Scan the headlines on any given day and you’re sure to find dozens of stories about girls and women being abused, abducted, raped, beaten and killed. The pervasive oppression of women and girls is humanity’s greatest travesty.
Here are just a few links to illustrate my point…
An Iranian woman who’d already been condemned to death faces another sentence of 99 lashes because of a case of mistaken identity in a photograph, according to foes of the execution. Iranian authorities imposed the sentence after they saw the photo of a woman without a head scarf in a newspaper, the International Committee Against Stoning, a human rights group, said Friday.
Russian women are habitually beaten with legal impunity—in a country with no support system for victims of domestic violence. So it was horrible but hardly surprising when my friend’s husband got drunk and killed her.
The children most at risk of attempted abduction by strangers are girls ages 10 to 14, many on their way to or from school.
Shocking, but true: Women work 67% of the world’s working hours, yet they earn only 10% of the world’s income.
Only about one third of countries around the world have laws in place to combat violence against women, and in most of these countries those laws are not enforced, well resourced or taken seriously. Violence against women and girls, in the form of human trafficking, harmful cultural practices, rape as a tactic of war and domestic violence, is one of the single greatest barriers holding women back. A staggering statistic: one out of every three women will be a victim of violence in her lifetime. And the problem is getting worse every year.
Majorities in nearly all 18 sub-Saharan African countries surveyed in 2009 say rape is a major problem in their countries. A median of 77% of sub-Saharan Africans see rape as this much of a problem, but in six countries, the percentage saying this reaches 90% or higher. Gallup’s survey results reaffirm the extent to which the issue of rape plagues countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including South Africa, where nearly all (97%) call it a major problem. According to Interpol, South Africa has the highest number of declared rapes in the world, with nearly half of the victims younger than 18.
And lest anyone pretend this isn’t a domestic problem:
According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey — the country’s largest and most reliable crime study — there were 248,300 sexual assaults in 2007 (the most recent data available).
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
First, a few recent posts for context:
On human violence
No justice on earth until there is justice for women
Is there anything more cowardly and despicable than a gang of armed men raping a woman?
Gallup polls the scourge of rape in Africa, but it’s not just an Africa problem
A prominent Yemeni human rights activist, Amal Albasha, is outraged the practice continues. Her organization, Sisters Arab Forum, tries to intervene on behalf of child brides, to stop the marriages from taking place. Albasha added that nothing will change until people in Yemen try to fully understand the horror a child bride goes through. “You know, just two days ago, a 9-year-old girl got married in Taiz.” she said. “Just think about the pain, the fear — just think about a 9-year-old with a 50-year-old in a closed room,” said Albasha. “The experience remains until the day of death.”
A simple but possibly life-saving step:
Let’s face it, these are dark days for the left. As we barrel toward the November elections and an almost certain triumph for the GOP, we are losing the national debate and making giant strides backward on key issues.
It’s the new (un)reality:
- George W. Bush is steadily and surely being rehabilitated and now the question is how much gratitude we owe him.
- Sarah Palin can move the public discourse with a single tweet, promoting a worldview consisting of unreflective, nationalistic soundbites.
- Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Fox are dominating the national conversation, feeding a steady stream of propaganda packaged as moral platitudes to tens of millions of true believers.
- In the face of overwhelming evidence, climate deniers are choking the life out of the environmental movement and willfully condemning humanity to a calamitous future.
- From ACORN to Van Jones, liberal scalps are being taken with impunity.
- Feminism is being redefined and repossessed by anti-feminists.
- Women are facing an all-out assault on choice.
- Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy is being co-opted by a radio jock.
- Schoolbooks are being rewritten to reflect the radical right’s anti-science views.
- The rich-poor divide grows by the minute and teachers and nurses struggle to get by while bankers get massive bonuses.
- We mark the end of a war based on lies with congratulations to all, and we escalate another war with scarce resources that could save countless lives.
