WOMEN


The Mask – a chilling look at the abuse of Afghan girls and women


The greatest travesty of our time is the wholesale abuse and oppression of girls and women. It happens across our planet, in every culture, religion, social and economic class. And it remains mostly unspoken. Afghanistan’s new  TV show, “Niqab” (“The Mask”) brings to light some of the horrors endured by Afghan women:

Her identity safely concealed behind the mask, Saraya said she was forcibly married off to a known rapist, a man with an existing criminal record when she was 15 years old. He was 58. “When my youngest was just four years old, my husband brought women to the house and raped them. “My child asked me: ‘who are these women?’ I could not say anything to my child — my husband would just beat me.”

The most important person in the world


You only have power over people so long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything, he’s no longer in your power – he’s free again. ~Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Do some people matter more than others? In a tabloid culture, an inordinate premium is placed on anyone rich or popular, the antics of celebrities and millionaires receiving more attention than the mortal struggles of women and children.

In the U.S., the gap between fame and obscurity, wealth and poverty, power and powerlessness manifests itself most starkly in centers of influence like Washington, Los Angeles and New York.

America is based on the noble idea of equality, but principle and practice are two very different things and some people are more equal than others, with disproportionate privileges and prestige. This holds true across the planet.

Counterintuitively, the most important people in the world are those who have the least, those who are the most oppressed, those who are victims of the worst violence.

We are only as strong and powerful and important as the weakest link in the human chain. When a little girl is gang-raped, when a child wastes away from preventable hunger, when a man is silenced for his beliefs, when a woman dies needlessly in childbirth, when a little boy lives in agony from a preventable disease, we are all weakened, our worth diminished.

When the resources of the rich and famous are put to use to help those in need, it is because the highest moral calling is to give to others, to extend a hand to those who need one.

If character is built on compassion and generosity of spirit, the most important person in the world is the one who most needs our compassion, care and generosity, the person who enables us to improve ourselves by helping them, who gives us value because we value them.

With all the namedropping and idol-worshiping served to us by the media, with the dazzling displays of money and fame and power, let’s never forget who matters most in this world: it is the person to whom we give something of ourselves — and from whom we derive our moral power.

Asia Bibi faces death penalty for “blasphemy” [Updated]


Sick:

In this village in Pakistan’s Punjab province a tearful 12-year-old girl ponders if the Pakistani government will soon hang her mother. “Whenever I see her picture I cry,” Isham Masih told CNN. “I want my mother back. That’s what I’m praying for.” This month a Pakistani court sentenced Isham’s mother, 45-year-old Asia Bibi, to death, not because she killed, injured or stole, but simply because she said something. Prosecutors say Bibi, who is a Christian, broke Pakistan’s strict blasphemy law by insulting Islam and the prophet Muhammad, a crime punishable by death or life imprisonment according to Pakistan’s penal code.

UPDATE: Falsely accused:

A preliminary investigation shows that a Pakistani Christian woman has been falsely accused of insulting the Prophet Mohammed, a government official said Monday.

“The president asked me to investigate her case and my preliminary findings show she is innocent and the charges against her are baseless,” Pakistani Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti told CNN.

Asia Bibi, who has been jailed for nearly 15 months, was convicted in a Pakistani court earlier this month of breaking the country’s controversial blasphemy law, a crime punishable with death or life imprisonment, according to Pakistan’s penal code. She was sentenced to death.

Bibi filed a petition for mercy Saturday, and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari asked Bhatti to investigate the case, Bhatti said. Bhatti emphasized Monday that he has reached only preliminary conclusions and will submit a final report Wednesday to Zardari’s office.

UPDATE II: Protesters oppose pardon for Pakistani Christian:

Around 250 hard-line Muslims staged a demonstration in the central Pakistani city of Lahore on Wednesday, warning the president not to pardon a Christian woman sentenced to death for insulting Islam.

They also denounced any attempt to change Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which critics say is often misused to persecute Christians like Asia Bibi and other minorities. Her case has prompted outrage from human rights groups and a personal appeal from Pope Benedict XVI for her release.

But hard-line Islamic groups in Pakistan have pushed back and some have even threatened officials in the past who suggested reforming or repealing the blasphemy law. These groups have significant power since politicians from the major parties rely on them for votes.

UPDATE III: Pardon denied:

A Pakistani court has barred President Asif Ali Zardari from pardoning a Christian woman sentenced to death on charges of insulting Islam, in a case that has prompted criticism over the country’s blasphemy law.

