By Basile Roze:
When Salma Rehman arrived in Paris last year, it was her first visit to France. The 24-year-old Indian journalism student was eager to discover the Pays des Droits de l’Homme, as it is called, and was joining one of Paris’ schools of journalism for a semester. In this school, Sciences Po, she met with several people including a 22-year old aspiring journalist, born and raised in Paris. Only a few minutes after they met, he was already asking the same question many others would ask her for the next 6 months: “Salma, how is it to be a woman in India? Isn’t it too difficult?”
This young Paris-born aspiring journalist was me. I was this white male asking a girl coming from the far and mysterious Orient if it was not too horrendous being a woman in her home country, while being slightly patronizing and slyly neo-colonialist about it.
When I met with Salma, rape was the first issue that came to my mind. I had seen many reports and read some articles about the ‘Rape Culture’ in India, and the 2012 bus gang rape that took place in New Delhi – a horrible event that had been heavily covered by world media, and had particularly marked me.
When I bluntly asked this question to Salma, she did not get upset; although she could have been slightly embarrassed by the arrogant westerner in front of her, she was patient and soft. She answered very simply; she was very passionate about this issue. “Indeed, being a woman in India is difficult, not only because of rape, but also because of the deeply paternalistic structure of society”, she explained.
What I vaguely sensed at the time was that there is, indeed, a rape issue in India. Every day throughout the country, 93 women are being raped, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2013 data.
What I did not imagine, however, or rather what I refused to imagine, is that 203 women are raped every day in England and Wales, as a report entitled “An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales,” released in 2013 by the Ministry of Justice, the Office for National Statistics and the Home Office, has shown.
What I could not think of, at the time, is that it only takes 107 seconds for another person to be sexually assaulted in the United States, according to the top U.S. anti-sexual violence organization, the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN).
In an unprecedented study conducted last year by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), called “Violence against women: an EU-wide survey,” I discovered that out of the 42,000 women that had been interviewed throughout the European Union, one in three had reported some form of physical or sexual abuse since the age of 15.
Denmark ranked the highest, with more than 50% women reporting abuse since the age of 15, and France was ranking extremely high, at the 5th position, as 44% of French women denounced abuses. We are not simply talking about rape here, but about the little things that make a woman’s life very different from a man’s one: insisting whistling in the streets, repeatedly wandering hands at a party, an ex-partner who did not understand is not allowed to follow you everywhere, a partner who refuses to understand that no means no.
Forty-four per cent. I realized I would need to ask the same question I asked Salma, to my mother, to my girlfriend, to my girl friends. I did so, and the least I can say is that it needed to be done. There are questions that need to be asked. There are taboos we need to face.
I have no doubts that today it is very difficult to be a woman in India, especially because I spent the months that followed my encounter with Salma, passionately discussing the issue with her. But I doubt being a woman in France, in the UK, or in the United States is any easier. It is time for us to address this.