By JULIA REAVES
A woman is gang raped and flung from a bus in India, Nigerian terrorists are stealing girls and honor killings are common. In the most recent atrocity to make the papers, two innocent girls from a rural village in India’s Uttar Pradesh state went to the fields to relieve themselves when a group of men surrounded, raped and strangled them to death before hanging their bodies from a mango tree.
Uttar Pradesh’s Chief Secretary Alok Ranjan dubbed rape a “‘trivial incident” and said that “the crime should not be blown out of proportion.” When asked to comment further, the head of the state’s governing party, Mulayam Singh Yadav said, “Boys will be boys. They make mistakes.”
In India, a rape is committed every 22 minutes, although activists suggest that number is low because of “an entrenched culture of tolerance for sexual violence,” which leads many cases to go unreported.
“Women,” states AP writer Biswajeet Banerjee, “are often pressed by family or police to stay quiet about sexual assault, and those who do report it are often subjected to public ridicule or social stigma.” In other words, boys are allowed to be “just boys” and girls are taught to be quiet. There are no statistics that measure how unjust this is.
Most international parties agree that stopping crimes against women must start with changing culture. “The remedy,” suggests development economist Nake Kamrany, “would have to emanate from the cultural tradition of citizenry; accordingly, the collaboration of local communities, institutions, national authorities and international bodies is essential to influencing change and promoting the value of women.”
There are numerous national and international measures being taken to make systemic cultural shifts. Kamrany writes: “In India, the Prevention of Immoral Traffic, the Dowry Prevention Act and the Sati Act to prevent widow burning” are helping to empower women and protect their rights.
Even while all these great policies are being implemented, girls are still dying. Cultural change isn’t happening fast enough, as boys and men aren’t being provided with powerful enough ways to see how eradicating gender inequality might help them. Here’s something one village is doing, however, that I think benefits women, girls, men and boys:
Mango Girls, a documentary coming out September 2014, is about a small village in called Dharhare that is eradicating female infanticide even as it is creating a green zone by planting ten mango trees whenever a daughter is born. The money collected from selling the mangoes pays for these daughters’ educations and weddings. This practice began 200 years ago and has completely broken the taboo against giving birth to girls, who in other villages, towns and indeed, all around the world, are considered burdens, property and unworthy, all things that contribute to femicide and girls and women being raped and even, like the two teen girls in Uttar Pradesh, killed.
Planting mango trees is a solution can be implemented quickly. If other villages followed suit, in just one generation, educating girls would provide a long-term solution to not only gender equality, but would increase the economic stability of their village.
Statistics show that when girls are educated, “a country’s GDP increases on average by three percent.” Think about it: if the method of growing ten mango trees per girl were incorporated into the fabric of villages throughout India, the value of girls would rise, villages would prosper and India would be a model for growth.
The atrocity of the recent deaths of the two teen girls in India should help call us to action. A girl would be revered, not raped, and her mango trees would be used to help her prosper rather than be a part of her rape and murder scene.
Dharhare has created a method for change that should be implemented throughout India. Let’s make it happen.
Julia Reaves is a teen student who believes that the power of literate women is boundless. She was born at the height of China’s one-child policy amidst family-pressured abortions and femicide. Through the sacrifice of others she came to the U.S. where she is receiving an education and uses the privilege of her education to make a plea on behalf of other girls around the world.