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India gang rape: How to reduce violence against women

The recent death of a woman who was gang-raped in New Delhi has called the world’s attention to an all-too-common occurrence. But efforts in Bangalore, India show change is possible. India's government and others must invest in research and programs that promote gender equality.

By Suneeta Krishnan / January 17, 2013

Students protest in New Delhi Jan. 16 against the gang rape of a 23-year-old student there last month. An Indian magistrate ordered that the trial for the five accused men be moved to a fast-track court, with proceedings to begin Jan. 21. Op-ed contributor Suneeta Krishnan notes programs in Bangalore as examples that 'systematic and sustained efforts can lead to positive social change in the relatively short term.'

Saurabh Das/AP

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Bangalore, India

The recent death of a 23-year-old woman who was gang-raped on a commuter bus in New Delhi has momentarily called the world’s attention to an all-too-common occurrence in India. Perhaps there is an opportunity for others to benefit from this young woman’s tragic death.

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For the past 15 years, I have been researching the links between gender inequalities and women’s health in India. During the course of this work, my team and I have documented hundreds of women’s stories – stories of family violence, of quiet resistance and resilience, of romantic dreams transformed into the mundane realities of housework and the numbing pain of marital abuse and rape.

In a national representative sample survey in 2005-2006, 2 in 5 married women between 15 and 49 years old reported experiencing physical, sexual, or psychological abuse by their husband at some point in their married lives. More than half of the young married women (16- to 25-year-olds) whom we recruited from slums in Bangalore to participate in our study reported having ever been hit, kicked, or beaten by their husband. Nearly 80 percent reported physical, sexual, or psychological abuse perpetrated by their husband or another member of the family. The scale of violence against women by those most intimately related to them is staggering.

The physical and mental health impacts of violence against girls and women across India are myriad and include under-nutrition, unwanted pregnancy, miscarriage, gynecological problems, sexually transmitted infections, social isolation, poor self-esteem, low perceived quality of life, depression, and suicidal tendencies.

In our study in Bangalore, 2 in 5 young women who reported experiencing violence had contemplated or attempted suicide. Moreover, the adverse impacts extend across generations. Infants born to mothers who experience violence are more likely to be born pre-term, have low birth weight, and to die within the first 28 days of life. Witnessing family violence in childhood increases the likelihood that a girl will experience violence as an adult and that a boy will grow up to perpetrate violence against his intimate partner – perpetuating the cycle of violence and ill health.

Yet women are not silent victims. Although a large number of women do accept violence as part of their lot in life or put up with it for the sake of their children or because they perceive no alternative, many seek support. All too often, they are rebuffed and silenced by the government, communities, and even their families – as India and the world have seen repeatedly in recent days.

Violence against girls and women is a fundamental violation of human rights. It is imperative that the Indian government, communities, and families respond. As noted extensively in the media, awareness and implementation of existing laws to protect girls’ and women’s rights (and there are several in India) must be ensured. Critical services – law enforcement, health, and allied supports – need to be readily accessible to women.

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