Thursday, May 9, 2013

3 women and Half the Sky

The three women in Cleveland who were abducted and endured years of isolation, rape, beatings, and more have incited widespread sympathy, but how many people are aware of the NRA vendor who sells a shooting target that is "your ex-girlfriend"?
And how many people understand the larger issue of violence against women, especially as religion impacts it? Upon reflection, anyone with a mind should see the obvious connection between worship of a male-only God and worldwide abuse of females.
What can we do?  We can be aware.
To that end, I post again the following, which I posted in March of 2012:

Half  the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn has more practical suggestions for transforming the world than any other book I know. It is painful to read. The first chapters are so packed with excruciating information, “the brutality inflicted routinely on women and girls in much of the world,” I could stand to read only small chunks at a time.

Its detailed evidence of sexual violence against women and girls—honor killings, bride beating, bride burning, genital cutting, forced prostitution, rape as a tactic of war, acid to disfigure, and selling of 7- and 8-year-old girls into sexual slavery—tells us that gender violence and discrimination is the paramount human rights problem of our time. Indeed, it tells us that nothing would do more to ameliorate the problems of the world than raising the status of women.

I say it’s painful, but you will read Half  the Sky easily, with absorbed attention, because these journalists, husband and wife, know how to tell engrossing stories; it is not academic. One part of you seeks relief from the brutality; another part of you can’t put down the stories of individual women who defy their tormentors and with dogged determination escape their circumstances and now are helping others.
Some facts that document and illustrate the horror:
  • Biology produces more males than females, but China has 107 males for every 100 females (a greater disproportion among newborns), India has 108 and Pakistan 111. What makes the females disappear? The murder of women (femicide), the murder of female babies, deliberately less care and feeding of girl babies.
A Nobel laureate economist estimates that the globe should have 107 million more women.
  • “One third of all women worldwide face beatings in the home. . . . Women aged fifteen through forty-four are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined.”
  • “Far more women and girls are shipped into brothels each year in the early twenty-first century than African slaves were shipped into slave plantations each year in the 18th or 19th centuries . . ."
Foreign Affairs observed: ‘It seems almost certain that the modern global slave trade is larger in absolute terms than the Atlantic slave trade in the 18th or 19th centuries was.’”
A story:
Meena and the other girls were never allowed out of the brothel and were never paid. They typically had 10 or more customers a day, 7 days a week. If a girl fell asleep or complained about a stomachache, the issue was resolved with a beating.
And when a girl showed any hint of resistance, all the girls would be summoned to watch as the recalcitrant one was tied up and savagely beaten.
“They turned the stereo up loud to cover the screams,” Meena said dryly. . . .
“They held my children captive, so they thought I would never try to escape.”
From a victim (sincerely, not ironically):
 . . . if the wife is truly disobedient, then of course her husband has to beat her.
From the chapter “Rule by Rape”:
Woineshet—a battered, pint-sized girl surrounded by men who were threatening her—told the court official that she had been abducted [and raped], and she pleaded to be allowed to go home. The official, a man, didn’t want to listen to a girl and told Woineshet to get it over with and marry Aberew.

“Even if you go home, Aberew will go after you again,” the official told her. “So there’s no point in resisting.”
Half  the Sky also exposes the complexities of achieving change. Genital mutilation has cultural approval in all of north Africa; women insist on it. Sometimes aid groups have committed blunders that worsened conditions for women and girls. Banning prostitution, for instance, does not work, and legalizing-regulating may not work either.

Nothing works better than education. So say women in the field and the world’s chief economists in the UN and World Bank. They state that educating and empowering women in the developing world is the most effective way to reduce poverty and, for the highest possible return on investment, to raise all economic indicators and bring benefits to whole societies. Women are the linchpin of effective economies. But education does not mean imposing Western values (learn how Tostan finally is making progress toward overcoming female genital cutting in Africa after Western methods failed).

I invite readers to consider the pain of these women and also the hope of real transformation, only possible if we allow women to become confident and powerful. Half the Sky lists effective organizations and gives specific suggestions. I don’t see how you could read these chapters without being changed in some way.

In churches, we need to change the talk about a lord or lords in the sky. Women of the world have too many lords lording it over them—they don’t need a god-lord besides. Yes, it’s hard to confront the aging, ultra-conservative men ruling from Rome, but not harder than the cultural changes we demand of the developing world.