News of the horrific gang rape and death by hanging of two so-called ‘low caste’ girls - 14 and 15 year old cousins from the Dalit community in Uttar Pradesh, northern India shows how vulnerable the poorest women and girls in India still are to violent sexual attack.
What is worse is that the rape of Dalit women in many places, but especially in northern India, is not being taken seriously enough.
So the initial reported laxity of the police in investigating the case has come as no surprise to ActionAid in India and our partners on the ground. Although as outrage grew, the local police chief insisted on a thorough investigation.
What was welcome was that Indian Minister of State for Women and Child Welfare, Maneka Gandhi immediately condemned the slow police start once it was brought to her attention and affirmed the importance of establishing rape crisis centres.
Another welcome development was the across-the-board condemnation by the Indian public and the widespread recognition by ordinary people that women’s rights are central to a mature democracy: a very clear achievement of the robust and strong Indian women’s movement.
Yet more still needs to be done.
A rape is reported every 22 minutes in India
A rape is reported every 22 minutes in India, according to official government statistics - although this in no way reflects the true numbers, which are much higher. Additionally, three in four rapes in India occur in rural areas amongst predominantly lower caste women.
That is why ActionAid’s new ‘one stop’ crisis centres for survivors of rape which we are setting up with government support will be targeting this most vulnerable of demographics.
But sexual and other forms of violence are not just an Indian problem. It is an international disgrace, affecting millions of women and girls every year. In the UK the number of recorded rapes of both adults and children has risen steadily since 2008.
Poverty increases vulnerability to violence
Poverty increases the vulnerability of women and girls to violence, while violence traps women and girls, their families and communities in poverty.
Worldwide, ActionAid is committed to helping women and girls break the cycle of poverty: to fulfil their potential and live lives without fear.