Von Deepali Sood
„Last Christmas something terrible happened. It happened in my country, in my city: New Delhi, capital of India, population 14 million. I am referring to the brutal gang rape and murder of the young Medical girl student on a public bus in New Delhi. This horrific act made headlines around the world. I remember being in Sydney at that time and hearing about it. Even as far as Australia it was all over the news. Shock, extreme sadness, frustration and anger were some of the first emotions I felt. Looking at my two young daughters I just prayed that nothing like that would ever happen to them.
Unfortunately, sexual, physical and emotional violence against women and girls is a phenomenon that occurs all over the world. Gender based violence is symptomatic of a deep rooted gender inequality that is present in most patriarchal societies. According to the UN Women statistics, a staggering 7 in 10 women are beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused by an intimate partner over the course of her lifetime. These are terrifying statistics. And they should make us angry.
These figures came to life and became personal on talking to my friends from India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Italy, Colombia and the United States. I realised that all of us had ourselves been subjected to some form of abuse when we were young girls, even if in some cases it was manifested as inappropriate behaviour by family members, community leaders, teachers, authoritative figures or random strangers, as in the New Delhi case.
A lot of ink has been spent in the Indian and the international press making accusations, counter-accusations, suggesting appropriate punishment for the perpetrators and bringing justice to that unfortunate girl. Facebook and other social media are full of anger being felt by the people, especially women and girls. All of this is good and finally the elephant in the room is being addressed. However, as a woman and a mother of two daughters, I wish that such incidents do not occur in the first place rather than talk about punitive measures after an incident.
I speak thus of the p word – prevention.
One good example is Plan International’s Because I am a Girl Urban project aiming at ensuring safety of adolescent girls in 5 major cities in the world. One of these cities is Delhi; others are Cairo, Hanoi, Kampala and Lima. Simple actions if taken seriously by the local city authorities and citizens can lead to prevention of such incidents: appropriate lighting of public spaces like at bus stop and parks; awareness raising for safer and violence-free environment in communities; providing a consistent visual presence of the message; evoking community interest and triggering discussion. These are just a few approaches and I am sure there are many more.
We owe it to our daughters (and sons) to ensure a violence-free world. Policymakers and citizens, time has come to take urgent action. I am ready. Are you?„