The Human Impact

From the sickening to the bizarre, Indian politicians still don’t get rape

A member of the Communist Party of India-Marxist uses an iPad to take pictures of a  protest rally in Kolkata

 

Covering women’s rights issues for so many years in India, I still find the number of ways women and girls are abused and discriminated against unfathomable.

From their discrimination in accessing health care, education and employment opportunities, to their brutal rapes and murders. From having acid thrown in their faces, to being trafficked for domestic or sexual slavery. From their suicides due to dowry demands, to their molestation on buses and trains. It often feels like a bottomless pit.

The December 2012 murder and gang rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapist on a bus in Delhi jolted many in India out of complacency, and helped bring about greater awareness of violence against women in the country.

But the discussion, particularly on rape, is also bringing to surface the deep-rooted patriarchal and misogynist attitudes that exist in the higher echelons of political power – among those who have the ability to forge laws and policies to protect and empower women.

Comments made by politicians from across the political spectrum bizarrely blamed everyone and everything but the perpetrators of sexual violence.

“FGM is bad, but it’s not child abuse,” says London-born victim

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When London-born Jay was a teenager her mother suggested she join a secret women’s society in Sierra Leone. There would be a big party, new dresses and she would be treated like royalty.

“If they’d told me what the real deal was I would have probably skipped town!” she says. “I wouldn’t have got on that plane.”

Her humour masks a long struggle to come to terms with what happened during that Easter trip to her parents’ birthplace. Jay Kamara-Frederick is a victim of female genital mutilation (FGM).

Ms Kalashnikovs: Meet Congo’s fearless women fighters

Copyright and all photographs taken by Francesca Tosarelli.

Brutalised. Repeatedly raped. The first to gather the children and flee attack. Weak, poor and uneducated.

Women in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are so often cast as voiceless, nameless victims of a conflict that has raged for decades in the region’s lush jungles and hilltops that it is almost impossible to imagine them as fearless warriors.

But that’s exactly what Italian photographer Francesca Tosarelli found when she travelled to Congo’s North Kivu province early last year – driven by a curiosity to explore how gender identity shifts in times of conflict.

Helped by quotas, more women enter Latin American politics

When Michelle Bachelet takes office as president of Chile for the second time on Tuesday, the person who places the blue, white and red striped presidential sash round her neck will be  Isabel Allende – the first woman in Chilean history to be leader of the senate.

One in four lawmakers in Latin America are women, a proportion second only to Europe, and a continent better known as the home of machismo is now leading the way in drawing more women into politics – enabling them gradually to push women’s, social and educational issues to the fore.

A key reason for the growth in the number of congresswomen and female senators in Latin America is the adoption of quotas for women in parliament by 16 of the region’s countries in recent years.

Gender violence in EU lowest in Poland – should we rejoice?

Poland is the country with the lowest rate of violence against women in the European Union (EU), according to a report published on Wednesday.

Are women really safer in Poland compared to, say, Denmark which came last in the survey with a staggering 52 percent of its female population having experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lives?  In Poland that percentage is “just” 19.

So is “scoring” lowest a reason to celebrate or is it rather a wake-up call? After all 19 percent still means that almost one if five women in Poland experienced violence.

Forbes lists record number of women billionaires

There are more women billionaires now than ever before – 172 of them according to Forbes magazine’s 2014 Billionaire’s List, up from 138 last year.  And a sixth of all newcomers on the list are women.

Famous names include Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, U.S. TV celebrity Oprah Winfrey, fashion designer Tory Burch, British betting queen Denise Coates and the first female Nigerian billionaire Folorunsho Alakija.

However, women still only account for around a tenth of the 1,645 billionaires identified by Forbes on Tuesday as it published its 28thannual list of the richest people on the planet.

Ending the beatings, rapes, murders: Where are India’s men?

Violence against women is widespread across the world. Globally, 35 percent of women have been beaten by an ‘intimate partner’ or suffered sexual violence at the hands of a non-partner in their lifetime, the World Health Organisation says.

The same research suggests that almost one third of women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of their partner, and that some 38 percent of all murders of women are committed by their husband or boyfriend.

In India, the situation is little better. The International Centre for Research on Women reports that 37 percent of men surveyed admit to inflicting violence on their intimate partner.

Using rape as an excuse for moral policing in India

The conversation has changed in India since that horrific night in December 2012 when a young woman returning home after watching a movie at the cinema was gang raped on a moving bus and left to die on the streets of the Indian capital.

The crime – which triggered outrage amongst urban Indians who took to the streets to protest – acted as a turning point, forcing many in India to face up to the widespread violence inflicted on women and girls in this largely patriarchal nation.

Discussions about rape, acid attacks, sexual harassment, molestation, dowry murders and female foeticide are now no longer just confined to civil society groups, feminists and academics but are being widely debated in the mainstream media and even amongst the usually apathetic political classes.

The din of misogyny at Bangkok protests

In fiery speeches at protests calling for her ouster, Thailand’s first female Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has been called ugly, stupid, a bitch, a slut and a whore.

A university professor recommended sending a large group of men to “sexually snare” her. A decorated doctor offered to give her vaginal repair surgery and to change her sanitary pads, andsaid she could become a nude model because she hasn’t yet reached menopause.

Not to be outdone, the head of the country’s Election Commission (EC) drew laughter from reporters after suggesting in a condescending tone that a meeting with her might only be possible if it was arranged at a certain hotel where her opponents claim she had an as-yet-unproven extramarital affair.

India’s surrogacy tourism: exploitation or empowerment?

In a globalised world where everything at home is becoming more costly, outsourcing your needs to a third party thousands of miles away for less money makes a lot of sense.

For a country like India, one of the top global destinations for outsourcing, the benefits are tremendous – creating millions of jobs in sectors ranging from garment, software and car manufacturing to call centres and back office operations.

But over the last decade, a more controversial sector for outsourcing has emerged in India: pregnancy and childbirth.

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