Last week I was in New York speaking at several events on the side lines of the United Nations General Assembly. At every event I spoke about the silence that deafens the issue of sexual violence and the negative impact it has on young girls and women including keeping them from achieving their true personal and professional potential.

Sexual violence on college campus is unacceptable

At many of these events there were Heads of State or former Heads of State, high representatives of most of the world’s governments and several United Nations organisations as well as activists, NGO leaders and artists, condemning sexual violence and promoting the Sustainable Development Goal 5 – Gender Equality.

While at the Social Good Summit, I spoke about how it was extremely difficult to address the issue if there was a lack of infrastructure that supports the survivor, lack of gender sensitivity amongst officials dealing with case and lack of data that can inform decision making. At the Concordia Summit, I was part of the Rise roundtable on “Breaking the Silence: Global Leaders Ending Sexual Violence” and we had two former Presidents present, from Nigeria and Ukraine, as well as the British Special Envoy for Women and Girls and the UN Foundation Special representative for Women and Girls. Each of them explained their stance on the issue, how they made an effort through their office on eradicating this violence and encouraging women and girls to speak up and get the help that they need.

Not only is it difficult to report sexual violence because of the shame that society forces upon a woman for no fault of hers, it also perpetuates the violence and discrimination by an insensitive police and judicial system

So in the context of speaking with world leaders about gender-based violence, it was especially shocking to see the events unfolding at the Benares Hindu University (BHU) over the last few days. Students have routinely complained about facing sexual harassment in public spaces and in response to the latest incident, they decided to stage a protest which resulted in some of the women students and journalists being beaten up by the police. These incidents highlight the blatant sexism and misogyny in practice at BHU where women’s hostels have a curfew of 8 pm, short skirts are not permitted and the Vice Chancellor of the university believes that eating non-vegetarian food makes women impure. The same rules do not clearly apply to the male hostels or for the men.

As I reflect on these incidents I am reminded once again about the silence regarding sexual violence. Not only is it difficult to report sexual violence because of the shame that society forces upon a woman for no fault of hers, it also perpetuates the violence and discrimination by an insensitive police and judicial system that makes a woman relive her experience. How can one report or how does one report when the very system that is meant to protect you believes that you are the cause of the violence?

I would love to see more Indian leaders take a stronger stand for gender equality and against sexual violence

And when you do have the courage to protest and take a stand, you are once again subjected to violence, shutting you up and robbing you of your rights.

Elsa Marie DSilvaOn one hand we have government schemes that aim to empower women and girls through “Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao” (Educate a girl, Save the girl child) yet educational spaces are not the safest of spaces for the girl. Policing women and girls is not the solution, ensuring their safety through an equal access to public spaces and the recognition of their right to be there just like their male counterparts is the solution. Unfortunately for that to happen, many mindset shifts have to take place from the Vice Chancellor to the peon.

I would love to see more Indian leaders take a stronger stand for gender equality and against sexual violence just like their international counterparts and send a message to all perpetrators that violence of any kind is not acceptable.

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