Today as the verdict in the trial of the 4 accused attackers in the infamous Delhi bus rape trial is handed down, we take a moment to think about the role of shame in holding women back. It was actually the words of the victim's mother that struck us. She said on the radio that this trial had moved India slightly, just slightly. Whereas before a family of a woman who had been raped might quickly hush her, worried about protecting the name of the family, worried about shame-- now families seem slightly more empowered to report the crimes. Shame around what HAPPENS to a girl, is a deeply held cultural issue in many many countries including our own. Shame prevents justice.
As reported in the Wall Street Journal, reports of rape are up. "Delhi police registered 1,036 complaints of rape through Aug. 15 this year, more than double the number of cases in the same period in 2012. Police said they also received 2,267 complaints of molestation through Aug. 15, nearly six times the 381 reported in the same period last year."
Shame around violence of a sexual nature runs very deep, and the inability to report violations or to adequately protect themselves holds girls and women back. Aside from the judicial reforms being debated in India in the Verna report and elsewhere, what other policies, messages or methods are being given to girls and women to address the deeply held norms around shame?
Is it the same strand of shame that runs through the course of girls' lives-- from the moment when menstruation forces them into huts for the course of menstruation and makes them impure? The same shame that causes the stigma associated with fistula-- that after facing a particularly difficult childbirth which can rips at a girl's internal tissue--she is then ostracized from her community? The same shame about menstruation keeps girls from attending school and thereby reduces their opportunity for an education. At the heart of the problem is the blaming and shaming of a particular sex for basic biological functions over which they have no control. We salute the groups like ZanaAfrica (@ZanaAfrica) who seek to make menstruation a non-issue. Azadi Pads, @RubyCup, @SHEnterprises, @LunaPads, Days for Girls, The Menstrual Hygiene Management Lab, Occupy Menstruation and other groups are part of this heroic effort as well.
Back to the Delhi rape case. It was a huge worldwide wake up call and a tipping point. It highlighted the absolute worse case scenario in a place where girls are too often devalued. The public outcry both within India and beyond is probably helping to move the needle so that more crimes are reported and consequences are stronger. The root causes of shame around a girl's body and bodily functions will take longer to shift but the momentum has started.
Note: the fabulous image is credited to Occupy Menstruation which is a FB group. Check them out.