PHOENIX, Arizona – Why should Americans care about violence against women in developing countries? Dianne Post, an international attorney based out of Phoenix, is an advocate for women’s rights and a gender expert in violence against women. She offers an answer you cannot ignore.
Post has worked in the U.S.A. and in over 15 countries across Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa on projects related to gender equality. She has assisted vulnerable populations in the developing world to fight for their human rights and freedom from violence through projects supported by USAID, WinRock International, American Bar Association, UN agencies, and other donors.
Before taking on Post’s point of view, look at what’s happening in India. In the midst of a court trial about a 22 year old girl who was gang-raped in Mumbai, another court convicted and sentenced to death four Indian men over the gang-rape and murder of a 23 year-old in Delhi.
These horrific and gruesome crimes led to rage and protests this year in India and have deepened their engagement with issues relating to violence and discrimination against women. Furthermore, more people inside and outside of India are talking about the problem – thus compelling the Indian government to put into place stricter laws protecting women. The Indian psyche now seems to have reached a point at which such treatment of women will no longer be tolerated.
Herein lies the solution that Post offers regarding violence against women – on a moral ground, each one of us has a responsibility to stop ignoring the problem. The main solution is to change the way people think. If we tolerate the violence, turn a blind-eye to it and not speak out, we too are helping to quietly sanction violence against women, whether it is here or abroad. Post explains that the problem of violence against women infiltrates many borders. It is prevalent here in the USA just as it is in India and other parts of the world.
Nicholas Kristof, New York Times journalist and activist for women’s rights, likened the Dehli gang-rape case with the one from Steubenville, Ohio where high school football players were accused of repeatedly raping an unconscious 16-year-old girl, lugging her like a sack of potatoes from party to party. From Ohio to South Africa where this week, the bodies of a 2 and 3 year old were found dumped in community toilets north of Johannesburg. Four men have been charged with the rape and murder of the two toddlers.
Post notes that treatment of the issue of violence is more advanced, socio-culturally and legally, in the USA than in the developing world – albeit there is still plenty of room for improvements here.
The Violence Against Women Act did not get signed into law until a couple decades later, in 1994. This kind of legislation came more than a century overdue, after Alabama became the first state to rescind the legal right of men to beat their wives (1871). Post points out that the developing world does not have to act this slow. Developing countries are advantaged by learning from America’s successes and mistakes.
They do not have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to legal and social-cultural reforms on treating issues of gender-based violence. They only have to adapt them to local conditions.
In addition to moral obligation, Americans should care about violence against women abroad because it will affect them down the line, whether they like it or not. Rapes and other abuses hamper women’s advancement, and since women consist of half of the world’s over 7 billion population, there can be enormous economic, social, and health consequences to all, including Americans.
Poverty, inequality and violence are inextricably linked. For example, the lives lost in war and terrorism in conflict-ridden Afghanistan is linked to the fact that the country hosts one of the worst inequalities between men and women. The U.S. cannot ignore its inter-connectedness to the increasingly globalized world.
Yet, just as negative begets negative, positive begets positive. Post reasons, and research verifies, that the more equality there is between men and women, the more economic and political stability there is. It promotes a safer and more productive world in which everyone, male and female, can make the most of their lives. So, as one women’s rights protester in India wrote on his placard (caught by a BBC photojournalist), “Let us look at ourselves first.”
– Maria Caluag