Moral crimes in Afghanistan

In January of 2012, the Human Rights Watch reported that about 400 women were locked away in Afghani prisons and juvenile delinquent centers for something called “moral crimes.” Today, and on the eve of a major departure of international forces from the area, that number has risen to 600.

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So what are moral crimes? They include fleeing from abusive homes, escaping arranged marriages, and having sex outside of marriage–including rape.

Yes, you read that right. Women can be prosecuted and thrown in prison for being raped.

These women–victims of crime–are jailed for their “loose morals.” Their attackers regularly enjoy impunity.

It is estimated that 110 of these women are under 18.

Afghanistan Women On The Inside

New York Times article on the issue describes a few of the accused women:

Asma W., 36, ran away from her husband after he beat her, threw boiling water on her, gave her a sexually transmitted disease and announced that he would marry his mistress. Fawzia, 15, took refuge with a family that drugged her and forced her into prostitution. Gulpari M., 16, was kidnapped off the street by a stalker who decided he wanted to marry her; she turned him in to the first policeman she saw.”

It gets worse: this month, the Afghan parliament refused to endorse Afghanistan’s 2009 Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women:

So vociferous were the law’s opponents, including religious leaders who are members of parliament, that the speaker halted debate after 15 minutes and sent the law back to parliamentary commissions for further consideration. Those against the law characterised it as a violation of Afghan religious and cultural values, ignoring Afghanistan’s history of child marriage, forced marriage, domestic violence and the prosecution of rape victims.”

Afghani women’s rights activists are deeply concerned that their cause–not to mention their achievements over the last 10 years–will be abandoned once troops leave the country.

Conditions are grim, and foreign donors may “consider the plight of Afghan women to be a lost cause.”

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The Human Rights Watch outlines the major steps that the country must take if it is to protect its women and girls:

The Karzai government should abolish the practice of prosecuting women for ‘moral crimes’. All laws that discriminate against women should be amended or revoked, and the EVAW law should be fully enforced throughout the country. The government should develop and implement a plan to increase the percentage of the police force that is female. And greater support is needed for shelters for women fleeing violence so that there is at least one shelter per province.”

Education is key, but so is the relentless, hopeful support of the international community.

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“American Novelists” means male novelists, of course.

In a New York Times op-ed last week, Amanda Filipacchi wrote about something strange going on over at Wikipedia. Apparently, editors are moving the names of women novelists from the category “American Novelists,” and putting them in a new category: “American Women Novelists.” Men’s names, of course, remain only in “American Novelists.”

According to Filipacchi,

 “It appears that many female novelists, like Harper Lee, Anne Rice, Amy Tan, Donna Tartt and some 300 others, have been relegated to the ranks of “American Women Novelists” only, and no longer appear in the category “American Novelists.” If you look back in the “history” of these women’s pages, you can see that they used to appear in the category “American Novelists,” but that they were recently bumped down. Male novelists on Wikipedia, however—no matter how small or obscure they are—all get to be in the category “American Novelists.”

Since Filipacchi’s piece, other writers have reported on it as well, and if you visit the Wikipedia pages it seems that they’ve halted this nonsense–for now. It would be one thing if Wikipedia created separate categories for both men and women. This might make sense in regards to simpler searching for a particular author.  But to create a “women’s” list and remove those names from the master list of novelists suggests that women writers are a derivative from the “normal” (read: male) category of writers.

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Joyce Carol Oates

So why is this happening in the first place? According to Deanna Zandt in an article for Forbes Woman (which is another interesting derivation–is this happening everywhere?),

“Anyone can edit Wikipedia, but over 80% of Wikipedia’s editors are young, white, child-free men, which means that their perspective is what largely dominates how information is organized, framed and written. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a young, white, child-free man’s perspective, of course– it’s just that there are tons of other perspectives in the world that should influence how a story gets told.”

If Wikipedia truly wants to provide users with neutral, unbiased information, it’s going to need more women editors. Duh. If “male” is the norm–the original category from which all others deviate–then sexism is also the norm. It’s subtle, and for that reason, it’s pervasive. It’s the status quo. And it’s not just up to Wikipedia to fix it. It’s up to us, too.

In the words of Zandt:

“[I]t’s not enough that we create an open system and say that everyone has the opportunity to work on it– we need to make intentional interventions into the status quo that involve raising the voices of those who are not heard as often.”

The truth of the matter? As long as we allow “the norm” to speak for us and to structure how we think about the world, we can always expect to be described in adjectives that reference our “otherness.” And right now, we’re allowing ourselves to be defined in terms of that difference.

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Violence against women in India: The norm?

Protestors have taken to the streets after another horrific rape in India. This past Wednesday, a five-year-old girl was found in a New Delhi apartment after being reported missing by her parents on Monday. The girl was abducted, tortured and raped for two days by a 23-year-old man.

The New York Times reports that, in addition to beating, strangling, and genitally mutilating the girl, the suspect inserted an eight inch bottle and a candle inside her. The objects had to be surgically removed.

On top of such a horrifying crime, the girl’s parents told reporters that the police “had failed to take their complaint seriously, failed to carry out an adequate search and then offered them 2,000 rupees—about $37—if they would keep quiet about the case.”

There has been a recent trend in extreme violence against women in India, or at least a trend in the visibility of these crimes. This case comes just months after the December gang rape and subsequent death of a 23-year-old woman. A few days after her death, in an unrelated incident, an 18-year-old woman committed suicide after being raped by two men. Last month, a Swiss woman touring the country with her husband was raped by a group of men who also beat and robbed them.

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These brutal crimes speak volumes about the culture of violence against women in India. Protestors are also speaking out about India’s culture of victim-blaming among the police and judicial system.

According to The Huffington Post:

“This is the mentality which most Indian men are suffering from unfortunately,’ Ranjana Kumari, director for the New Delhi-based Centre for Social Research, told the newspaper. “That is the mindset that has been perpetrating this crime because they justify it indirectly, you asked for it so it is your responsibility.”

Victim-blaming is not unique to India. For many emerging countries it is still the cultural norm. Police incompetence–and indifference–make matters worse.

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India’s Parliament passed a new law last month making sexual harassment a crime, and rape resulting in the victim’s death punishable by the death penalty.

Passing the law itself was a significant step in the right direction, but the way in which this most recent rape of a child is handled–and the punishment her attacker receives–will set perhaps an even more important precedent for India.