Where do we go from here? My appeal to the Human Rights Council

World YWCA Programme Associate, Ramya Kudekallu shares her presentation from a panel discussion she was part of on ‘Sexual violence in the community’. The panel was hosted by the Permanent Mission of Canada at the Human Rights Council held in Geneva 27th May- 14th of June,2013. 

A 5 year old girl was gang raped on the 15th of April this year in Delhi. She was found with a 200ml bottle and candles inserted into her genitals. There were injuries on her lips, cheeks, arms and anus. Her neck had bite marks and bruise marks suggesting attempts to strangle her. She was left in a locked room for several days to die before she was rescued by authorities. Let me repeat her age. She was 5.

Ramya 3

Ramya Kudekallu

After the pivotal incident of gang rape and consequent death in India’s capital of a young woman, late last year, a committee lead by former Chief Justice of India,  J. S. Verma, was appointed by the government to submit a report to recommend amendments in the current law on rape.Report is worth a mention because it reinforced the reason for sexual violence in the Indian community and touched on the various failing of the system. Its findings, in my opinion, are no different to many other countries whose statistics are high in terms of sexual violence against women.

India has over 24,206 reported rapes reported every year since 2010, of these only 26% resulted in convictions. The Verma report indicated that failures on the part of the Government and police were the root cause behind crimes against women. There was a comprehensive affirmation of the insufficiency in recognition of discrimination, exploitation and suppression of women by political leaders. Although legislation provides the umbrella, governments and social structures have left women and their causes eroding and drenched in a thunderstorm of inequality.

The Verma committee report stated the mind set of gender bias depended more on social norms, and not merely on legal sanction. This has to be overcome by political will and aided by the necessary systemic changes in education and socially accepted behaviour. There have been repeated calls for governments to support the law and allow themselves to be held accountable on its failure. The passing of a mere bill and re-defining a crime is not enough. We must dig deeper.

With the new amendment in India, there is an inclusion of the broader word ‘sexual assault’ to replace ‘rape’ with a punishment of 7 seven years to life. Sexual assault causing death is punished now with up to 20Image years of imprisonment. The age of consent is 18 years. The change is welcome, but to me insufficient. More laws do not change the reality that the existing ones remain unimplemented.

There is a historical imbalance in consciousness against women in most parts of the world. It will take a new generation of both men and women to alter the image and progress towards equality. It simply is not enough that women occupy a few symbolic political positions; harness awareness or are categorically prioritised in new laws. No, the evidence of true empowerment is the extension of equality into all aspects of life, be it in norms, social structures, education, and economics.

The bricks lie in the heart of the problem and the solution. They lie within the women themselves. I have experienced and observed often there can be no greater wave of change than when those that subjected to affliction finally rise to fight against the system.

I was recently at a Women’s international Leadership Institute organised by my organisation, the YWCA. With representation from of young women from over 45 countries, never have I believed more strongly as both a legal professional and community worker that young women must be facilitated with tools to change their communities. They must have education, opportunities, choices, access to their rights and the spaces to express themselves without fear. The World YWCA report on the Future Young Women Want is a document completing the voices of young women from across the movement. It is in my mind a crucial reference point. It calls for

Elimination of all forms of violence and zero tolerance of violence against women and girls
Education initiatives that promote respectful relationships and equality amongst girls and boys as a preventive measure. YWCA of Australia, Ukraine and even India have set up resources around this.
Redefining masculinities and engaging men and boys as advocates
Targeted education and awareness with law enforcement personal, health professionals and the general population to ensure survivors of violence are treated with dignity and respect.

We forget that continuous domestic violence is communities go unnoticed. That around the world, children, and women of all ages habitually…let me repeat that word…HABITUALLY… are forced to tolerate violence in all its forms.

The tragedy of Delhi’s gang rape struck as a subsequent force of tremendous influence through the uproar of citizens in India. It is important for us to recognise people decided emphatically that enough was enough! I call the United Nations and all its respective agencies to hold member states accountable. To make every effort and explore every possibility to bring mechanisms such as the CEDAW, Beijing declaration, Resolution 1820 relevant to the millions of women and girls in the world who are exposed to these atrocities.

The dead line for our Millennium Development Goals is fast approaching us and in 2015 I urge our leaders to include elimination of all forms of violence against women as a target for the next phase.

The agitation around the incident that took place in Delhi is painful for the nation because it symbolised the continuum of brutality in our society. The rage reached far beyond the incident and for me it was a frustration that was both retrospective and prospective in nature. I thought of the thousands of untold stories, the lives lost that were not mentioned in papers and the survivors who continue their painful fight long after their bodies were left mutilated and violated.

We need the leaders of our nations to have the political will and resources to address this problem, we need appropriate legislation coupled with consistent conviction and sentencing of perpetrators and we need safe spaces for awareness of rights and services of women.

I was there, when the women of my country took to the streets. I was there when we flocked to our houses of faith praying for the life of the victim, her family and the thousands of others who fell into the margin of India’s rape statistics. I was there when we where beaten, gassed and water bombed because we felt our government and our laws were tremendously failing us.

For every such tragedy that follows whether in my home country or anywhere else in the world, it is only a confirmation for me that there is a long way to go. I hope we rise every single time such an atrocity occurs …and I hope we find the courage within ourselves to rise over …and over…and over again… till the day comes that we need not anymore.

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