Tomorrow, March 8, is a day set aside to celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. Women’s rights have come a long way since the first International Women’s Day in 1911 but we still have a long way to go. This year’s theme is ‘Make It Happen’, a slogan aimed at encouraging effective action for advancing the rights and treatment of women. We need to make it happen in those workplaces where women still earn less than men, in countries where women are regularly sexually abused and forced into marriage, and for girls who are still denied an education or forced to undergo female genital mutilation.
I couldn’t help laughing at the tongue in cheek parody of the lists that women are given to prevent rape that has been circulating on the internet today. At the same time, I felt guilty for laughing. I realize that rape is never a laughing matter but sadly, there are still those who believe that women are to blame for their own abuse.
I was absolutely incensed when I read this week’s news reports about one of the men convicted in a 2012 gang rape and murder case in Delhi, India. In an interview from jail, 26-year-old Mukesh Singh said that women who went out at night had only themselves to blame if they attracted the attention of gangs of male molesters. “A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy,” he said.
Singh also claimed that had the 23-year-old victim and her male friend, who were returning from an evening at the cinema, not tried to fight back, the gang would not have inflicted the savage beating from which she died two weeks later. Describing the killing as an “accident” he said, “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’.”
Equally appalling was this comment made by one of the lawyers in the case. “If my daughter or sister engaged in pre-marital activities and disgraced herself and allowed herself to lose face and character by doing such things, I would most certainly take this sort of sister or daughter to my farmhouse, and in front of my entire family, I would put petrol on her and set her alight.”
I wish I could say that things like this were unique to India, but that’s far from the truth and as long as my granddaughter is growing up in a world where any man, anywhere thinks it’s okay to rape a woman, we need to do more than celebrate the achievements of women; we need to ‘Make It Happen’. I am neither a man hater or a radical feminist but I dream of a world where every child has the right to an education and every woman feels safe.