- An oil spill that should have been a historic inflection point gets excised from public awareness by our own government and disappears down the memory hole (until the next disaster).
- Guns abound and the far right’s interpretation of the second amendment (the only one that seems to matter) is now inviolate.
- Bigotry and discrimination against immigrants, against Muslims, against gays and lesbians is mainstream and rampant.
- The frightening unconstitutional excesses of the Bush administration have been enshrined and reinforced by a Democratic White House, ensuring that they will become precedent and practice.
- Girls and women across the planet continue to get beaten, raped, ravaged, mutilated, and murdered while sports games induce a more passionate response.
All this a meager eighteen months after a wave of hope swept the nation and gave heart to progressives who had battled for sanity and rationality during the dark days of Bush. Well, these days are much darker. Already the national discourse is conducted on the right’s terms. The marginalization of liberal thought under Bush-Cheney has only accelerated under Obama, and we must accept that indeed, America is — or is becoming — a center-right nation.
Why is this? My thoughts:
There is a simple formula for rightwing dominance of our national debate, even when Democrats are in charge: move the conversation as extreme right as possible, then compromise toward the far right.
This is something Republicans are willing to do while Democrats are not. The media plays along, so the net effect is for rightwing framing to prevail. And prevail it has. The consequence is that public opinion is shifting to the right.
The only question is how far right it can go before there’s a correction. I’m not optimistic.
UPDATE: Let me just add that by no means is this about quitting, but about being realistic. I’d never advocate giving up the progressive fight and I relish taking on those who want to take America “back” instead of taking it forward. With all the setbacks — and we’re facing a major one now — I have faith in the inexorable march of progress. Ultimately, humans will civilize themselves. Let’s hope we don’t bake our species out of existence before that happens.
I witnessed terrible bloodshed in Lebanon, so I’m very accustomed to man’s capacity for barbarity. Still I’m at a loss for words to describe the cowardice and abject monstrosity of a gang of armed men raping a woman:
Anyone using a cell phone or laptop should be required to watch this:
More on Congo’s sexual violence plague:
Dozens killed in Iraq; Afghan girls poisoned; Marine general accuses Obama of “giving sustenance” to Taliban
Yesterday I wrote No justice on earth until girls are free from these horrors. Today the horrors continue unabated with a cowardly attack against schoolgirls:
About 40 schoolgirls became ill and were taken to hospital after a suspected gas poisoning in the Afghan capital on Wednesday, another apparent attack by hardline Islamists opposed to female education. The Taliban banned education for girls during their Afghan rule from 1996-2001, but have condemned similar attacks in the past. They have, however, set fire to dozens of schools, threatened teachers and even attacked schoolgirls in rural areas.
Suicide bombers killed more than 50 people in apparently coordinated attacks on Iraqi security forces in Baghdad and elsewhere on Wednesday, less than a week before U.S. troops formally end combat operations.
And incredibly, a top Marine general said the 2011 draw-down date is giving sustenance to the Taliban (note the ongoing campaign, spearheaded by Petraeus, to abolish that July deadline):
The top U.S. Marine general made a sharp departure from the White House’s talking points on Afghanistan, saying President Barack Obama’s promised July 2011 deadline to start withdrawing troops from the country had given “sustenance” to the Taliban.
We know the president was talking to several audiences at the same time when he made his comments on July 2011,” Gen. James Conway told reporters on Tuesday. “In some ways, we think right now it’s probably giving our enemy sustenance….In fact, we’ve intercepted communications that say, ‘Hey, you know, we only have to hold out for so long.’”
Even a leading conservative blogger realizes how outrageous this is:
I’d be angrier about this than about what Team McChrystal pulled a few months ago. Not that what Conway’s saying is surprising — this has always been the chief hawkish criticism of the July 2011 timetable — but to have one of your own top brass question the strategy publicly, especially in terms this explosive, is mind-boggling.