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The unspeakable violence wrought upon each of these two young women reverberated around the world. One simply wanted the right to go to school. The other simply wanted the right to be. Each collided with violent merchants of misogyny. Each barely survived, and had to be sent for advanced medical care outside her homeland. Their ordeals unleashed a torrent of disgust and protest within their respective nations. One young woman survived. The other, sadly, did not. Yet their individual struggles spread beyond borders to highlight the global struggle against female illiteracy and sexual violence.

On Oct. 9, 2012, then-15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot pointblank by a Taliban gunman on her way to school. She, along with her father, had been campaigning courageously for girls' education. Her dream was to become a doctor. The Taliban had demanded that girls should remain at home, subservient to males. Malala and her father had used the power of words to campaign for their cause. The Taliban, unable to convince people of the merits of female illiteracy, resorted to violence. Not only did they fail, but the attack galvanized the nation – and the world – to push further for the educational rights of girls.

Just two months after the attack on Malala, 23-year-old medical student Jyoti Singh Pandey was gang raped on a Delhi bus on her way home with a male friend after watching The Life of Pi. Her family was poor. They made financial sacrifices to help her pursue her dream of medical school. Jyoti worked night shifts, while studying, to help pay for her education. She wanted to build a hospital in her parents' village to provide medical care where none existed.

That evening, six intoxicated males decided to "teach" Jyoti a "lesson" for being out at 9 p.m. They wanted to shame her with a brutal sexual assault – so brutal, her intestines were dislodged by a metal rod used in the attack. She and her badly beaten friend were thrown from the bus, left to die. Jyoti died two weeks later in Singapore. Four of the five adult accused were convicted and sentenced to death; a fifth was found dead in his cell; a sixth accused, a juvenile, was not sentenced to death.

The attack unleashed a torrent of anger in India – not only against the perpetrators – but against cultural attitudes of silence, shame and complacency toward sexual violence. For far too long, society had placed the onus of shame on victims, leading many to suffer in silence – or worse – commit suicide. Jyoti's murder was a tipping point, sparking a movement to change fundamental attitudes toward women.

The memoir I am Malala, and Leslee Udwin's documentary about Jyoti's demise, India's Daughter, highlight the arduous struggle for female dignity against regressive cultural forces. For example, each woman's parents had welcomed the birth of their daughter, much to the chagrin of relatives.

One of Jyoti's murderers told Ms. Udwin that, "A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy." His lawyer, M.L. Sharma, said: "We have the best culture. In our culture, there is no place for a woman," opining that women should stay at home. Platonic friendships are a myth, he argued, since men view women solely through the lens of sex. What's more, women are akin to delicate inanimate objects (such as "flowers" or "diamonds"), in need of sheltering. Letting them wander the streets makes them susceptible to dogs (i.e. men who can't help themselves). A.P. Singh, another defence lawyer, was unequivocal about setting his daughter or sister on fire, in front of relatives, if she "allowed herself to lose face and character."

These attitudes are found in other cultures – and are so wrong. Women aren't objects, and men aren't animals. Instead, each has a conscience with which to make moral choices. The onus of responsibility lies squarely with those who perpetrate sexual violence. Their actions should not be excused. Victims must be afforded support, compassion and restoration of basic human dignity.

Malala has been an outspoken proponent of girls' education. Let us support her, while giving voice to Jyoti's struggle. Sexual violence is by no means an "Indian" problem (witness Paul Bernardo and Russell Williams).

Let us look to Rinelle Harper, who has inspired others to come forward with their own stories, and begin healing. Like Malala, not only is she a survivor, but she has the resolve to address sexual violence with her unique voice.