Saturday, March 08, 2014

International Women's Day 2014

As I mentioned yesterday, today, March 8, is International Women's Day, a global awareness campaign to celebrate successes in the journey toward equality and rights for women and children and to bring to light challenges as we make plans to move forward.

In honor of this day, I wanted to bring attention to just one of the many struggles around the world. This one illustrates real burdens and dangers women face and it also points out the need for more work to protect and promote all people's rights.

This morning I read this article from Inter Press Service News Agency about women who are being assaulted, harassed, raped and murdered on Indian transportation systems. "Nearly 25,000 rapes took place in India in 2012, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. About half of these sexual assaults took place in buses, taxis and three-wheeler autorickshaws." As a response, an Indian Judicial Committee was assigned to make recommendations about what to do to curb the violence. Over 13 months later, in January of this year the Indian government put an initial fund of 15 million dollars to install GPS trackers, closed circuit TV cameras and emergency phone call facilities in public transport vehicles in 32 cities.

First of all, I want to be honest and upfront that I really don't know much about India other than what I've read in the news and a few books about the inequalities of women in that country. India has been in the media a lot of the past few years because of the numerous and very brutal sexual assaults against women there. This violence has definitely has gotten a lot of global attention, which I'm glad about (the media attention, not the assaults obviously). What I do know about, though, is prevention of sexual violence and because of this I have a lot of thoughts on this IPS article.

Although the proposed plan to install trackers, cameras, etc. on public transport is a okay idea in terms of catching criminals now, it's a far cry from a holistic approach toward eradication of violence and it's has a lot of loopholes. I suspect that India has some similarities to Tanzania in terms of disjointed political and justice systems, spotty infrastructure and a system of bribery that goes from the bottom all the way to the top of the criminal justice system. Those cameras and GPS devises could easily be tampered with and when they break, I am sure they will not be fixed in a timely fashion. Also, what's the response time if a woman is on a rural dirt road in a crowded bus is assaulted and hits the emergency call button? I'm sure the assault or maybe even murder will be already finished with and the perpetrator(s) already long gone by the time the police arrive, if they arrive at all.

Secondly, this approach won't stop violence from happening. It will only change the location where the violence occurs. It is just a band-aid approach and won't curb the larger problem of inequality of women and the sense of entitlement that the abusers feel that causes these behaviors to continue. As A.L. Sharada, program director at Population First says in the article, "'Road safety is not about making a few vehicles smart,' Sharada tells IPS. 'It’s about making roads safe for women to go out at any time of day or night with confidence. To do that we need better governance, better policing and also a good community-based support system for women. Without these, you can’t change the scenario.'”

So these are certainly challenges that need to be highlighted, discussed and overcome but at the same time, I'm really glad that at least some of the stories are being highlighted in the media, that discussions are happening and that governments are at least recognizing (albeit it's often just lip-service) human injustice as an issue. Let's keep these discussions going after March 8 and every day of the year.

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