Understanding India’s War on Women
Image Credit: REUTERS/Mansi Thapliyal

Understanding India’s War on Women

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On September 13, four men involved in the horrific Delhi gang rape case were sentenced to death by hanging for the murder and rape of their 23 year-old victim. Last December’s tragedy alerted the world to what many are now calling “India’s war on women,” a war being fought on many fronts. Feticide, infanticide, domestic violence, acid attacks, honor killings, rape, trafficking and suicide are cruel facts of life in a country where, according to Oxfam India, one of every two women will experience some form of gender-based violence. The prevalence of these horrors has led report after report to denounce India as one of the worst places in the world to be a woman.

Much ink has been spent decrying India’s violence against women, and commentators across the globe have correctly diagnosed the issue as a cultural malaise. The tragic irony of India’s war on women is that it is something in which both sexes, of all ages, religions and socioeconomic groups are complicit. Deep-rooted patriarchy is to blame and, ultimately, the battle to ensure gender equality will only have been won once attitudes towards women have changed. But not all aspects of India’s culture are equally culpable. Specious analyses of the presentation of women in Hindu mythology, for example, are harmful distractions; nothing is achieved by perpetuating false perceptions of India as peculiarly misogynistic. When condemning a problem as grave as a culture of violence against women, the finger must be pointed first at those things most in need of correction.

In the fight to end India’s war on women, there continue to be many obstacles. More still needs to be done to criminalize sexual violence, extend legal protections, improve law enforcement, increase conviction rates, sensitize the police force, politicians and the judiciary to encourage victims to report crimes and to process the vast backlog of untried cases. But these policy imperatives are all well documented. Often neglected are the demographic, economic and geographic drivers of violence against women, an understanding of which is necessary if something is to be done to ensure women’s security.

From birth through to middle age, women in India suffer statistically abnormal mortality rates, a phenomenon referred to as “gendercide” – the systematic destruction of a gender group. The 2011 census reveals that India’s birth gender ratio has fallen to 914 girls born for every 1000 boys. Estimates vary, but based on conservative calculations this has resulted in as many as 25 million women being “missing,” a result of generations of gender-selective abortions, murders and suicides. The increasingly skewed gender ratio has only intensified violence against women. A shortage of women of marriageable age has led to the creation of a south Asian bride buying industry, into which females are trafficked and sexually enslaved. The sickening spate of attacks on minors, with reports on the rapes of infants, is linked in part to the absence of adult women. The particular tragedy of gendercide is that no solution will yield immediate results. Anything that can be done to prevent the elimination of girls and dowry deaths, among others, needs to be done with the utmost urgency.

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