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Carla Buzasi

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The Week That Was: Women's Issues

Posted: 06/01/2013 00:00

While the debate continues over whether 2012 really was the so-called 'year of the woman' (or "year of the year of the woman" as the New York Times dubbed it), 2013 has so far been something of a mixed bag for the fairer sex.

The news, uncovered on Friday, that the Church of England is to lift its ban on gay members of the clergy from becoming bishops, was undoubtedly a huge step in the right direction for the Church, but it rather showed up the fact that women still don't get the same privilege.

The decision by the Church's House of Bishops, made back in December but only published in the Church Times this week, means that clergy who are in civil partnerships but promise to remain celibate will no longer be banned from being bishops. For the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, Friday's news will be something of a PR win, but means that pesky matter of women wanting the same rights isn't going away any time soon.

While in the UK we raise our eyebrows at the seemingly archaic rules still in place in our cathedrals, thousands of miles away, people are demanding action against far more serious issues.

In India this week, the furore kicked up over last weekend's tragic death of a young woman following her brutal rape in December, reached a noisy crescendo. Thousands took to the streets in Delhi - a city where a woman is raped every 14 hours, according to official figures - to march in protest at India's continued lack of action in protecting its female population from abuse and violence.

In answer to the outrage, the Indian government has set up a new committee to review its current rape laws and debate amendments, including the possibility of enhanced punishment for perpetrators of extreme sexual crimes. The retired supreme court judge who will preside over the committee, JS Verma, has apparently already received more than 18,000 emails from the general public with suggestions.

One idea, tweeted by junior minister Shashi Tharoor, would be to name any new anti-rape laws after the 23-year-old medical student - currently known in the press as 'Amanat', although this wasn't her real name - whose plight kick-started the protest marches.

"Wondering what interest is served by continuing anonymity of #DelhiGangRape victim. Why not name&honour her as a real person w/own identity?" Mr Tharoor asked his followers on Twitter.

"Unless her parents object, she should be honoured & the revised anti-rape law named after her. She was a human being w/a name, not just a symbol."

Amanat's family has said they would be honoured if that came to pass, although the Ministry of Home Affairs insists there is no precedent for that to happen.

Whatever the name of the amended laws, action is clearly needed in a country where rape and sexual attacks are rife, and rarely reported let alone prosecuted.

However, as Owen Jones wrote for the Independent recently, before we pass judgement, let us look to the facts and figures in our own country. Violence against women is not just an issue in India.

Amidst such bleak debates, there was a ray of light this week, with Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old Pakistani blogger shot in the head by the Taliban last year, finally being released from her hospital in Birmingham.

Although Malala will have to undergo more surgery in the coming weeks, medical staff at the Birmingham hospital where she has been treated for the past four months, judged her well enough to move to outpatient care.

While she recovers, the world around her has been inspired to make changes. The Pakistani government has funded her treatment in this country, the UN declared 10 November international Malala Day and the world at large has turned her into a figurehead for girls' right to education.

We should all be so inspired.

 

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