A few weeks ago I went back to India, this time with ActionAid Italia for a project on violence against women in India. There’s a part of my life I haven’t shared with you yet, and won’t share until I finish my book, but for now let’s just say this is a topic that’s really close to my heart, so when ActionAid asked me to go on this trip with them I was beyond happy.
We spent a week in Bhopal—a city in central india in the state of Madhya Pradesh—working with the Gaurvi center (ActionAid partner in Bhopal) talking to women that had been victims of violence, documenting what happened to them, collecting their stories, taking their pictures… I won’t lie to you it was pretty heavy, the stories of these women were horrific, and as a woman myself I couldn’t help but thinking “this could happen to me’.
I gave a lot of thoughts of what it means to be a woman. No matter how much progress we made in gender equality, being a woman it’s still far more difficult and dangerous than being a man. Personal safety is always on the back of our mind. A man who’s simply walking down the street in the evening doesn’t have to worry of being raped. A woman does! Generally, the only time an adult man worries for his sexual safety is if he’s going to jail. A woman instead has to worry about it by simply existing. We have to put a lot more thought on how we dress, what we say, how we behave.
There’s so much work to do still to reach gender equality. But in the western world we have it a lot easier than many other women in less developed countries.
35% of women (1 in 3) worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
What I saw in India was heartbreaking. Being born a girl in India is a dangerous business. Although the law protects women’s rights there’s still a patriarchal society that devalues women as human beings and countless of them have to face violence on a daily basis.
Violence has many shades, there’s physical violence (in India 70% of women is at some point victim of domestic violence), that in the worst cases can turn into murder: dowry deaths, honour killings, witchcraft related murders, female infanticide and foeticide(which rates is to the roof today) are still happening; There’s sexual violence: rape, gang rape and marital rape are commonplace (In India an episode of sexual violence occurs every 20 minutes); There’s psychological violence, verbal abuses and threats; and the list continues with forced child marriage, acid attacks, human trafficking and abduction.
I want to share the stories of these brave women with you, they deserve to be heard!
STORIES OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN IN INDIA
Her husband started abusing her after she gave birth to a female child. The beatings were so bad that she lost her hearing on one side. The husband would rape her constantly in the attempt to have a male child. When Sayeeda got pregnant again and they found out it would be another girl the beatings got worst. Her sister (also victim of domestic violence) moved in with her to make sure she wouldn’t end up killed by the husband. After the birth of her second daughter she reported the husband and left. Both Sayeeda and her sister went back to their father’s home, where they are currently living with their children.
Her husband was an alcoholic and addicted to gambling. He would constantly abuse her, physycally and psycologically, treating her like a sex slave and not like a human being. He kept beating her even while she was pregnant. One day while he was gambling, he lost all of his money so he used Shital as currency to pay his debts and sold her to another man for a month.After 3 years of marriage and abuses he left her and the daughter for another woman and refused to pay her alimony. Today she is still fighting to get the financial help he owes her.
After getting married her mother in law started abusing her as she wasn’t happy she didn’t give any dowry when the marriage occured (even if they agreed to that prior to the wedding). Eventually, encouraged by the mother, he started beating her. One night when he came home for work, Rani had already cooked dinner and he got angry because she didn’t cook what he wanted and started beating her. The beating was so bad she remained paralyzed. After the accident her parents brought her back home. She’s now healing, her arm and the side of her face remain paralyed and she can’t walk properly but her helth condition is improved significantly from right after the beating.
Her husband was killed by his own brother. After his death Sayami’s in laws took her only male child away to make up for the loss of the son. One day Sayami decided to go get her son back. She took a tuk tuk to get into town. After a while two man got on the tuk tuk and started raping her in turns while the driver kept circling around. Eventually he stoped the tuk-tuk and raped her to then they left her in the street.
Sayam lost her phone in the tuk tuk and the police was able to track it down and find the rapests. All 3 of them are in Jail now.
She was raped by her boss 8 times. She asked for help at the center and they helped her get a new job. The man who raped her is now in Jail thanks to her courage to fight against him. She was recently harassed by her new boss too.
India is an incredible country, it has such a beautiful culture rich of spirituality, but it’s still a man’s land. And while in the west we are fighting for equal pay here women are still fighting for their life.
But I truly believe things can change. NGOs like ActionAid are doing an incredible job in helping speed up these changes but we all need to play our part to be an active component of this . Change in this case is both a matter of prevention and intervention. By empower girls and women we can give them tools to defend themselves. By giving girls an education, and educating young boys on equality we can prevent horrible situation from happening. Man needs to take part in this conversation too, violence against women is not just a woman’s issue, it’s a man’s issue too. And men listen to other men, boys listen to men. If more and more people take a stand we will see change sooner than later.
Gandhi said “be the change you want to see in the world” …I want to see a world where being born a female is not a disadvantage and I’ll play my part in making that world a reality. Will you?
A huge thank you to ActionAid Italia for this experience, it was intense, raw, beautiful and eyeopening. If you’d like to see the behind the scenes of this project this is a vlog I made 🙂 give it a thumbs up on youtube if you like it and don’t forget to subscribe to my channel!
*some names have been change to protect their privacy
Reading this makes me angry, sad, powerless and glad. I am so glad that people like you Sarah, showing us what kind of life those girls have. I am so glad that organizations like ActionAid do something to help them. Our western problems become so small and insignificant. I so totally agree with you about educating both girls and boys, teaching them to respect each other and about gender equality!
Such an awful thing to read about but so great that there are people like you to spread awareness and help. We love you Sarah xo
Thanks and I salute your work being a foreigner u have done a meticulous work Sara.I am Dr arunima from India.
Good job sara.. many people still don’t know about these untold stories…
Thank you for your effort in documenting these atrocities! I am a man and I don’t see why women should have to fight this fight alone. Abuse against other human beings is wrong in any form.
I am familiar with this because of Indian female coworkers at my job and a visiting professor from Chennai who is speaking on this at colleges and universities on the U.S. West Coast at this time.
You will be scared to death when you will come to know that not just uneducated and under poverty line females are suffering because of physical or mental abuse the highly educated rich family females are equally facing this hell life. Our country only makes the rights and laws but when it comes to execution everything is based on just core proofs and hence story ends for justice for females …
I feel great that i got a chance to read the reality that awesome thank u for sharing ur experience.
Exactly ! Scared to death isn’t even enough to say. It’s like a losing battle , when you try and convince yourself to see the light at the end of the tunnel , fully aware that there’s no opening there. Lack of awareness ,empathy , proper laws to protect us from abuse are the best weapons for victimisers … full support from our legal system in favour of the victimisers only makes it worse…