Even as the position of women continues to evolve in Canada and the West, recent events in two key emerging economies – India and South Africa – are poignant reminders of the challenges that remain in developing countries.
The horrific and deadly gang rape of a 23-year-old student in Delhi last December, and the shooting of model Reeva Steenkamp in Pretoria on Valentine’s Day have brought to the fore the issue of sexual violence and the particular dangers women face. Ms. Steenkamp’s boyfriend, Oscar Pistorius, a double-amputee and celebrity Olympian, has been charged with murder.
Both countries are having to confront the public’s anger over alarmingly high levels of violence against women and the deeply ingrained societal biases against women that the two tragedies have highlighted.
India is to be commended, then, for acting quickly to bring in a new law toughening the penalties for rape, and making stalking, acid attacks and the trafficking of women and children crimes. The legislation reflects the expectation that the state must do a better job protecting women.
This is a defining moment for India, as it rolls out public-outreach and engagement programs, including training police in how to investigate rapes, in the hope that certain behaviours that have long been tolerated, such as groping women on public transport, will change.
South Africa should likewise channel its outrage over the murder of Ms. Steenkamp into political action. The rate of homicides of females in that country is extremely high – five times higher than the global rate, according to the South African Medical Research Council. One-quarter of men have raped a woman.
The country must find new ways to bring up and educate boys and young men, so that they no longer grow up thinking violence against women is acceptable.
Just as India has been spurred to action, South Africa must use the tragedy to push for transformation, and to finally tackle the root cause of endemic gender-based violence and challenge a deeply chauvinistic culture.