The panel was titled “Breaking the Silence,” and the five South Asian women on the panel did just that, bringing the issue of gender-based violence to the fore at the Spring Meetings of the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund.
Gender-based violence surged to global public attention following the brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old New Delhi student in December, who later died from her injuries. The case sparked a movement called “1 Billion Rising,” with rallies and events in India and throughout the world. Other gender-based attacks such as the shooting in Pakistan of Malala Yousafzai, a teenage advocate for girls’ education, have added to the outrage.
Moderator Barkha Dutt, a noted Indian television journalist and columnist, asked whether the recent outcry marks an “inflection point,” and whether a new law in India will help matters.
“I’m hugely optimistic that this horrific moment ... is going to translate and already is translating into some extraordinary changes,” said panelist Ratna Kapur, a professor at Jindal Global Law School in India who practiced law for a number of years in New Delhi. “Thousands and thousands of people (are) coming out onto the streets, young men and women, and it's become a political issue.”
But she and other panelists agreed that India’s new law, which includes the death penalty for rape in some cases, is too focused on police and the justice system, and not enough on women’s empowerment.
“Violence against women is an issue of rights, not just law and order,” Kapur said, adding that the new law “reproduces the understanding of the traditional Indian woman.”
“It could be a tipping moment if we now build on it, if governments and society stay with it, build on it, look at the reasons for the violence against women, look at the reasons for discrimination against women, and then come up with long-lasting solutions to it,” said Seema Aziz, a Pakistani businesswoman and founder of the CARE educational foundation. “Otherwise this will pass as everything else passes.”