Pakistan mother denied presidential pardon for ‘insulting Islam’

Asia Bibi, a Christian, has been sentenced to death after falling foul of the country’s blasphemy law

Asia Bibi, a Christian woman in Pakistan been sentenced to death on charges of insulting Islam Asia Bibi, who has been sentenced to death on charges of insulting Islam. Photograph: Str/APA Pakistani court has barred President Asif Ali Zardari from pardoning a Christian woman sentenced to death on charges of insulting Islam, in a case that has prompted criticism over the country’s blasphemy law.

Inspiring: Anuradha Koirala fights trafficking of Nepal’s women and girls


A true hero:

Anuradha Koirala is fighting to prevent the trafficking and sexual exploitation of Nepal’s women and girls. Since 1993, she and her group, Maiti Nepal, have helped rescue and rehabilitate more than 12,000 victims.

Koirala: I would like to urge all the human beings around the world: Please close your eyes and imagine these girls are your daughters, and you will feel the pain of being trafficked.

Don’t watch this video of Afghan women


A terrible reality for Afghan women:

Even the poorest families in Afghanistan have matches and cooking fuel. The combination usually sustains life. But it also can be the makings of a horrifying escape: from poverty, from forced marriages, from the abuse and despondency that can be the fate of Afghan women. “If you run away from home, you may be raped or put in jail and then sent home and then what will happen to you?” asked Rachel Reid, a researcher for Human Rights Watch who tracks violence against women.

Returned runaways are often shot or stabbed in honor killings because the families fear they have spent time unchaperoned with a man. Women and girls are still stoned to death. Those who burn themselves but survive are often relegated to grinding Cinderella existences while their husbands marry other, untainted women. “Violence in the lives of Afghanistan’s women comes from everywhere: from her father or brother, from her husband, from her father-in-law, from her mother-in-law and sister-in-law,” said Dr. Shafiqa Eanin, a plastic surgeon at the burn hospital, which usually has at least 10 female self-immolation cases at any one time.

The most sinister burn cases are actually homicides masquerading as suicides, said doctors, nurses and human rights workers. “We have two women here right now who were burned by their mothers-in-law and husbands,” said Dr. Arif Jalali, the hospital’s senior surgeon. Doctors cited two recent cases where women were beaten by their husbands or in-laws, lost consciousness and awoke in the hospital to find themselves burned because they had been shoved in an oven or set on fire.

Unless you’re prepared to be shocked and enraged, don’t watch this video:

White House focuses on domestic violence


This is good:

The White House will announce several policy initiatives on Wednesday that are aimed at reducing domestic violence, including pilot programs targeted at children and pregnant women, financial and housing assistance for victims of abuse and a national campaign to reduce sexual violence, according to a memo about the plans.

There are programs targeted at children, including a fund to assist pregnant women who are victims of domestic violence in five states — North Carolina, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia and Washington — and Head Start centers in six states – Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico and South Carolina – will launch a program to help staff members identify signs of domestic violence in children and respond appropriately.

HUD will release guidelines for housing authorities and landlords who have tenants who may be victims of domestic violence, a move that codifies protections outlined in the Violence Against Women Act. The FDIC will expand its Money Smart financial literacy curriculum on Friday to include information for victims of domestic violence.

The Justice Department will announce the start of a pilot program intended to get more private lawyers to offer services to domestic violence victims pro bono.

Here are some stats for context:

Of all the women murdered in the U.S., about one-third were killed by an intimate partner.

According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, women experience about 4.8 million intimate partner-related physical assaults and rapes every year.

More than 600 women are raped every day.

The Justice Department estimates that one in five women will experience rape or attempted rape during their college years, and that less than five percent of these rapes will be reported.

Bill O’Reilly and Juan Williams reveal a terribly warped set of priorities


The blow-up du jour is Juan Williams’ termination by NPR for insensitive comments about Muslims:

NPR has terminated its contract with Juan Williams, one of its senior news analysts, after he made comments about Muslims on the Fox News Channel.

From my perspective, this is the most notable portion:

Mr. O’Reilly said, “The cold truth is that in the world today jihad, aided and abetted by some Muslim nations, is the biggest threat on the planet.” Mr. Williams said he concurred with Mr. O’Reilly.

The biggest threat? Bigger than preventable hunger and disease that kills millions of women and children? Bigger than the scourge of sexual violence and domestic abuse that endangers our mothers, sisters and daughters? Bigger than the wholesale ravaging of our planet and global warming? Seriously?

This reveals a terribly warped set of priorities. I’m not surprised O’Reilly said it. I would have expected better of Juan Williams.

