Outrage in India: It's not the only country where women suffer

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The public outcry after the gang rape and murder of a young woman on a public bus in India last month prompted a quick official response. Real change in the way women are treated there -- and elsewhere -- will take much longer.

The 23-year-old medical student's alleged abductors -- five adults and a juvenile -- have been arrested and charged. They could face the death penalty.

There is a new 24-hour hotline for women in the capital. India's parliament is working on anti-rape laws. But these will be hollow gestures if the government doesn't follow through.

A woman is raped every 14 hours in Delhi. Across India, a rape is reported every 20 minutes. More than nine of 10 cases involve someone known to the victim.

Most victims don't go to police because of the social stigma attached to rape. When rapes are reported and charges are filed, few cases result in convictions. Rape is just the tip of a larger iceberg of abuse, harassment and discrimination that Indian women face all their lives.

The beginnings of change can be seen in the number of young, educated and Internet-savvy Indians (men as well as women) who demonstrated against the mistreatment of women. Their protests galvanized public opinion and they should continue to make their voices heard.

But this isn't just India's problem. Nearly one in five American women will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape. Only about 6 percent of rapists end up in jail. Yet last week, the U.S. House failed to renew the 1994 Violence Against Women Act. Republican lawmakers wanted to roll back some protections and balked at extending others to lesbians, illegal immigrants and Native American women.

It may be true, as the old advertising slogan insisted, that women have "come a long way." But there's still a long way to go, and women will continue to suffer until they get there.

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