Skip to main content

India can learn respect for women

By Suniti Neogy, Special to CNN
updated 8:18 AM EST, Tue January 29, 2013
Suniti Neogy, the writer, at a community meeting in the village of Musepur in India, where she discussed the importance of men taking an active role in parenting.
Suniti Neogy, the writer, at a community meeting in the village of Musepur in India, where she discussed the importance of men taking an active role in parenting.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Suniti Neogy: Gang-rape, murder in New Delhi has forced many Indians to confront truth
  • She says she was asked to lead workshop promoting gender sensitivity in an Indian district
  • She said adult male teachers said they had not considered helping wives around house
  • Neogy: For kids to learn respect for women, they must see it modeled by adults they respect

Editor's note: Suniti Neogy works as a maternal health program coordinator in India for the global poverty-fighting organization CARE.

(CNN) -- The December gang-rape and murder of a young woman in New Delhi has stirred consciences in India in a way I have never before experienced: It has forced Indians to confront a terrible truth that for our girls and women, violence and discrimination are facts of daily life, an epidemic that, researchers say, claims nearly 2 million lives in India each year.

But now the real work begins for each of us who took to the streets in protest. How do we channel the energy of those demonstrations into real solutions for our communities?

I got a taste of the challenge earlier this month, when officials from the Barabanki district in Uttar Pradesh, a state adjoining New Delhi, asked if I would lead a workshop promoting teen safety and gender sensitivity for the government schools.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



I was disappointed to see they had invited only the heads of girls' schools. And so I accepted under one condition: that the principals of the district's boys' schools attend as well. Because if there's one thing I'm certain of it's that all the candlelight vigils, passion and protests will be in vain if we don't figure out how to make men and boys part of this growing movement to transform gender relations in my country.

For more than a decade I've worked for the poverty-fighting group CARE as a community educator on health and gender issues. I've seen how the deep inequalities between women and men trap millions of Indian families in cycle of poverty. But along the way, I've also met countless men who, given an opportunity, were willing to examine and improve their behavior towards the girls and women in their lives.

The fact is most people want what is best for their loved ones. Aggressive behavior toward women isn't innate. It's learned and can be unlearned. When prompted to reflect on their attitudes towards women's education, sharing domestic tasks, having girl children, and even violence, the boys and men I work with every day can and do change.

Opinion: Misogyny in India: We are all guilty

Often it starts with something simple, like the laundry.

I think of Ram, a man I worked with in the village of Pavaiya Viran. A husband and father with a macho job -- he drills underground pumps -- Ram attended sessions where he was given a chance to analyze gender roles in his life. He understood that men and boys are under pressure to express power and that when they feel weak or frustrated, their gut reaction is often to demonstrate power, even if that means violent or abusive behavior.

Ram eventually adopted a new outlook; that truly strong men don't show power, they show care. "Let the other men laugh at me for cooking and washing clothes," he told me. "Why should my wife alone do all things?"

'Slumdog' star weighs in on gang rape
Father of India rape victim speaks out
CNN rides along with Delhi police

Now I'm not saying men doing laundry is the solution. But each time he folds the linens, Ram shows his children he respects his wife and treats her as an equal, not someone subservient.

And so I kept thinking of Ram as I gathered with the group of 53 principals from boys and girls schools earlier this month. We addressed the importance of installing security cameras at school gates, assuring a woman driver or conductor is on every school bus, and having clean, working toilets at schools so girls and boys are not forced to go outside to relieve themselves. This was all necessary. But it felt like we were playing defense. Only when the educators were forced to hold a mirror up to their own lives did it feel like we were playing offense, too.

Opinion: End global rape culture

Many acknowledged that it's their duty as parents and community leaders to lead the next generation by example. One principal realized he'd never even considered doing household chores, not as a boy or, now, as a husband and a father. Another vowed to make gender equity a required part of parent-teacher conferences. By the end of the session, every man and woman in the room was thinking about changing not only others but also him or herself.

We have a long way to go, and not just in India. A World Health Organization global survey found that 59% of women in rural Ethiopia report being subjected to sexual violence from their intimate partner, 62% of women in Peru report physical violence at the hands of their partners and 30% of women in rural Bangladesh say their first sexual experience was forced. The problem is not confined to the developing world either. Nearly one in five women in the United States has been raped or has experienced attempted rape.

Even so, I'm confident that the Indian people can demonstrate to the world that we're not powerless in the face of some global epidemic. We can change. That starts by treating this moment not as some global airing of our dirty laundry but rather a national awakening to the reality that all of us -- girls and boys, women and men -- must do our part in cleaning it.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Suniti Neogy.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT