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January 22, 2013By now, a young woman's horrifying gang rape in Delhi and her subsequent death have made headline news in India and across the world. A poster child for a globalizing India, Jyoti Singh Pandey represented what the world heralds as India's entrance onto the global stage. Just decades ago, a female child born into poverty would be guaranteed a fate of servitude, hardship and poverty. While this still holds for countless women, there is also a rising generation of women who, through education and hard work, can kick dirt into fate's face.

Jyoti's story, while not new to those who follow Indian news, has made me really examine the sorry state of women's rights across the globe, and more deeply in India. It has made me think about the importance of working for an organization that aims to advance women in corporate India—getting more women into influencing roles and positions and thereby redefining how women are valued—when there’s also a pressing need to help establish Indian women's basic rights in society at-large.

Some have questioned the importance of Catalyst’s mission in India—to be honest, it is a legitimate question. More than 24,000 women were raped in 2011 (a figure considered “low” due to a lack of reporting) and the overarching response was simply to teach women how not to get raped. Rape shows “only the surface of women’s perils,” noted the New York Times, with as many as 100,000 Indian women burned to death and 125,000 violently killed each year.

Given these facts, why should we help those women who have the “golden ticket” in corporate India? By helping the golden ticket holders, we hope to positively impact the role and status of women in India—change the nature and tone of the conversation regarding the value of women. Not to mention, in reality, even the golden ticket holders haven’t won the gender lottery. Young or old, associate or CEO, working women are subject to sexual harassment, or “eve-teasing,” in the streets, gender stereotyping in the workplace, and worse. And just as every parent, educator, politician, or lawyer has a role to play in fighting for women, so does every employer. While business cannot solve this problem, they can serve as role models and lead the country forward in a positive direction.

Recently, the defendant’s lawyer in Jyoti’s case claimed “respected ladies” are not raped in India. It’s outrageous to see such a highly educated man make such an ignorant statement, yet it’s not surprising. This quote is an example of how some men view themselves as top rank of class, tradition and gender. To rise above this, women not only need a top education, but also the ability to rise above a mentality that preordains their abilities and worth based on archaic thinking. The defendant lawyer’s statement raises another important point: the crucial role played by men, and how men need to be a part of the solution.

So idealism aside, is there hope for India’s women?  For Jyoti’s story to be a game changer in India, we need the men to wake up, we need men to be outraged, and we need men to call out other men that devalue women. Until there is agreement that men and their attitudes toward women play just as an important a role in the advancement of women as do the abilities of women to succeed, the fate of the next generation will resemble those of the past. In the end, a truly globalized India cannot exist without a representation of both genders in all aspects of society.