Over the past year and a half, I've been focused on addressing these issues of rape and sexual assault in developing countries around the world through my company Kuros. I've been doing this by arming women with pepper spray as a way to provide physical protection against these attacks, and while we have seen it actually working in protecting the women we have armed, I still do not consider it the final solution to the overarching problem of this sexually based war against women.
I've been thinking about this for some time, and I have decided to put down my thoughts on what I personally consider to be the steps we need to take as a world towards a long term solution to these issues of sexually based violence. I will be breaking this into a three-part post, and I want to begin this series by saying these are merely my thoughts based on personal observations while working in this sphere.
I broke these points down into an easy to remember acronym... A.C.T. N.O.W.
I will go over these points two at a time, starting from the top with:
Accept. The first step in this process, is to accept that we have a problem here. Now this is not a new concept, many "rehabilitation" programs begin this way... before we can work towards ending sexual assault world wide, we need to first begin by acknowledging it exists on a global scale. One country that has become strongly associated with this problem of sexual assault is India. A country in which an estimated one in three women experience sexually based violence at least once, and the first country that I focused on with Kuros when I started arming women to protect themselves.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a huge step last week by addressing the issue of rape during his first Independence Day speech. Using his biggest speech of the year, Modi broke a long standing political silence by admitting that the rape culture India has cultivated is a source of national shame, and challenging citizens to change their perceptions about it. That's a huge step as far as i'm concerned; most Indian politicians and political figures have been choosing to avoid these issues, and it's refreshing to finally have the prime minister acknowledge it on an international scale. Yet just one instance of admittance isn't enough, we need to keep pushing. Sexual assaults are a global issue, the reality is that these crimes aren't confined by geographic borders or ethnic boundaries, they can happen anywhere and to anyone. Which brings me to the second point...
Categorization. I believe that we need to stop looking at these issues of sexual assault and violence against women as strictly a "women's issue". These issues are far too large to be restricted by a sex or gender label, these are issues of basic human rights, and as humans we have the right to live our lives without violence or fear. A human rights issue affects every single one of us, and when we label something as a women's issue it bifurcates the problem. We have to make this an issue that we can all recognize in color instead of continuing to make it black and white, because it's hard for us to get momentum behind a change in perception when we continue to divide it... especially when a lot of people don't seem to care about an issue unless they perceive it is actively affecting them.
Now, I realize that if you're reading this you're most likely already rather informed and socially involved. Our goal here is to engage the people that are not actively seeking out new perspectives or ideas, and we do this by re-categorization as mentioned above. As we said before, sexual assault affects us all... no matter who you are or where you're from. If we want to make steps towards changing this it will require commitment no matter what our sex or gender is, because the reality is that these are our mothers, sisters, and daughters that are being affected by this. What we are fighting for here isn't tangible, it isn't a change in laws or policy, it's a change in perception... and the sooner we can shift away from this societal perception of sexual assault as a women's issue, the sooner we can work towards solving it.
I understand that this might come across as idealistic. After all, it's easy for us to talk about ways to make a change, and harder for us to actually do something about it. Major shifts in attitude and perception like this take time, more time than just one generation. It will be discouraging at times not seeing the immediate results of our work, and as Malcolm Little once said "if it's not going to do something for you and me right here and right now--to hell with that gospel". The reality is that in the time it takes to make these changes, millions of women will be assaulted or murdered. So until that day comes, when we can all live in a world of equality, I will continue to work in the "here and now" and arm these women around the world who want protection.
Love it or hate it? Please, leave a comment or send me an email with your thoughts. I think it's important to facilitate an open and active discussion about this, because while rape and sexual assault aren't easy to talk about, the reality is that they are much more common than many of us want to admit.