With the passing of another year comes the need to look ahead at the issues that will increasingly define the world we live in. Every year since 1945 the international community marks World Food Day, serving as a reminder of the importance of food security in a world where 1 in 8 go hungry. With an expected global population of more than 8 billion by 2025 and growing pressures on agriculture due to climate change, food security is quickly becoming a top interest for governments and policymakers around the world.Read More
It started with a simple drink, or more accurately, the inability of Senegalese-born Magatte Wade to find it when she returned to Senegal. In searching for a hibiscus drink she remembered fondly from her childhood, it was nowhere to be seen in Dakar. The reason, she discovered, was that as Senegal’s wealth increased so did their attitudes towards the traditional things that once marked their daily lives. Feeling that they should be more Western to match their growing status, simple things like her beloved hibiscus juice were disappearing. Fearing her culture would disappear too under the forces of globalization, she co-founded Adina World Beat Beverages, not only preserve, but spread traditional recipes from around the world. Rather than wait for the West to come to Africa, she decided to bring Africa to the West.Read More
Syria long ago became a source of a steady trickle of bad news but recent reports coming from several UN agencies working in Syria highlight just how dire the humanitarian situation there has become.Read More
Long a controversial issue, Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers is getting renewed attention after two boats sank in the Indian Ocean last week. Although the government had been tracking both boats for days, no attempts were made to lend assistance until after they disappeared from radar. Furthermore, the government opted not to recover the bodies discovered in the subsequent rescue operation, instead leaving the bodies to nature in the water. These incidents have renewed the debate over how the country treats asylum seekers trying to reach Australia through irregular maritime arrivals. And while such renewed attention is needed, recent events suggest that Australia is continuing to head in the wrong direction on refugee rights.Read More
Just a few weeks after France launched an intervention aimed at rooting out Islamist Ansar Dine rebels in northern Mali, French and Malian forces retook the historic desert city without resistance and to the cheers of local citizens. However, the city’s ten months under Islamic rule still had consequences, not just for the people living there but also for the historical treasures the city in known for. The destruction of the cultural heritage of Timbuktu raises questions of what is, or maybe should be, an international crime.Read More
In retrospect, it wasn’t that unusual of an event but would be one that finally broke the silence surrounding violence against women in the world’s second largest country.
On December 16, a 23-year-old medical student travelling with a male companion on a bus in New Delhi was beaten and gang raped by a group of 6 men for over an hour as the bus traveled across the city. When they were done, they threw her from the bus onto the road leaving her in critical condition. On December 30, she died from her injuries in a Singapore hospital, leaving a country to grapple with an entrenched political and social culture that does little to prevent other women from suffering the same fate.
That is because this incident is increasingly common in India. Less than two weeks after this rape, a 17 year old girl committed suicide after receiving police pressure to marry one of her attackers after she was gang raped in November. In 2011, a 16 year old Dalit girl was gang raped by 8 men who then circulated pictures of the crime throughout her village. In that case, none of the men involved were arrested for their crime but the girl’s father eventually committed suicide out of shame. Just a few days ago, a 15 year old Dalit girl was “released” by 3 men that kidnapped and raped her while holding her hostage for 15 days. This is just a small offering of the thousands of cases that occur throughout the country. Far from media headlines, women suffer the consequences of violence and sexual harassment every day in India. According to government figures, 228,650 of the 256,329 violent crimes committed in India last year were committed against women, a rate of nearly 90%. And those are only the crimes that are officially reported and logged by police, meaning the total number is likely much higher.
