Today marks International Women’s Day, an event celebrated since the early 1900s, when women fought for better pay, shorter hours and the right to vote. American women finally gained the right vote vote in 1920, with the passing of the 19th Amendment. And in 2013, the scenery has changed drastically. Presently, there are 98 women serving in the 113th U. S. Congress, a record-breaking number. And just yesterday, President Obama signed the Violence Against Women Act into law.
So why do we still need International Women’s Day? Or in the words of a friend, “When did half our species need a special day to be celebrated and appreciated?” Why? Because unlike Mother’s Day or Father’s Day or Grandparent’s Day, International Women’s Day is not only a celebration of the rights we have gained, but a time to assess all of the work we still have to do. Because we live in a society where sexual violence against women has become normalized.
To commemorate International Women’s Day, I invite you to read a number of stories penned by female survivors of sexual abuse. First, a powerful essay penned by India Ink contributor Nilanjana S. Roy, where she opens up about her own experience as a survivor of sexual abuse. In it, she writes, “I’m breaking my silence today to make a point, not about abuse, but about the importance of consent in the present debate over women’s rights and gender equality in India.”
I also suggest you watch the video of American filmmaker Sandi Higgins, who shares her story with MTV Desi. Troublingly, the first comment on the page was from an IBM India employee, who wrote, “Ur [sic] responsible for your safety. Its [sic] India bitch.” Troubling (and a clear violation of IBM’s Social Computing Guidelines), but unsurprising.
But like I’ve said before, violence against women isn’t limited to the subcontinent. It takes place every day, everywhere – including North America. As Harsha Walia writes in her essay, “Delhi: From Shame to Defiance,” low conviction rates are thrown around as somehow unique to India, ignoring equally low conviction rates in North America and Europe.”
And last, but not least, the story of Fulbright scholar Shalini Kantayya, and her assault in a hotel room in India. She also addresses the myth that sexual violence is confined to one specific continent, environment or situation. Kantayya writes, “Sexual violence against women is ubiquitous. It happens to women everywhere, however educated, however empowered, across boundaries of race, class, and nationality.”
In my own experience, many of my female acquaintances, including myself, have faced sexual abuse in some form or the other. I was honored to share my story in The Survivor’s Project: Telling the Truth About Life After Sexual Abuse, an anthology of stories co-edited by my editor and friend at Philadelphia Weekly, Indian-American journalist Nina Hoffman, along with her husband, Joel. I hope that on International Women’s Day, other women, too, will feel compelled to share their stories.