How can we expect a safe world for women when our governments don’t demand it?

 

As news spreads of yet another brutal rape in India — this time of a 15-year-old girl who died after being raped and set on fire — we are reminded how far we are from achieving safety and equality for women worldwide.

India is one of many countries in which discrimination, harassment, and violent attacks against women are disturbingly common. Among the most horrific crimes committed against Indian women is acid throwing — often a form of punishment against women who reject a marriage proposal or request a divorce. Rape is the other. As many as 24,923 cases of rape were reported across India in 2012, with 98 per cent of the rapes being committed by someone known to the victim. What the attacks committed against Indian women have in common is that they are all rooted in the belief that a woman’s place is below a man’s.

Despite a reform of the Indian Penal Code’s definition of rape in 2013, marital rape remains legal. As long as this is the case, the Government of India will continue to tell its people that women are not worthy of respect, that their bodies are not their own, and that they do not deserve to feel protected from violence and abuse in their own homes.

A prime example of the violently misogynistic attitude the country must tackle comes from Mukesh Singh, who was involved in the horrific gang rape of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi in 2012. Singh claimed that his victim, Jyoti Singh, and other rape victims, are responsible for the attacks against them, stating: ‘A decent girl won’t roam around at nine o’clock at night’. He goes as far as to add that Jyoti Singh’s tragic end could have been avoided, had she not resisted the rape: ‘When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they’d have dropped her off after doing her and only hit the boy’.

Mukesh Singh’s despicable comments are not a rarity; even one of his lawyers shared his view, stating openly that if his sister was ever seen with a man, he would ‘in front of [his] entire family, […] put petrol on her and set her alight’. Another defence lawyer in the case was reported as saying: ‘We have the best culture. In our culture, there is no place for a woman’. This is the rape culture that India is up against, and by allowing any form of rape to be legal, the country’s government fails the women of India. How can these women stand a chance when even those in the justice system believe they deserve to suffer?

Do not allow yourself to take any kind of comfort in believing that India is the only country with such a flawed legal system, because it’s not. China, Egypt, Morocco, and Singapore are just a few of the many countries that still allow a man to rape his wife without punishment.

Regardless of improved definitions and reforms, a government that still allows a man the right over a woman’s own body — wife or not — cannot consider itself one that respects and protects its women.