Delhi rape case is a reminder that violence against women is a threat to peace
The gang rape and subsequent death of a young woman in India in December has sent shockwaves of grief and anger around the world. Like many here in the UK our thoughts are with her family and loved ones.
What’s more, we stand in solidarity with Indian women who are calling for better laws, more protection, increased justice and high quality healthcare services for survivors of violence. Across Asia, Africa and Latin America, the women’s rights organisations we work with are calling for similar things. In the last few days Womankind’s partners in Nepal have been protesting along with hundreds of others in Kathmandu, after a young woman was attacked and raped at the airport on her return from working in Saudi Arabia.
Whilst these cases highlight some of the specific issues facing women in India and in Nepal, violence against women is a global problem.
Gender inequality and instability
What has happened since the tragic death of “Damini” tells us a lot about the links between gender inequality, violence against women and a country’s instability. Recent research, launched by Valerie M Hudson in her book Sex and World Peace highlights a significant link between state security and women’s security. Hudson makes the case that:
“the very best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is not its level of wealth, its level of democracy, or its ethno-religious identity; the best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is how well its women are treated” .
Indeed women across all the countries researched for our recent report From the ground up made explicit connections between violence against women and a lack of peace. A woman activist in Kabul, Afghanistan, told us:
“Peace for me is if I can come out of my home not accompanied by anyone. If people do not care what I’m wearing, what I look like. If I can visit a village where I’m working and feel safe”.
In the aftermath of Damini’s death, we’ve seen a rising tide of anger, with demonstrations across India, and across the world, which in some cases have had violent repercussions. Police have sealed off large parts of central Delhi close to government buildings, closed down a number of metro railway stations and asked people not to travel into the city. Hundreds of armed police and riot troops have been on duty and gatherings of more than five people have been banned in the city centre.
These heavy police tactics to restore ‘calm’ are unusual in an apparently peaceful country. Yet the death of Damini – which is just the tip of the iceberg of thousands of rapes and sexual assaults taking place in India every day – has provoked a public response and a police counter-response that is challenging the country’s security.
Violence against women as a cause and consequence of conflict
Violence against women can itself be an indicator of conflict or instability, and both a cause and consequence of conflict. The UK’s Department for International Development notes that “conflict and fragility often have their roots in entrenched forms of discrimination”, and the Global Peace Index ranks India as amongst the twenty least peaceful countries in the world.
Even in countries that are not considered ‘at war’, violence against women can trigger instability, and the fear of violence permeates women’s existence, restricting their mobility, and ability to participate fully in society. As Lauren Wolfe has said, “for women, peacetime does not exist”.
In the UK, the government is honing its guidelines on analysing conflict situations (in policy speak that’s the Joint Analysis of Conflict and Stability guidelines). At Womankind, as part of our advocacy work, we have been telling Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials that the guidelines need to incorporate strong gender analysis, and recognise gender inequality as a barrier to peace and an early indicator of possible instability.
What’s happening in India – where people are understandably expressing their anger, grief and frustration, and being met with police crackdowns – is an example of the links between violence against women and wider instability.
As women’s rights activists speak out in India and Nepal and many women and men take action for the first time, let’s hope that the government listens to their demands. For peace to be a reality for everyone, women must be able to live free from the fear of violence.