and murder of a 23-year-old female physiotherapy student from Delhi
—six men have been arrested for the attack, which took place on Dec 16—has rightly caused outrage and anguish across India
. Immediately after her death, following treatment in a hospital in Singapore
, Delhi was locked down by police to prevent outbreaks of public protest. Despite these measures, thousands of Indian citizens took part in peaceful vigils to express their anger at the violence
inflicted against this young student, as well as the harassment experienced daily by thousands of Indian women.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
has called for “a constructive course of action”. But there is agreement that India has failed to address a pervasive culture of sexual violence
and gender injustice. This political neglect has created a permissive environment where men can rape, beat, and kill a woman with impunity. India is a respected democracy that has delivered phenomenal economic success for its growing middle class. But the country’s inattention to fundamental protections and liberties for its citizens reveals a nation facing a moral turning point. We endorse the campaign
by the The Times of India
and others to address “the lack of respect for women in our patriarchal society”.
Yet it would be a grievous error to conclude that sexual violence is a predicament confined to India. It is not. Rape and other forms of violence against women and girls are a feature of all societies. In South Africa
, for example, as many as a third of men have taken part in acts of rape.
As a first step, sexual violence must be acknowledged as a reality by all of us, and its causes discussed. We must support the creation of safe systems for preventing, reporting, and remedying acts of sexual violence. As advocates for women’s health, health professionals have a special role in defeating rape. It’s time we exercised our voice more strongly. The greatest respect we can give to the memory of the Indian student who died on Dec 29 is by protecting and strengthening the political and social rights of women worldwide.