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India’s Rape Crisis: Responding with a New Multifaceted Approach


Written by Bethany Woodson

Source: Tumblr


As is often the case with issues of systemic violence, the root causes are complicated and intertwined. News media has recently refocused attention on the increased cases of rape in India. Particularly after the gruesome rape of a young girl in 2018, media attention brought this issue back to the forefront of public debate in India.[1] There are countless cultural, socioeconomic, and political reasons for violence against women in India, unfortunately an in-depth analysis of these reasons is out of the scope of this article. However, as this issue is deeply ingrained culturally, a multifaceted approach to this crisis is absolutely necessary. In order to increase the likelihood of successful interventions, the approaches must enhance capacity around the following key factors: access to survivor services with a focus on legal protection for women and girls, and social gender equality training that includes men and boys as well as women and girls.

Though India strengthened their anti-rape laws in 2013[2] and proposed additional changes in 2018,[3] lack of enforcement and protection for survivors often results in incident reporting and conviction of perpetrators which is extremely low in cases of sexual violence against women. What has become abundantly clear in the case of India, is that more stringent punishments alone cannot remedy an inefficient legal system, or protect women and girls who take on significant risks when reporting crimes. The frequency with which perpetrators of these crimes are known to survivors and their communities make the risks of reporting even more poignant.[4] More often than not these women and girls do not find justice. Legal proposals have included an offender registry, as well as systems to fast track rape cases, especially those involving children. While these are important contributions, judicial observers say that India does not have the infrastructure to make these changes.[5] Even legal changes that are widely praised by the public have not been implemented due to budgetary constraints.[6] Additionally, though legal protections are undoubtedly necessary, they must be implemented in conjunction with social, economic, and political changes.

Campaigns to end violence against women that have been conducted and tracked by UN Women can provide us with several guiding principles relevant to the Indian case. These include a holistic approach to victim services and prevention, education campaigns that target men and boys along with women and girls, and the promotion of local leadership and community engagement.[7] In addition to existing modules related to awareness raising and survivor services, there have been many successful campaigns to reduce violence against women across the globe. These include more broad and encompassing issues like human trafficking and forced marriage, as well as, specific issues like female genital mutilation and street harassment.[8] One important aspect missing in the response to violence against women in India is sufficient numbers of “professionally trained personnel (women’s rights lawyers, social workers, sexual assault nurses, psychoanalysts, medico-legal experts, trained policemen, etc.)” who can respond to survivor needs and create a network of resources.[9] In India, survivors of violent crime often prefer service provision and examinations be performed by women, however they are unlikely to find female examiners, police, legal professionals, etc. which leads to negative reporting experiences and reduces incidence of reporting.[10] Focusing on training existing personnel using best practices from other successful campaigns, as well as investing in programming which educates and empowers those interested in these professions, will ensure better service provision in the future, in addition to the added benefits of a more educated population, especially among women. 

Advocacy related to improving the legal system and increasing capacity of service providers are critical and will have wide-reaching consequences, however, these changes take time and must be completed in conjunction with social and behavioral change interventions. Gender equality campaigns globally tend to focus on the empowerment of women and girls, often through education and increased access to resources. While these efforts are important, necessary, and largely successful, patriarchal and misogynistic attitudes continue to rest with men and boys, allowing for harmful systemic and power inequities to persist in society. Patriarchal values are deeply rooted in Indian society and though India has seen growth and development in areas such as their economy, gender equity development has not followed.[11]

In some international development circles, the concept that bringing men and boys into the dialogue about gender equality is necessary to the success of gender equity development overall is gaining traction.[12][13] However, as is often the case with development programming, high-level acceptance does not always lead to grassroots programming, especially in rural communities. In 2015, a HeForShe bicycle rally held in Pune, India sponsored by the UN Women’s solidarity campaign was launched, however, the focus on engagement of men and boys along with these efforts beyond urban centers needs to be considered.[14][15] In addition, while campaigns like HeForShe are important for raising awareness and are usually successful in drawing attention, this type of programming rarely develops root cause solutions or the discusses the deeper issues at play. Increased programming around allyship for men and boys is called for by many organizations, and incorporating this missing piece would be a huge step for India.[16] Similar to other required programming and legal changes, shifting deeply ingrained views about gender roles will take time. However, increased funding for programming that targets men and boys, in addition to girls and women would be a promising first step. Those working on issues of gender equality both at local and global levels must ensure they are including men and boys in the dialogue around how empowering women benefits everyone and is not threatening for men and boys but rather, it is unifying. 

Addressing societal norms that have led to the rape crisis in India requires a multifaced approach and an investment in programming and systemic changes that will take time. However, all individuals can take action to be better allies and hold perpetrators accountable, regardless of gender or status. Increasing the productive dialogue around every individual’s responsibility to ensure the safety of women and girls by dismantling harmful societal norms and systems rooted in patriarchy is crucial to transformative change. 



[1] Biswas, Soutik. “Why India’s Rape Crisis Shows No Signs of Abating.” BBC News. BBC, April 17th, 2018. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-43782471.
[2] “Explaining India’s New Anti-Rape Laws.” BBC News. BBC, March 28, 2013. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-21950197.
[3] Thiagarajan, Kamala. “India Reforms Its Anti-Rape Laws – To Mixed Reaction.” NPR, May 4, 2018. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2018/05/04/608516694/india-reforms-its-anti-rape-laws-to-mixed-reaction
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Sharma, Prachi, M.K. Unnikrishnan, Abhishek Sharma. “Sexual violence in India: addressing gaps between policy and implementation.” Health Policy and Planning, Volume 30, Issue 5, June 2015, Pages 656-659. https://doi.org/10.1093/heapol/czu015
[7] Raab, Michaela and Jasmin Rocha. “Campaigns to End Violence against Women and Girls.” UN Women, December 2011. https://www.endvanow.org/uploads/modules/pdf/1342724232.pdf
[8] “Raising Awareness to End Violence against Women: Successful Campaigns.” European Women’s Lobby, March 12, 2014. https://www.womenlobby.org/-raising-awareness-to-end-violence-?lang=en.
[9] Sharma, Prachi et. al, 657
[10] Ibid.
[11] Himabindu, B.L., Radhika Arora, and N.S. Prashant, “Whose Problem is it Anyway? Crimes against Women in India.” Global Health Action, Volume 7, Issue 1, July 21, 2014: 23718, https://doi.org/10.3402/gha.v7.23718.
[12] “Engaging boys and young men in gender equality.” UN Women. https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/youth/engaging-boys-and-young-men-in-gender-equality
[13] Edwards, Sophie. “Why Include Men and Boys in the Fight for Gender Equality?” Devex. Devex, May 15, 2017. https://www.devex.com/news/why-include-men-and-boys-in-the-fight-for-gender-equality-90245
[14] “Engaging boys and young men in gender equality.” UN Women. https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/youth/engaging-boys-and-young-men-in-gender-equality
[15] Edwards, Sophie. “Why Include Men and Boys in the Fight for Gender Equality?” Devex. Devex, May 15, 2017. https://www.devex.com/news/why-include-men-and-boys-in-the-fight-for-gender-equality-90245
[16] Ibid.