For many, the failures of the struggle against sexual crime translate into a daily, ongoing nightmare. The MILEAD Fellows of the Moremi Initiative for Women’s Leadership in Africa stand in solidarity and sympathy with victims and survivors of these crimes all over the world, particularly the woman who so tragically lost her life following her brutal gang rape in New Delhi just recently. We choose not to be silent in the aftermath of this particular case precisely because it is geographically removed. We are all connected.
The world was shocked that the rape of this 23-year-old student occurred on a moving bus. The latest news, among other responses, is that it may soon be required that buses remove all tinted windows and also light their interior spaces at night so as to increase their visibility. While these proposed measures will undoubtedly be useful, the problem cannot simply be addressed at such a superficial level. It will not be enough.
What some may not know is that in the Democratic Republic of Congo, rape has occurred in broad daylight: on trains, buses, and streets; because when enough lawmakers and enforcers turn a blind eye, when society is desensitised to the horrors of any crime, a public location is no longer a deterrent to its taking place. And even if all public rape ceased, an injustice committed in private is still an injustice and must be addressed. And while it is important that policy changes are made to increase law enforcement and survivor support, there is only so much that can be done from the policy level to prevent the crime itself. The DRC has been referred to as the rape capital of the world, but any nation can earn that title if insufficient attention is paid by all citizens to rape within its borders.
A more subtle dimension of the problem is a continued choice of all manner of society members to ignore the troubling gender inequality that has managed to instill itself in culture, family discourse, informal institutions, and even language. Some of these scattered factors may actually be roots of the terrible and destructive acts in question. Also, men are not the only ones culpable at this level, just as they are not the only ones who rape. Women themselves have been guilty of harbouring and expressing ideas that, when unpacked, may all too clearly link to the oppression of their own sex.
There is no such thing as a partial solution to ending the violence that took an innocent young student away from us on 28th December, 2012. Everyone must take action. If no one is taught at home and in the most basic arenas of society that women are inherently as valuable as men, what is to prevent someone from assigning worth on an arbitrary basis, to suit his or her current “needs” (Once again looking at the DRC, women can be perpetrators, and men can be victims)? It is also important to note that gender equality does not serve women alone, neither does it solely address gender-based subjects. Gender equality says that we are all equal because we are equally valuable, to be respected to an equally high degree.
Let us address these issues at their core and ensure that we are on the correct path to change. True proponents of change in India, we stand with you.
With deepest sympathy and support,
Tayo Adjapon-Yamoah, 2012 MILEAD Fellow