Hannah is an exchange student from the UK, where she studies at the University of Warwick. Her major is Comparative American Studies, incorporating the study of the history, literature and cultures of both the United States and Latin America, along with Spanish. Having lived in Connecticut as a child, Hannah has had a lifelong interest in American history which has been supplemented by a growing interest in US politics, particularly in social issues such as ethnicity, race and gender.
When did violence against women become so normalized? I was under the impression we had had a sexual revolution, at least in the West, so why is it that 2012 seemed to become a year characterized by horrific levels of violence against women around the world?
The Taliban attack on Pakistani schoolgirl Malala in October last year proved beyond any doubt that despite NATO intervention in the region, the Taliban remains active and committed to an ideal of society that is incompatible with the modern world. Malala, who has been recovering well in a UK hospital, was shot in the head in front of other young girls and left for dead, all because she went to school and bravely spoke publicly about girls’ right to receive an education. At just 15 it is interesting, and perhaps encouraging, that Malala’s stance on education and her activism have been so threatening to the Taliban that they saw fit to attack her. Nevertheless, the attack also demonstrates the continuing presence of the group in the region and their determination to turn back the clock, despite evidence of progress.
Perhaps the most shocking news story of 2012 came in late December when details emerged of the horrific gang rape and murder of a young medical student in Delhi. The young woman and her male friend were tricked into boarding a wrong bus and then subjected to hours of rape and torture. After being transferred to a specialist hospital in Singapore, the young woman died of her injuries. The attack has prompted a massive outcry about the state of women’s rights and safety in India, and has also provoked widespread public debate on the state of the policing and justice systems there. The reaction of senior Indian politicians to the protests demonstrate how out-of-step many national leaders have become, with one city police commissioner claiming the streets were unsafe even for men as “their pockets were picked” as though this was somehow equivalent to rape. Shockingly, in the last 5 years, political parties have offered 27 candidates in state elections who admitted to having been charged with rape. If this is the state of India’s leadership, one has to wonder how much change will come for Indian women. It is also not surprising, therefore, that a TrustLaw poll recently declared India the worst G20 country to be a woman.
Nevertheless, it is important to remember that we remember the problems here in America too. This year details emerged of prolific long-term offences committed by serial pedophiles on both sides of the Atlantic (see my previous column on the Savile and Sandusky scandals). A further indicator of the continuing sexist traditional attitudes towards women emerged during the latter stages of the presidential election, with high profile candidates displaying remarkable levels of insensitivity, particularly on rape. Although Mitt Romney’s infamous “binders full of women” remark was blown out of proportion, Todd Akin’s ludicrous claim that women’s bodies shut down to prevent pregnancy in the case of “legitimate” rape – demonstrates the pervasiveness of worryingly backwards ideas about women and their health. Similarly, Richard Mourdock, a contender for an Indiana Senate seat, stated during the campaign that he did not support abortion in cases of rape or incest, claiming that such a pregnancy was a “gift from God”.
Despite the progress women around the world have made towards achieving equality, it remains clear that there is still some distance to be travelled. It is important to remember that attacks against women, whether sexual assault or other forms of violence, continues to happen here in the United States and in other developed countries, and not just in the developing world. In order for all women to be safe we need to consider our own attitudes as well as those of people around us and in positions of power and influence. It is easy to judge nations like India for their poor record on women’s rights, and they must be held accountable, but change starts at home. What could you do to help prevent violence against women?
[Image Credit: http://hillary.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/12/15/international_violence_against_women_act_approved_by_senate_foreign_relations_commi]