The world was shocked following the tragic gang rape and murder of a 23 year old women in Delhi last month. This horrific attack has put the spotlight on India's ongoing struggle to embed equality into society and ensure women are treated with respect.
The number of reported rapes in India has increased drastically from 2,487 in 1971 to 24,206 in 2011, and this is only the official numbers. Cultural stigma means many attacks are not reported to authorities due to fear of bringing shame on the victim's family. Many Indians still believe that women who have been raped have brought the attack on themselves and are the ones to blame, not the attacker. This sort of ignorance is what is at the centre of the growing epidemic of sexual violence against women in India.
The attitude to girls and women within India is one of contradictions. This is a country that is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and whilst it has had a female prime minister in Indira Gandhi, its citizens have aborted a reported 50,000 female foetuses every month, provoked by a traditional preference for sons and supported by medical staff who are bribed into revealing the sex of a child. A country with such global economic influence cannot continue to let such atrocities occur and must make change.
The root of the problem is the lack of education on social equality at a local level. Until local community leaders are engaged and women's rights are really taught and recognised within communities, no real change will occur. There have been calls in India's Parliament for reform and the authorities have promised tougher laws against sexual violence, however cultural problems are harder to change and it is only education that will trigger true transformation.
Many people have suggested that this type of sexual violence is a class issue, and it is true that within rural and lower class communities in India women's rights are at their worst, however there is also a lot of evidence that women are not considered equal in middle and upper-classes. It is not a class issue, but an education issue throughout Indian society.
Time needs to be spent addressing the cultural issue causing the problem. Teaching respect and equality is the first step in solving such a long standing issue. It is now important to call on the Indian government and local authorities to take real action and quickly. The ongoing protests throughout India following this tragic murder illustrate that there is a demand for justice and change, and this can only be achieved through education to all generations. Teaching men and boys about women's rights and equality is the only way to trigger this much needed change.