Thursday, March 21, 2013

Parallel lives - Steubenville and New Delhi

Alongside the tragic story of the Steubenville rape case here in the US, you may have noticed a spate of new stories recently about rape in India, including the horrific case of the young woman who was gang-raped on a bus in New Delhi and eventually died from her injuries. I have been intrigued by the parallels of the two situations – along with one very specific call for a solution.

I read a very interesting – and sobering - OpEd piece on CNN about rape and the broader problem of abuse of Indian women, written by Suniti Neogy, who incidentally works for CARE India (the NGO with whom I’ll be working for my Fellowship) as a community educator for gender issues and healthcare.

Neogy explains how the problem is really an epidemic – claiming many, many lives and destroying many more each year – and it stems from an underlying lack of respect for women in broader society and the tolerance of abuse as an acceptable part of life.

Her proposed solution? Start educating boys, not just girls, about gender equality from early childhood. Her piece ends optimistically, with the belief that Indian culture can change, a belief fueled by her positive experiences working with communities and seeing the change that education and the support of both men and women in the community can bring over time.

Interestingly, over the past week, two unconnected people mentioned to me that the serious issues with misogyny in India seem strange to them, given that India has had something the US has not – a female head of state – not to mention the reverence of female family members, especially mothers, in Indian society. However, I think that we can see many similarities to American culture – in a country where we have a growing list of women in powerful positions in corporations and government (yes, not growing quickly enough, but at least growing), I have been reading about the backlash about the media coverage of the Steubenville rape, and it is creating a similar tide of calls for better educating boys about respect for women (for example, see this now-viral impassioned blog from one concerned mother of three boys, Audrey Binkowski). 

The parallel is quite strong.

This should remind us that when learning about social issues in other countries, it is easy to castigate a foreign culture for the wrongs we perceive. But let us not forget that we have to look inwardly – the solutions start with each of us. As a father of three girls, I will do what I can to help prevent such a terrible crime from happening by educating them, but as both Ms. Neogy and Ms. Binkowski point out, it takes much more than the individual effort of concerned parents of girls to change things.

CARE India is dedicated to empowering women, helping create change by building up communities from the inside out. This is how we have to change things in the US as well.

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