Friday, August 29, 2008

Indian Women: Backlash against progress

According to an article in Dawn, there is a growing male backlash to the increase in progress made by women in India.

"For India’s middle-class urban women, the past decade has brought unprecedented opportunities to advance in a social order long dominated by men. But a powerful male backlash has accompanied the women’s revolution, an up-welling of resentment that has expressed itself in sexual violence and harassment.

In India today, women are working in lucrative retail and technology jobs, sometimes in cities far from their hometowns. Economic independence has, in some cases, allowed them to delay marriage and early childbirth. Social mobility among India’s young is also undermining the country’s traditional joint-family system, in which couples are expected to move in with the husband’s parents. The shift has empowered the modern Indian wife, freeing her from the scourge of the bossy, nosy mother-in-law.

At the same time, however, the number of reported instances of domestic violence, rape and dowry killings is spiking in South Asian cities, according to women’s groups, demographers and sociologists.

Violence against women is the fastest-growing crime in India, a recent study concluded. Every 26 minutes a woman is molested, every 34 minutes a rape takes place, and every 43 minutes a woman is kidnapped, according to the Home Ministry’s National Crime Records Bureau.

With about 19,000 reported rapes a year, India ranks fifth highest in that category out of 84 countries studied, according to a 2006 report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. But women’s groups say fewer than two per cent of women who have been sexually assaulted in India report the crime to police, largely because the social stigma attached to rape may undermine a woman’s chance for marriage.

The United States, where the reporting of sexual attacks is more common, ranks highest in the world, with 95,000 reported rapes each year.

Experts predict that the number of sexual attacks in 2008 may exceed the total in 2007, when 544 rapes were reported in the city.

Part of the problem is also that men’s expectations of women have not kept pace with the changes women are experiencing at home and at work. The change in power has been too fast for some Indian men, whose intense curiosity about women can often be traced back to a segregated youth."

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