Many of the stories coming out of India over recent weeks have been those of brutality, cruelty and outrage.
But there are also thousands of individual stories of ordinary women’s survival and struggle in the face of violence and abuse.
One of these many untold stories is that of Ranjana*, a young woman who my colleagues recently met in central India.
Ranjana was married at the age of fifteen to a violent man who would get drunk and beat her every day while her in-laws watched on in silence. When Ranjana gave birth to her first child, a girl, she was not given any food and was beaten in front of the whole village.
She was punished this way because she’d given birth to a girl rather than a boy. On several occasions, her husband threatened to kill her. She later gave birth to two sons, and eventually fled after her husband started beating their children.
Through Oxfam’s partner organisation, Ranjana joined a self-help group where she learned about government schemes for divorced women, and received assistance to take her husband to court to seek financial support.
She was also able to share her story with other women who had been in similar situations. This process helped all the women involved build confidence to move forward in their lives.
Despite being abused by her husband, and with no support from her family, Ranjana had the courage and strength to rescue her children and take legal action. With some support, she fought back – and many others in India are starting to do the same.
As part of Oxfam’s global “We Can End Violence Against Women” campaign, thousands of men and women in India are pledging to change their behaviour and influence others in their communities to stop violence and discrimination against women.
Through Oxfam programs, women in India have also been working with police and community leaders, providing counselling and legal support to victims of violence, and intervening to prevent child marriages and sex-selective abortions of female foetuses.
The mass protests that swept across India after the gang rape of a young woman in Delhi three weeks ago have been replicated in Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
The attack has sparked a fire of protest and condemnation that is allowing women’s stories of violence, abuse and survival to gain worldwide attention. This tragic case has the potential to be a turning point for change in women’s lives in South Asia and beyond.
I hope the story of the young woman will not only inspire survivors of violence, but also strengthen the resolve of the women and men who have poured onto the streets in India and across South Asia, to demand justice for their daughters, mothers, sisters and wives.
It’s important though to remember that the systematic and pervasive culture of violence against women is not just an issue for India, or even South Asia.
According to UN Women, globally up to 70 per cent of women experience physical or sexual violence from men in their lifetime — the majority by husbands, intimate partners or someone they know.
Here in Australia, one in three women will experience violence in an intimate relationship. But each and every one of us can play a part in helping bring an end to violence against women.
We can do so by championing women’s rights in our communities, lending our voice to global and national women’s and human rights movements, and supporting development programs that work to change attitudes and beliefs, and to help survivors.
Let’s create a social and political power for global change away from attitudes and practices that condone violence and discrimination against women, towards those that ensure justice for women and girls.
We all have the power to make violence against women a thing of the past. It has been 20 years since the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Let’s not wait another 20 years for making our world safe and just.
By Alexia Huxley, acting Executive Director, Oxfam Australia
This opinion editorial was first published by The Punch on 9 January 2013.