Barbaric: forced abortion at eight months in China


Words fail me:

Context from a 2007 TIME report:

Harrowing details have emerged in recent news reports of alleged forced abortions in China’s impoverished Guangxi province. Earlier this month as many as 61 pregnant women were injected with an abortive drug after being dragged to local hospitals, according to media accounts. Human rights activists say actions allegedly carried out by family planning officials there are unlikely to be isolated. Along with forced sterilization and other coercive methods of birth control, forced abortion continues to be practiced occasionally by officials in remote parts of China despite its having been banned by the central government in Beijing.

Shocking and brutal crime in Canada: Colonel Russell Williams snuffs out a life on video


It’s easy to focus on the heinous treatment of girls and women in places like Somalia, Afghanistan and Congo, but we should never forget that women are brutalized by men in every corner of the world, across every social and economic group.

This story out of Canada is hideous beyond words:

A Canadian colonel who admitted to 86 lurid sex crimes videotaped the brutal rape and murder of a corporal under his command, a court heard on Tuesday.

Colonel Russell Williams, 47, a married pilot who once flew the jet used to ferry Canada’s prime minister as well as the British royal family on a visit, photographed and videotaped his repeated sexual assault over 4½ hours of Corporal Marie-France Comeau, the Crown said.

The killer cross-dressing colonel Russell Williams and one his victims, Jessica Lloyd.

Bruised, bloodied and limp, Corporal Comeau used her last breath to beg for her life, according to an audio tape played in court: “Have a heart. I’ve been good all my life. I don’t want to die.” “Shut up,” Williams responded before he taped her nostrils and her mouth closed and watched her suffocate.

Days before he killed her, he broke into her home and snapped 18 photographs of himself in her underwear and standing next to her pressed air force uniform. On the night of November 23, 2009, he left his office at the Trenton military base, parked his car outside her home, and listened in the dark to her telephone conversation using a sensitive sound-detecting device.

Williams then broke in through a basement window and attacked her. They struggled. He beat her nearly unconscious with a flashlight, tied her up and covered all of the windows in the house. She pleaded with him: “I don’t want to die. Leave me alone. I don’t want to die.” Afterwards, Williams washed her bed sheets and drove directly to Ottawa for a meeting with military brass.

He would later send a signed letter of condolence on behalf of the Canadian Forces to Corporal Comeau’s father – a 45-year veteran of the military.

Williams commanded Canada’s busiest air force base, the 437 Squadron in Trenton, east of Toronto, for more than a year before his arrest. Previously he was in charge of Canada’s secretive Camp Mirage in Dubai. He faces life in prison, with no possibility of parole for at least 25 years.

I could think of worse punishments for what he did.

Two Aishas: two tragedies, one survivor


***Trigger Warning***

Bibi Aisha:

An Afghan woman whose ears and nose were cut off by her abusive husband as punishment for running away – and whose mutilated face was featured on the front of an international magazine – has undergone extensive plastic surgery.

Aisha was married to a Taliban fighter when she was aged just 12 when she and her sister were handed over in order to settle a family debt according to local custom known as baad. The girls reportedly endured many years of abuse, and were forced to sleep in a stable with the fighter’s family’s animals. Aisha was often beaten and her in-laws treated her and her sister like slaves.

Eventually Aisha ran from the house but her husband – who returned from fighting inside Pakistan in order to find her and restore “family honour” – tracked her down in Kandahar. He took her back to Oruzgan district where he lived and on the way he cut off her nose and ears. Essentially left for dead, she managed to crawl to the house of her uncle but he refused to help her. Eventually a relative took her to a US-operated hospital.

Aisha Duhulow:

13-year old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was stoned to death in Somalia by insurgents because she was raped. Reports indicate that she was raped by three men while traveling by foot to visit her grandmother in Mogadishu. When she went to the authorities to report the crime, they accused her of adultery and sentenced her to death. Aisha was forced into a hole in a stadium of 1,000 onlookers as 50 men buried her up to the neck and cast stones at her until she died. A witness who spoke to the BBC’s Today program said she had been crying and had to be forced into a hole before the stoning, reported to have taken place in a football stadium. She said: ‘I’m not going, I’m not going. Don’t kill me, don’t kill me.’ “A few minutes later more than 50 men tried to stone her.” The witness said people crowding round to see the execution said it was “awful”.

Last February, I wrote about a young Turkish girl buried alive by relatives in a so-called “honor” killing that was carried out as punishment for talking to boys, referring to the males who commit these heinous deeds as monsters:

First, let me say this: the brutalization of women and girls cuts across all religious and cultural boundaries, so this isn’t just about dis-‘honor’ killings, though few things are more heinous than a father murdering his daughter (after dispassionately discussing it with other family members). It’s about the things males do to females and will continue to do unless the outcry is loud enough that the world begins to take notice.

In a December post, I made a painfully easy prediction: women would have another horrible decade. I gave a few examples.

