People's Stories Women's Rights

Outrage engulfs India over ongoing assaults of women and girls
by Guardian News, UN Women, agencies
7 Dec. 2019
Government inaction drives Swati Maliwal, Chair of Delhi Women’s Commission to take a stand, writes Hannah Ellis-Petersen for Guardian News.
“Stop rape. Stop rape.” The chants rang out over the Samta Sthal memorial as hundreds of women from Delhi and beyond raised their fists in a show of collective rage. Among them sat Leena, 35. “I was six years old when I was raped and I could never speak about it,” she said. “This is India’s worst disease and we need to fix it before even more women are hurt.”
The outrage that engulfed India last week began with a brutal rape case in Hyderabad, where a 27-year-old vet was gang-raped by four men on her way home from work and then killed, her body burned in a motorway underpass.
But each day since, horrific cases have emerged relentlessly, from a teenager in Bihar who was gang-raped, strangled to death and burned, to a six-year-old in Rajasthan who was raped and killed by a neighbour, and a rape victim in Uttar Pradesh who was set upon and burned alive by her rapists, who were out on bail, on her way to testify against them in court. Doctors said on Saturday that the woman had died of her injuries.
Throughout the country, women of all ages have taken to the streets to demand justice for the Hyderabad rape victim and call on the government to take action to stop the daily brutality suffered by women. But for Swati Maliwal, the chair of the Delhi Women’s Commission and one of India’s most forthright activists, the fear that their demands would be ignored yet again led her to take more extreme measures.
Since last Sunday, Maliwal has been on hunger strike, stationing herself permanently at the Samta Sthal memorial, demanding that the government change the judicial and state systems that are failing both to stop sexual crime and deliver justice for women.
“Over the past three years, I have handled 55,000 rape and sexual assault cases but when I heard about the Hyderabad rape, and then the six-year-old, I couldn’t take it any more,” said Maliwal, wrapped in blankets, her voice weak.
“The systems, from police to the courts, have failed. My demand is greater police resources, greater accountability of police, more fast-track courts, a strong system that delivers punishment for rapists and a message by the government that no more rapes will be tolerated. And if I have to die to see that happen, so be it.”
Despite the number of atrocities against women that emerged last week, she pointed to the resounding silence from prime minister Narendra Modi as evidence of a complete lack of interest from the government in tackling the problem. In 2016, India recorded 106 rapes a day, and the cases are increasing each year, but the state-allocated resources are scarce and the justice system ineffective and overloaded. Some officers are handling more than 600 rapes cases each, and there are 133,000 rape cases pending in the courts.
“What does it matter to Prime Minister Modi that all these women are dying all over the country every single day?” said Maliwal. “If I die tomorrow during my fast, I don’t think it will bother the central government at all.
She added: “Fear of rape is the permanent state of mind of women in this country; it’s conditioned into us from the moment we are born and it’s impossible to escape. I am constantly thinking about my safety, and you can say that for almost every woman in India. Imagine where India would be if that time could be put towards the progress of our country.”
This is not the first time Maliwal has gone on hunger strike relating to what she described as “the emergency of India’s rape crisis”. She deprived herself of food after she was beaten by police in 2012 while protesting about the gang-rape of a student on a Delhi bus, and then again last year to demand stringent punishments within six months for child rapists. But while new laws were passed both times, in effect, say campaigners, they remain nothing but ignored pieces of paper. Maliwal vowed she would accept “no more token gestures”.
“Since 2012, yes, new laws have been introduced, but everything fails and nothing is implemented,” she says. “Every time a particularly vicious rape happens, people scream and protest on the streets, they then introduce some formality and then forget about it. But not this time.”
On Friday morning, it emerged that the four men accused of the rape of the Hyderabad vet had all been shot, supposedly as they attempted to run away during a recreation of the crime, though many believe it was an extrajudicial killing. It divided response in India, with many celebrating the police’s actions as “quick justice”, while others decried the officers for taking the law into their own hands.
For Maliwal, it was another example of the systemic failures in police and judicial processes when it came to rape cases. “I think the chances are that the police had also lost faith in the system, they also felt angry and knew if they let these men go through our judicial system, they would not be punished as they should be,” she said. “If the government doesn’t act, this will just keep happening.”
While her strength and energy fade more each day, Maliwal said the resolve to keep going with the hunger strike came from the hundreds of protesters who have descended on to Samta Sthal every day. They have flocked to her side all week in support, and chants of “Swati keep on fighting, we are with you” occasionally fill the air. She was keen to point out that as many men as women had come to express solidarity and anger.
Ram Yadav, 43, a life insurance agent, stood among the roaring crowds. “I am here because men should be speaking up against this rape culture as much as women,” he says. “These attacks that have happened, they make me ashamed of my country.”

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25th International Conference on Population and Development
by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), agencies
Nov. 2019
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, where 179 governments adopted a landmark Programme of Action which set out to empower women and girls for their own sake, and for the benefit of their families, communities and nations.
Important gains have been since then, but too many people are still being left behind. And too many nations have not been able to fully reap the demographic dividend because young people and other groups still lack agency, education and access to critical health services.
From 12-14 November, the governments of Kenya and Denmark and UNFPA are co-convening the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25, a high-level conference to mobilize the political will and financial commitments urgently needed to finally and fully implement the ICPD Programme of Action.
These commitments will be centred around achieving zero unmet need for family planning information and services, zero preventable maternal deaths, and zero sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices against women and girls.
The Nairobi Summit aims to re-energize the global community, to breathe new life into the ICPD agenda and sustain and amplify gains made since 1994. It is a springboard for governments, the private sector and other agencies to make global commitments and provide the financial resources required to finish the ICPD agenda by 2030.
“The Summit is a call to action to accelerate progress towards the world we imagined in 1994,” Arthur Erken, one of the three co-chairs of the International Steering Committee of the Nairobi Summit.
He emphasises that the success of the first ICPD conference was the paradigm shift from “a numbers-driven approach to development to placing people, their needs and aspirations, at the heart of sustainable development”.
Erken says this summit is a call to action to countries and partners to fulfil the Cairo Promise by making concrete commitments towards achieving the ICPD goals.
“The world we imagined in Cairo is not a reality for millions of women and girls around the world, the promise has not yet been fulfilled”, says Erken.
“We must step up our efforts to make modern contraceptives available to all who want and need it, improve maternal health care and protect women and girls from gender-based violence and harmful practices like child marriage and female genital mutilation.”
Today, an estimated 232 million women want to prevent pregnancy but are not using modern contraception. Each day, more than 800 women die from preventable causes during pregnancy and childbirth, and 33,000 girls are forced into marriage. And every year, more than 4 million girls are subjected to female genital mutilation.
“In 1994 at the ICPD, we imagined a world where one day, no woman would die giving birth, where no woman would be at risk of unintended pregnancy, and no girl would be denied her right to make a safe and healthy transition through adolescence and adulthood,” according to Denmark’s Special Envoy for ICPD25 Ambassador Ib Petersen. “The world we imagined is now within reach, but we must join forces to make it a reality once and for all.”
Achieving the goals of the ICPD is also critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, which depend on women’s empowerment and gender equality.
ICPD25 runs from November 12-14, bringing together more than 6,000 delegates from 164 countries and delegates drawn from Government, international agencies, civil society, business, faith-based organisations and many others working towards the pursuit of sexual and reproductive health and rights.
“The summit is not a platform to prescribe solutions to convening countries and convening delegates. It is an opportunity for governments and other partners to make commitments, and own the process,” says Erken.

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