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Rape, violence, control – India is not alone

Published by Lynne Featherstone on Monday, December 31st, 2012 at 11:51 am

When I came into post in the Home Office – Theresa May called me into her office and said that David Cameron wanted to appoint me as Minister for tackling Violence Against Women Overseas and policy coherence across Whitehall for this agenda – which I was very pleased to accept.


Right now there is a lot of publicity, quite rightly and thank goodness, on the dreadful multiple rape of a young medical student in Delhi – who has sadly now died. Six of her attackers have been charged with murder. Let us hope that the high profile nature of this case brings change: change in laws yes – but even more importantly change in attitude and change in action taken


I paste below part of a speech I made to Liberal Democrat conference when I returned from India.


On my first visit as Ministerial Champion, I visited India.


Now in India, women occupy four of the most senior political positions – Head of State, President of the Congressional Coalition, Head of the Opposition party and Speaker of the Lok Sabha.


But from my visit it became clear that despite this political representation, India, like many other countries across the globe can still be a very unsafe place for women.


On one of the days, I went to the village of Patna, in the northern state of Bihar – where reported incidents of domestic violence are highest in all of India.


In this region, two thirds of all women have suffered violence at the hands of their husbands.


And some of the stories I heard – of rape, of beatings, of kidnap and imprisonment – were truly harrowing.


Now I met with Ministers and civil groups trying to change this, and I commend both their efforts and their intentions.


But India proves that women in power doesn’t always mean empowered women.


And legislation alone will not solve these problems.


For women to feel truly safe when they walk home from work late at night, what has to change is attitudes.


There must be social change, cultural change.


And this must be achieved through the education of men and boys, as well as through new laws that move away from the dangerously outdated notions of a woman’s “modesty” and “virtue”and towards a judicial system that says sexual crime, domestic violence, and the abuse of women in all its forms is nothing less than an affront to their human rights.


But I do not preach to these countries blind to our own failures, conference.


Because we in Britain must admit that we have not solved the issue of violence against women.


And that we have our own outdated cultural norms to overcome.


Our country still has unacceptable levels of domestic violence, terrible conviction rates for rape, and a serious problem with human trafficking.


It is simply not acceptable that in a modern democracy like ours, an average of two women a week are murdered by their partners or ex-partners.


But neither is it acceptable for our law-makers, no matter how-well intentioned, to talk about rape in a way that seems both casual and callous.


As a nation, and as a Government, we must be clear that we understand that rape and sexual violence is about power, not about sex.


That what a woman wears, or does, or says, will never be justification for violence against her.


And that abuse in the home, by someone you know, is no less traumatising than abuse by a stranger.


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