Calls for women-led solutions to end widespread rape and gender violence in India are increasing. But opportunities for Indian women to tackle these issues as elected officials are not.
In 2012, after a young Delhi woman was gang raped and died of her injuries, India erupted in protest. The global community joined Indian activists in calls for an end to rape and impunity in the country and sparked national debate on the treatment of Indian woman.
Now, activists want that debate to translate into meaningful commitments to end rape and bring more women into the political decision making process. India is in the midst of the largest election in history—expected to last five weeks. But only seven percent of the 3,355 candidates in the first five stages of the nine-stage election are women.
Already in this election, two politicians have sparked controversy through comments blaming rape survivors and excusing rapists. Abu Azmi, of India's Socialist Party, told a reporter that women who had premarital sex should be sentenced to death, even if they were raped. And another politician, Mulayam Singh Yadav, also came under harsh criticism for suggesting women often fake rape to get back at men with whom they have disagreements. He is working to repeal India’s death penalty for rapists, based on the assertion that "boys make mistakes."
As with the 2012 Delhi gang rape, these comments are galvanizing India's women's movement. Numerous women's groups are raising their voices in opposition and have even been joined by celebrities, such as actress Yami Gautam. Women journalists are also pushing the issue of gender representation on India's political agenda, calling for political parties to fulfill promises to meet gender quotas.