Mark Twain once said, “India is, the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grandmother of tradition. Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only.” It’s ironic how fondly he is referring to India as a female persona, yet today India is known for being the most dangerous county in the world for women – according to a recent Thomson Reuters Foundation survey. Government data shows that there are four cases of rape reported every hour in India. This fact leads me to the quote by Melanne Verveer, “No country can get ahead when it leaves half of its people behind.”
Although India has the world’s largest functioning democracy, gender equality is far worse there, than it is in countries where we would expect it to be atrocious, like Afghanistan where we see women facing insurgent violence, widespread physical and sexual abuse by state forces and honor killings. You would think that Afghanistan is the least favorable place for a woman to live. It is worse in India. Indian women are far more likely to be:
- enslaved as sex workers
- forced into debt bondage
- subjected to high rates of domestic violence
- female infanticide
- economic discrimination
The inclusion of economic discrimination as a form of violence is a huge underlying reason why women are mistreated in so many ways. Although women compromise 70% of the world’s poor, it is not always thought of as an act of violence. However, many manifestations of violence against women can be traced back to poverty, such as the tradition of forced marriages by family seeking to alleviate debt, the sale of female children into sex slavery and maternal mortality rates associated with lack of access to healthcare. Women are shown utter disregard and disrespect by men and are expected to keep quiet about any mistreatment, as a code of family honor.
The dirty secret about men’s crass abuse of power through sexual violence against women has hit the global press. We have all seen the protests in India against the grotesque rapes of toddlers, the gang rape of eight-year-olds, and of young women protesting human trafficking. Rightly so, a majority of the women in India do not feel safe alone on the streets, at work, in markets, or at home, even though they have learned how to cope with existential anxiety. Women are forced to survive by not going outside after dark without permission, censor their speech, cover their bodies with layers of clothing so they don’t “provoke” the attention of men, and avoid looking eye to eye with men.
Who is Helping Women?
Many social enterprises like my own company, World For Good, aim to elevate human rights in India. My company primarily focuses on anti-human trafficking in the forms of sex trafficking and modern-day slavery. We partner with nonprofit centers in India that provide fair wage opportunities for women who do not have good options to support themselves and that are at risk or are survivors of poverty, trafficking and slavery. The marginalized women are taught sewing skills, given free counseling and health checks and they also get help opening a bank account. For every handmade fabric bag World For Good sells, we are able to invest over half of the profit back into the nonprofit centers to buy more inventory, which pays the maker’s wages. People all over the US buy our fabric bags because they believe in the promise of what our brand will do for the women of India and their children.
There are many other social enterprises with the same business model that are working diligently to give the impoverished community a means to support themselves, but COVID-19 has hit our makers and our companies hard. Selling products has come to a halt, which means that the nonprofit centers are barely able to support the people they are trying to help because we are no longer able to buy inventory from them. When their income goes away, their safety goes with it because the survivors could possibly be forced back into the dire situation they escaped from.
You would never guess that India was one of the richest countries until the time of British rule in the early 17th Century. Women’s rights have been disintegrating ever since. Until the heads of state in India understand that no democracy is a democracy when half of the population lives in fear, they have no way of building back into a strong, sustainable and resilient country.
As the Founder and CEO of World For Good, Jennifer Moreau-Chick helps readers learn about how to elevate social and environmental sustainability in the business community so companies can differentiate themselves from their competitors. She has been featured in Conscious Company Magazine as a leader in social impact, in Conscious Magazine and has worked as a Marketing Director for 3 certified B Corporations for the past four years. Visit her blog here.