Reflecting on Kristof’s NYT piece: “Is Delhi So Different From Steubenville?”

I read, think and write about gender inequality often. For a while, it was my job to keep aware of news stories and opinion pieces on gender abuse and sexist behaviour. I just finished a research piece on the state of feminist discourse within International Relations. While I live in a fairly open, and much safer country than most – I continually see the unequal power distribution. Threats to bodily autonomy remain and pay inequity is still deeply entrenched in our corporate culture. Still, I am lucky, as are many of the women who live in Canada. 

This morning I read something that made me think more deeply on rape culture, and privilege, on a local level: Nicholas Kristof’s “Is Delhi So Different From Steubenville?”

Gender violence is one of the world’s most common human rights abuses. Women worldwide ages 15 through 44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined. The World Health Organization has found that domestic and sexual violence affects 30 to 60 percent of women in most countries.

Statistics are damning yes, but they only show a silver of the true problem. There are many pieces of literature that shock and awe with terrifying numbers. Here though, in this article, Kristof rightly places blame on leader’s failure to take strong stance against rape.

The United States could help change the way the world confronts these issues. On a remote crossing of the Nepal-India border, I once met an Indian police officer who said, a bit forlornly, that he was stationed there to look for terrorists and pirated movies. He wasn’t finding any, but India posted him there to show that it was serious about American concerns regarding terrorism and intellectual property. Meanwhile, that officer ignored the steady flow of teenage Nepali girls crossing in front of him on their way to Indian brothels, because modern slavery was not perceived as an American priority.

What happened in Delhi wasn’t surprising, nor is what happened in Steubenville. America saw how far a community will go to protect local heros at Penn State and sadly it is a reoccurring tragedy in Steubenville. Power and privilege being used to abuse those with less. Worldwide, rape is the greatest threat women face. Sexual abuse is common place in any country and we need leaders – leaders of any community, no matter how small, to be brave and to stand against rape.

It is hard to change a country’s mind and academic leaders like Cynthia Enloe, Chandra Mohanty, and Fred Halliday have written a great deal on gendered power imbalance and the dangerous culture it fosters for women locally and internationally. Fundamentally in Steubenville, in Delhi, and even here in Canada the power of women is centred in their bodily use. If a women puts down her drink, she was not being careful enough to not get date raped (as insinuated by a recent university campaign against alcohol abuse), if a woman wears a short skirt she is asking for aggressive attention, and if a woman goes to a party, drinks too much then she put herself at risk, and boys will be boys. 

There has been many successes in the feminist/equality movement. In my own communities I have seen outright sexist individuals change their tune completely. However, fundamentally, women are still treated with suspicion. Our bodies dictate our worth in many ways – beyond the superficial right down to the utility. The upsetting account of a ten year old girl exchanging oral sex for clean water as told in Kristof’s article and the all too common practise of sex slavery, or of being economically forced into the sex trade, demonstrate this.

I know there is no easy answer, but it is time leaders stand up and say the hard things. Convict rapists, stop victim blaming, educate men to NOT rape and stop placing the responsibility on women, and enact legislation policy/what ever that provides severe consequences for any abuse. 

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