluctance of the victims. There is a serious stigma and shame attached to rape, and people would rather kill the women than reintegrate them into society- a serious problem for women worldwide.

UN Special Representative Bangura has worked extensively in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as her home country Sierra Leone. She has hauntingly threatened perpetrators of sexual violence, warning them, “Whoever you are, wherever you are, I will get you.”

While Syria is a large problem, Bangura has stated that her top five countries to work on at the moment are the DRC, Sierra Leone, the Central African Republic, Somalia, and Syria. She has expressed serious concern in Syria that women are often unable to visit the gynecologist without male accompaniment. Additionally, refugees have been fleeing in record numbers to Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, easily surpassing the 1.6 million mark. Aid workers in the refugee camps have been reciting the stories of rapes, illegitimate pregnancies, domestic violence, and abandoned children. The problem now lies in documenting, and collecting data on these cases.

As more continues to unfold from Syria and neighboring countries, Bangura and other aid workers will do as much as they can to protect and help the victims of rape, sexual assault and violence, and unwanted pregnancies to return their lives to as much a state of normalcy as possible.

– Caitlin Zusy
Source: New Europe

Gender Inequality Runs Rampant in India

In New Delhi, there are 13 times more toilets for men than there are for women. Specifically, there are 3,712 male public toilets, and a mere 269 female toilets. Women sometimes must resort to defecating in the open, which besides the obvious privacy violation, poses a significant risk of rape and violence.

Public Toilets in New Delhi are just one example of discrimination against women in India; it starts before women are even born, and continues throughout their entire life. Girls can be perceived as a financial burden in parts of India, as a result of their limited income opportunities and costly dowries; 500,000 Indian girls have died as a result of pre-natal sex selection and infanticide over the last 20 years.

If a bride can’t fulfill her dowry, she faces the risk of torture and death at the hands of her in-laws. In 2005, nearly 7,000 Indian women were killed for being unable to meet the financial requirements of their dowries, some of them as young as 15 years old.

Indian women are humiliated, abused, and killed every day. Before they are even born, their opportunities and experiences are decided for them. They will face violence and inequality at almost every turn; and even something as simple as access to public restrooms is not guaranteed for them.

There are ways to encourage gender equality in India, though they may be easier said than done. Laws that discriminate against women need to be amended; girls need to be educated to level the intellectual playing field, and India’s practice of perceiving men above women, needs to be addressed for change to last.

Dana Johnson

Sources: Trust, Advocates for Youth, Brookings
Photo: Asia News