The culture of violence against women is so prevalent that it begins even before birth. India has one of the worst imbalances of women to men, currently standing at 914 women to every 1000 men. The imbalance is the result of gender-selective abortions called femicides where parents determine the baby’s gender via ultrasound and then terminate the pregnancy if the baby is a girl. In a country where sons bring prestige and money while daughters are viewed as a burden with their dowries and low income prospects, rather than work to change the gender inequalities that fuel this system, expecting parents from the affluent neighborhoods of Mumbai and New Delhi to the poor rural communities in the countryside turn to femicide to ensure that only sons will be added to their family. The resulting imbalance encourages trafficking and abuse, making things even worse for those girls who are born. Looking at the daily struggles women face throughout the country, it is no wonder that earlier this year India was voted as the worst place for women among the G20 by gender specialists, even beating out Saudi Arabia for the top spot.
Against this backdrop, it would seem unlikely that another rape would change the general code of silence against violence against women. But the attack in New Delhi ignited protests throughout the country and calls for reform of police attitudes towards sexual crimes. The protests, ranging from candlelight vigils to violent confrontations with police, all share the same anger and frustration towards the nation’s politicians and security sector for their refusal to take the safety of women seriously, time and time again. Even after protests broke out, the government was slow in their response, appearing unsure of how to handle the protesters’ complaints or really understanding why they were protesting. The entrenchment of this paternalistic view was seen just says after the protests started when the Association for Democratic Reform, an Indian think tank, released a new report detailing hundreds of politicians standing for elections that have been accused of sexual violence, including formal charges of rape. As Raj M. Desai and Shareen Joshi of the Brookings Institute noted, the protests are just as much about bad governance and rising crime rates as they are about the persistent gender inequality that defines most aspects of life in India.
But the persistence of gender inequality is what makes real progress in this area so difficult. Several NGOs such as the Centre for Social Research and Smile Foundation work on empowering girls and women and addressing the key issues that affect them. Not surprisingly, personal security is a major concern of many Indian women but it is far from the only one. Human trafficking, forced labor, forced marriages and rampant discrimination are daily realities for millions of women across the country. There are many suggestions for why this is the case – economic inequality, conservative cultural constraints, envy, greed, or just plainly too many people with too little opportunity. Regardless, with such an entrenched culture of inequality in a country of more than a billion people, any action seems small in light of the daunting task of progressive change.
However, what the recent protests in India demonstrate though is that change is necessary. Violence against women is always a public health issue, but in India it is clear that the inequality that underlines such violence is also a drag on economic growth and development, two things India needs. In the wake of the New Delhi gang rape, the culture of silence around the issue of violence against women may have been broken, but whether this most recent tragedy will mark a true wake-up call for the Indian elite remains to be seen. One hopes that it will, not just so a woman’s brutal death can mean something but also because without real change the lives of millions of women will continue to be defined by suffering for their birth in the world’s largest democracy as the rest of Indian society will continue to suffer the social and economic consequences of inaction.
Originally published on December 31, 2012 at www.foreignpolicyblogs.com
A large part of advocating for human rights comes involves bearing witness. While we will never be able to prevent all the atrocities in the world, the hope is that by bringing these realities to light we can gather the political will to make them stop. In this regard, the media plays a huge role in how we see and understand the events around us. But as the protest movements of the last two years has highlighted, a divide between professional journalist and citizen journalism has emerged and at times, can be at odds with one another.Read More
Since coming into office as Secretary of State in 2009, Hillary Clinton has pushed an agenda of “21stCentury Statecraft” to adapt foreign policy to the 21st century world. A major part of this agenda involves increasing and encouraging the use of connection technologies in foreign policy. The State Department is not alone in this effort as other countries increase their e-diplomacy presence. But in the wake of the protests outside U.S. embassies in the Middle East this month, one issue raised was the role of social media in addressing and responding to the situation as it unfolded.Read More
More than 32 years after the Khmer Rouge fell from power in Cambodia, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) started proceedings against high ranking officials of the regime.Read More
In an effort to prove that justice has no time limit, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) indicted four former officials of the Khmer Rouge regime on Thursday. The indictment, which is the second to be handed down by the ECCC, comes nearly 32 years after the Khmer Rouge lost power to a Vietnamese intervention in early 1979.Read More