The year is slowly coming to an end, taking the most halting steps as it does, and as I find myself looking ahead to 2013, I can’t help but linger on some of the stories that I sit with now. I blog so infrequently that I am resisting temptation to do a year-end wrap-up so much better suited to other outlets and starting instead where I left off this summer, in India, and try to look out from there.
This past Sunday, a 23-year-old Delhi woman was gang-raped and beaten on a luxury bus on her way home from a movie. The details of attack on the med student, who was accompanied by a male companion, are as shocking in their brutality as they are in their familiarity. Reports from the region suggest that in this economic boomtown of 20 million people, as many as 80 percent of women say that they have been, at the very least, sexually harassed. Now, as the young woman fights for her life, other Indian women are standing up to share their own stories (removing the stigma from reporting the attack, which is still perceived as a personal shame)—and to call for change.
But while better services and new laws are steps forward, they do not immediately alter culture. “Women are blamed more if they are expressing themselves freely, are mobile or wearing what they want to,” Ranjana Kumari, a member of the National Mission for Empowerment of Women, told Time yesterday. This is the mortal challenge of women, both in rapidly developing economies like India (or like Turkey, which the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network will visit this June) and in more slow-to-develop economies: to advance in bold pursuit of equality and opportunity while negotiating the cultural realities that often prevail.
I work to capture this negotiation—its minefields and triumphs, its endless iterations—through the voices of the women I cover; their words provide both concrete answers and inspiration to fill the space between ideal and real. I have seen this in Pakistan, where survivors of acid violence have moved beyond the most debilitating assault to their identities in order to create a better world for themselves and their children. From afar I have watched it, as the world has watched, in Afghanistan, where a single teen girl’s unyielding pursuit of education has captivated the hearts and minds of millions like her—and has spurred an international movement to ensure that her struggle is not in vain.
On April 2, my book with Dr. Hawa Abdi, Keeping Hope Alive, will be available in stores (you can pre-order the book here, through Amazon.com), and I will be lucky to spend the subsequent few weeks traveling with Dr. Abdi and sharing her story with an American audience. While “hope” can seem a throwaway word in the drama-soaked culture of Western media, it has been made new for me in the two years during which I’ve explored Dr. Abdi’s own negotiation. So as I end the year here, in an uncertain time for our nation and our world, I will use her example and choose instead to see what’s ahead, and the stories I have yet to tell.