7.10.2005

shame

Salman Rushdie speaks about human rights.
In honor-and-shame cultures like those of India and Pakistan, male honor resides in the sexual probity of women, and the "shaming" of women dishonors all men. So it is that five men of Pakistan's powerful Mastoi tribe were disgracefully acquitted of raping a villager named Mukhtar Mai three years ago. Theirs was an "honor rape," intended to punish a relative of Ms. Mukhtar for having been seen with a Matsoi woman. The acquittals have now been suspended by the Pakistan Supreme Court, and there is finally a chance that this courageous woman may gain some measure of redress for her violation.

Pakistan, however, has little to be proud of. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says that there were 320 reported rapes in the first nine months of last year, and 350 reported gang rapes in the same period. The number of unreported rapes is believed to be much larger. The victim pressed charges in only one-third of the reported cases, and a mere 39 arrests were made. [Ed note: anti-violence groups working in Pakistan estimate the number of reported rapes to be much lower, possibly 10% of the total.] The use of rape in tribal disputes has become, one might say, normal. And the belief that a raped woman's best recourse is to kill herself remains widespread and deeply ingrained.

For every Mukhtar Mai there are dozens of such suicides. Nor is courage any guarantee of getting justice, as the case of Shazia Khalid shows. Dr. Khalid was raped last year in the province of Baluchistan by security personnel at the hospital where she worked. A Pakistani tribunal failed to convict anyone of the crime.

. . .

The "culture" of rape that exists in India and Pakistan arises from profound social anomalies, its origins lying in the unchanging harshness of a moral code based on the concepts of honor and shame. Thanks to that code's ruthlessness, raped women will go on hanging themselves in the woods and walking into rivers to drown themselves. It will take generations to change that. Meanwhile, the law must do what it can.

In Pakistan, the Supreme Court has taken one small but significant step in the matter of Mukhtar Mai; now it is for the police and politicians to start pursuing rapists instead of hounding their victims. As for India, at the risk of being called a communalist, I must agree that any country that claims to be a modern, secular democracy must secularize and unify its legal system, and take power over women's lives away, once and for all, from medievalist institutions like Darul-Uloom. [Read the whole essay here.]
Rape is not a women's issue. It's a human issue.

Two good places to learn more about international women's human rights are Equality Now and MADRE. I especially appreciated MADRE's statement on the London bombings.

6 comments:

Crabbi said...

Thanks for posting this, L. I found this especially pointed:

"...the same government that has allied with the West in the war on terrorism...seems quite prepared to allow a war of sexual terror to be waged against its female citizens."

L-girl said...

Yeah, he really gets it. Girls and women live under the threat of terrorism every day, just because they are female.

Thanks for pointing out that quote.

G said...

That was excellent. Thank you for posting it, and the links you posted along with it. It is something that has been lost amongst the rights issues, and ignored for far too long.

Girls and women live under the threat of terrorism every day, just because they are female.

Wow. I never thought of it that way before. But you are right - that is exactly what it is. Thank you for writing that, and for providing such a powerful and profound perspective.

L-girl said...

Wow. I never thought of it that way before. But you are right - that is exactly what it is. Thank you for writing that, and for providing such a powerful and profound perspective.

G, thank you for telling me this. Working in this movement, I sometimes wrongly assume that this is common knowledge. You give me great incentive to continue to educate on any level I can.

In the anti-sexual-violence movement (formerly known as the violence-against-women movement), it's called "sexual terrorism". The idea is that girls learn to arrange their lives around the fear of rape at an early age, and that fear of sexual violence is used to control women to varying degrees in different cultures.

Only a few years ago, Amnesty and the UN officially recognized rape in the context of war as torture and a human rights abuse. (Thanks to pressure from international women's groups.) At least it's more out in the open now.

G said...

Thank God for that. Better recognized late than never.

Every step counts as progression. Hopefully those steps will gain momentum and turn into hops, leaps and bounds.

Certainly it is an issue the mainstream media tends not to delve into anymore than they deem absolutely necessary. What's sad is that 'absolutely necessary' doesn't cover a whole lot. These are the horrors in the world that many people don't hear of on a regular basis, or have an inkling they exist but it's kept out of mind because it isn't heard enough. I for one think that wider coverage is necessary, and that human rights mean just that, HUMAN rights, not white anglo-saxon rights as the current landscape would have us believe.

L-girl said...

Fucking A right.

(That still remains my favorite post of yours ever. :) )