Here, on the Moose, we have had several discussions about sexism. Most of these discussions have centered around the American media and its role in the recent elections. Although the discussions could get quite heated at times, they proved to be interesting and enlightening.
The discourse, as happens frequently on the Moose, was often wide-ranging. For example, someone would raise an anthropological point about matriarchal societies and another would veer off into the role of the father in modern society. Usually, I followed these side discussions with interest, but once in awhile there would be a comment that I thought was irrelevant. Someone would throw in a comment about an atrocity that had happened in a foreign country and I would fail to see how that had anything to do with sexism in the media. A Nicholas Kristof column in today’s NY Times finally opened my eyes.
Kristof, filing his column from Islamabad, Pakistan, stated wrote, “Here in Pakistan, I’ve been investigating such acid attacks, which are commonly used to terrorize and subjugate women and girls in a swath of Asia from Afghanistan through Cambodia (men are almost never attacked with acid). Because women usually don’t matter in this part of the world, their attackers are rarely prosecuted and acid sales are usually not controlled. It’s a kind of terrorism that becomes accepted as part of the background noise in the region.”
He went on to write –
This month in Afghanistan, men on motorcycles threw acid on a group of girls who dared to attend school. One of the girls, a 17-year-old named Shamsia, told reporters from her hospital bed: “I will go to my school even if they kill me. My message for the enemies is that if they do this 100 times, I am still going to continue my studies.”
When I met Naeema Azar, a Pakistani woman who had once been an attractive, self-confident real estate agent, she was wearing a black cloak that enveloped her head and face. Then she removed the covering, and I flinched.
Acid had burned away her left ear and most of her right ear. It had blinded her and burned away her eyelids and most of her face, leaving just bone.
Six skin grafts with flesh from her leg have helped, but she still cannot close her eyes or her mouth; she will not eat in front of others because it is too humiliating to have food slip out as she chews.
“Look at Naeema, she has lost her eyes,” sighed Shahnaz Bukhari, a Pakistani activist who founded an organization to help such women, and who was beginning to tear up. “She makes me cry every time she comes in front of me.”
Bukhari’s organization is trying to assist women like Naeema and to give them a voice. Kristof goes on to report –
Since 1994, Ms. Bukhari has documented 7,800 cases of women who were deliberately burned, scalded or subjected to acid attacks, just in the Islamabad area. In only 2 percent of those cases was anyone convicted.
It is easy to view such happenings in the abstract when you are living in a western country. Yet, only a few decades ago, it was legal for men to discipline the women in their families by beating them with straps or rods. Both of my grandmothers were born into a world where they had no right to vote. Even today, domestic violence against women is far too common, but, out of sight, out of mind to many of us.
I have never known a woman who was physically abused. My brothers and I were raised to respect women and never to raise a hand against one. The idea that someone could treat women that way has always been an abstract thought for me. I know it happens, but I always believed it was rarer than people claimed. It is one thing to know something intellectually and another entirely to feel it in your gut.
What Kristof’s column did for me today was to make me realize that distance doesn’t minimize evil. The picture that accompanied the column hit me right in the gut. Naeema Azar is shown standing beside her 12-year old son who has his arm protectively around her shoulders. Her face looks like something in a museum exhibit about mummification. Be prepared to be shocked if you visit the Times site to read the column.
Blaming this on a portion of the population, like the Islamic world, is an intellectually and morally lazy way of dealing with it. This type of atrocity isn’t limited to Islam. Men in many societies still retain full control of their wives and daughters. They are forced into unwelcome marriages, beaten when they don’t obey or just because the man had a bad day. They are denied education and basic health care for societal and religious reasons. No wonder some people react strongly when they see signs of sexism or misogyny in our country, even though the rest of us think it is about something fairly minor.
The only way to remove this stain from humanity is through education. Lawmakers must be educated. Men must come to see these acts as barbaric. Women must be shown that a different world is possible. And, most importantly, women must be empowered.
One way we in the west can help is by supporting groups like Ms. Bukhari’s. Another way is to support Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Send her letters of support and ask her to push women’s rights world-wide. Push Barack Obama to support her in these efforts. Lobby our representatives to push the same issues.
While he was a senator, Vice-president Joseph Biden co-sponsored an International Violence Against Women Act with Senator Richard Lugar. Put your support behind this bill to get it passed. Please don’t sit back and complain about the way the world mistreats women. Step up and actually do something about it.
As I said at the beginning of this diary, my eyes have been opened. I get it, I finally get it. Now to do something about it.