Don’t teach me what to wear, tell your sons not to rape

This week the London School of Economics Gender Institute  in collaboration with Imkaan and the South Asia Solidarity Group organised an open meeting in solidarity with India’s anti-rape protests and to confront gender violence in Britain.

The highlight of the meeting, attended by women’s organisations, academics, activists and interested individuals, was the input from Kavita Krishnan of the All India Progressive Women’s Association. Kavita joined the meeting from India via Skype and spoke eloquently about the situation in India and how the brutal gang rape of a 23 year old woman on a bus in Delhi has led to protests on an unprecedented scale, and prompted a rare opportunity for debate and discussion about violence against women and girls (VAWG) in India, and all over the world.

Much of the meeting focused on how we challenge a culture of acceptance towards VAWG, both in India and the UK. Kavita told us about the victim blaming attitudes that plagued the commentary in India immediately after the attack, calling for further restrictions on women in the name of their safety, and in the process subliminally blaming women for the violence that happens to them.

Blaming women for the violence they experience is not a problem unique to India. Marai Larasi, director of Imkaan, spoke of the recent revelations involving Jimmy Savile, and the culture of acceptance that allowed Savile to perpetrate abuse, unimpeded, for so long. Marai also highlighted the need to not ‘other’ VAWG by exoticising it; it isn’t a problem unique to other countries or other cultures, it is prevalent here in the UK, and many of the root causes are the same.

Internationally, violence against women is widely recognised as a human rights issue. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon identified VAWG as one of the most ‘heinous, systematic and prevalent human rights abuses in the world.’ The European Court of Human Rights has made a number of recent rulings against countries that fail to protect women from violence.

The UK Government has been outspoken about VAWG as a human rights issue in the developing world, however when it comes to recognising VAWG here in the UK as a human rights abuse that urgently needs addressing, Government ministers tend to be less vocal.

The Savile case is a prime example of the state failing in it’s duty to protect women from violence. Various public authorities, including the Crown Prosecution Service, the Police, and the BBC were all in the firing line when news of the scandal broke and details emerged, however what has been largely absent from the commentary is any recognition that violence against women perpetrated on this scale is a serious human rights abuse.

The Savile case, and others before it, have shown time and time again that there are problems with the ‘systems’ responsible for dealing with violence against women in the UK, and coupled with a culture that normalises violence towards women, we are left living in a society where violence against women is not challenged. Human rights, and the Human Rights Act in particular, have a key role in helping to fix this broken system, however the first step is to recognise VAWG as a human rights abuse that urgently needs addressing in the first place.

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