Not a Billion More

February 14, 2013

One Billion Rising

I was in Delhi on December 17 when tens of thousands marched in solidarity to support a young victim of rape.

On the evening of December 16, this young woman and her friend boarded a bus to return home after watching a movie. Her friend was attacked, while she was assaulted and raped by five men on the bus. Both were then left to die on the side of a busy street. Her injuries were so severe, that she succumbed to them a few weeks later.

Angered by her plight, thousands took to the streets to demand justice and accountability from a system that they think routinely ignores issues around women’s safety. Subsequently, the Indian government showed uncharacteristic speed in apprehending and trying the suspects. And now substantial efforts are under way to overhaul the country’s legal, social, and cultural response to violence against women.

One in three women worldwide will face gender-based violence in her lifetime. Most of these cases will not inspire such mass action. I’ve been in my hometown of Delhi countless of times in the past, where the very obvious and common public sexual harassment of women and oft-reported rape of girls is usually ignored amidst a proliferation of victim-blaming stereotypes and a slow and lumbering judicial system.

This time was different.

Perhaps it was the obvious failure of the police and government officials to prevent such a brutal attack that happened on a public bus.

Perhaps it was the diligence of the mainstream media that provided competent non-stop coverage of the protests and added fuel to a national conversation about gender based violence.

Perhaps the assault was the brutal epitome of the deep dissatisfaction that millions of Indians have with their current political system.

Or perhaps tens of thousands of Indians mobilized because they drew inspiration from the reported courage of a young woman who survived a brutal attack and fought to stay alive and demand justice.

Whatever the reasons, the capital city that also has one of the highest rates of reported rapes in India, became ground zero for a people’s revolution demanding the basic human right of safety for women.

This Indian revolution is now enlarged by the One Billion Rising campaign, a worldwide movement against gender-based violence that is amplifying the cases of a billion survivors of assault throughout the world, including in the U.S., who also await recognition and justice for the crimes committed against them. Alexandra Hidalgo in Venezuela, members of Stolen Sisters in Canada, Norma Cruz in Guatemala, the women of Atenco in Mexico, and members of the Girfina youth group in Sudan are all individual victims and survivors whose cases compel us to action. We rarely hear about their stories in the mainstream press. Their cases, and the systematic abuses of human rights that undergird their trauma, are not on the table as governments negotiate weapons treaties, tariffs, cross-border terrorism, and economic cooperation all in the name of increasing security and safety.

But they should be.

Not all of us have the opportunity to march in Delhi, Washington D.C., Caracas, Ottawa, Mexico City, or Khartoum, but we can all still join this revolution. We can write letters and send emails and use social media to support these individual women to demand justice for them in their respective countries. We can urge our elected officials in the U.S. to pass the International Violence Against Women Act and reauthorize a strong and inclusive Violence Against Women Act to help eliminate gender-based violence at home and abroad. We can thank those Representatives who are taking a personal stake in ensuring justice for these individual survivors through the Defending Freedoms Initiative of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and we can encourage other Members of Congress to join this important initiative.

We should do so because we don’t want there to be one billion more.

Originally posted on the Huffington Post.