- Even as women all over the world courageously march on, bear in mind that incidents of violence against them have increased worldwide during the pandemic lockdowns.
After watching the Hindi movie “Chhapaak,” based on a true story about an acid victim in India, my tear-filled eyes were open to yet another atrocity that disportionately affects women. Laxmi Agarwal, was burned with acid in Delhi in 2005 when she was just 15 years-old. She has since become an advocate for banning the sale of acid in India and supporting acid attack survivors. Women in India and around the world endure constant microaggressions and hate crimes yet, as Maya Angelou says, and as Laxmi Agarwal shows, “still we rise.”
Dowry demands, acid attacks, rape, domestic violence, lack of economic independence are just some of the glaring injustices that face women in India and around the world.
Even though dowry has been illegal in India since 1961, it is still prevalent. According to the National Crime Records Bureau of India, less than 10,000 cases of dowry were reported in a country with nearly 10 million weddings a year. Even Indian families in the U.S. expect the bride’s family to pay for wedding expenditures and we know, Indian weddings aren’t cheap.
Furthermore, India tragically tops the global charts when it comes to acid attacks targeting women. Despite stricter laws on acid availability, the number of attacks continues to rise.
The incidents of violence against women have increased worldwide since the lockdowns were implemented. India sees 88 rape cases a day with a conviction rate below 28%. A survey by Thomas Reuters Foundation in 2018 ranked India as the most dangerous country for women. India had 100 % increase in complaints related to violence against women since COVID-19 hit. Violence continuously sets women back in their physical, mental and economic well-being.
In India, girls belonging to wealthy families in the top 20% get nine years of education on average, while girls from families in the bottom 20% get hardly any at all. Even those who make it to school are often pulled out when money is tight. In addition, more than 23 million girls drop out of school annually because of a lack of toilets in school and proper menstrual hygiene.
Yet, despite these challenges women have made significant contributions over the past 50 years. We’ve launched into space, we’ve made the Fortune 500 list, we are president’s of nations, and have won Nobel Peace Prizes, the list can go on. The underlying theme of all these pioneering women is “girl power,” — independence, confidence and resilience.
These injustices against women in India and around the globe are designed to rob them of this power. The only way to hold on to this power is by standing together.
As many of us Indian American women are thriving, this International Women’s Day, let’s lift our sisters up who may just be barely surviving. Instead of posting selfies that say we support women, consider volunteering, donating or supporting a cause that lifts women up around the world. Let’s talk about these gender inequities in open forums, derive solutions, and teach our children both boys and girls that discriminatory crimes against women cannot be tolerated.
We can celebrate our successful women with pride while also giving back to sheroes like Lakshmi Agarwal, who are making tremendous strides for women after her by helping them keep their “girl power.”
(Top illustration by Harshad Marathe for Human Rights Watch)
Dr. Asha Shajahan is a primary care physician, writer and podcaster from Detroit, Michigan.