Like this:

Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist, cannot bear to listen to the stories his patients tell him anymore. Every day, 10 new women and girls who have been raped show up at his hospital. Many have been so sadistically attacked from the inside out, butchered by bayonets and assaulted with chunks of wood, that their reproductive and digestive systems are beyond repair. “We don’t know why these rapes are happening, but one thing is clear,” said Dr. Mukwege, who works in South Kivu Province, the epicenter of Congo’s rape epidemic. “They are done to destroy women.”

Here’s a BBC story from this morning:

A wealthy British landowner has been found guilty of murdering his estranged wife. Prout’s wife asked him for a divorce before she went missing…

Or this, from 2005, that uses a perfect word to describe the men who do these things:

When Amy Rezos went to meet her estranged husband to talk about a divorce, she never imagined what would happen next. When the couple separated, Chris got a hotel room. On July 2, 2004, Amy thought she was meeting him in the hotel to finalize the details of the divorce. Instead, she was walking into a carefully planned trap. As the couple argued over the custody of their two boys, Chris snapped. “I just remember seeing a look on him that I had never ever seen before in my life. It was a look … like a monster,” she said. Amy was savagely beaten. Someone in a nearby room heard the commotion and called the police. When officer Paul Lovett arrived, Chris Rezos tried to convince him that they were victims of a robbery. But Lovett didn’t buy it. “I could see a woman on the floor covered in blood. The bathroom was covered in blood. I was certain she was dying. I asked her to blink once for no, twice for yes,” Lovett said. As the 35-year-old woman lay near death, Lovett tried to speak to her, “I asked if your husband did this to you and blink once for no, twice for yes, and she blinked twice,” he said.

I could post thousands of these and it wouldn’t capture the depth and breadth of the problem. It comes down to this: there simply isn’t sufficient public outrage about gender-based violence to spur political action.

In the aftermath of Haiti, I asked a simple question: “If the World Can Mobilize Like This for Haiti, Why Not for Sexual Violence in Congo?

The world’s response to Haiti is fully warranted – anything less would be reprehensible. But one thing about it frustrates me: why can’t we muster the same sense of urgency, the same focus, the same acceptance that other lesser activities must be temporarily set aside; why can’t we mobilize as quickly and react as fiercely and forcefully when it comes to similar calamities across the globe? Say, for instance, the monstrous sexual violence in Congo? When young girls are being gang-raped with bayonets and chunks of wood, their insides ripped apart, how can the world take it in stride? There’s simply no excuse for a muted response, let alone indifference. None.

Some readers said the global inaction with respect to Congo boils down to conflict mineral Coltan, and to some extent that’s true. But the bigger problem is apathy. Nick Kristof articulates it well:

Sometimes I wish eastern Congo could suffer an earthquake or a tsunami, so that it might finally get the attention it needs. The barbaric civil war being waged here is the most lethal conflict since World War II and has claimed at least 30 times as many lives as the Haiti earthquake. Yet no humanitarian crisis generates so little attention per million corpses, or such a pathetic international response.

‘Pathetic’ is an understatement.

Sometimes I feel like we were all born into an alternate universe, a psychotic, twisted, perverted version of what life should be. Our existence is marked by unimaginable violence, hideous acts of evil against the most innocent among us. It’s like living in a perpetual horror movie.

As I wrote recently, across the globe, women’s rights, their basic dignity, is under assault. It can manifest with physical violence, but it can also be part of a pervasive pattern of sexism and misogyny. Whatever form it takes, one thing is clear: there can be no justice on earth until there is justice for women.

UPDATE: More horrific details about Aisha’s ordeal:

Promised to a Taliban fighter by her father when she was 12 to satisfy an obligation, Aisha was married at 14 and had been used as a servant and forced to sleep in an outbuilding with her in-laws’ animals. When she fled their abuse, neighbors turned her in.

She was jailed briefly, and her father retrieved her and returned her to his in-laws, after being assured they would treat her better. Instead, her husband walked her into a mountain clearing and held her down while his brother chopped off her nose and ears as other Talib watched. Then they left her to die in the mountains where they’d disfigured her.

“I passed out,” she said in an interview with CNN’s Atia Abawi.  “In the middle of the night it felt like there was cold water in my nose.”

It was her own blood, so much of it, she told Abawi. “I couldn’t even see…”

Somehow Aisha managed to feel her way to her grandfather’s home, where she was hidden and then spirited away to a medical center run by the U.S. military, who eventually transferred her to a privately-run women’s shelter…  After 10 weeks’ care, Aisha was stabilized enough to go to the Grossman Burn Center for a series of rehabilitative surgeries that the center had offered to perform pro bono.