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The war against women

Lois Goldrich

By Lois Goldrich | Published 11/23/2007 | Editorial |

There is a war going on, as bloody and destructive as any of the conflicts raging around the globe. Crossing geographical borders, it trumps any number of ideological differences. This war — old and new at the same time — is the one being waged against women.

In Basra, Iraq, the chief of police recently warned of a "campaign of violence against women" carried out by religious extremists. He reports that 42 women were killed between July and September this year. And while the killers commit their brazen crimes in public, not even bothering to hide their identities, the police are generally hesitant to conduct proper investigations, preventing families from coming forward and pressing charges.

The stories are sickening: A university student shot in the legs for not wearing a hijab, or headscarf; a mother of six targeted by a motorcyclist while waiting for her bus (luckily, the motorcyclist skidded and fell before reaching her); a woman killed in front of her children. In each case, crude warnings scribbled on walls blamed the women for these attacks.

And then there’s Saudi Arabia, where a court recently doubled its sentence of lashings for a rape victim who had spoken out in public about her case. According to Farida Deif, a researcher in the women’s rights division of Human Rights Watch, "This verdict not only sends victims of sexual violence the message that they should not press charges, but in effect offers protection and impunity to the perpetrators." The rapists themselves did not get the maximum penalty, despite evidence from a mobile phone video in which they recorded their assault. On top of this, the court imposed punishment on the woman for "illegal mingling," since a court may view a woman’s charge of rape as an admission of extramarital sexual relations.

Whether committed for political reasons or to preserve misguided notions of religious honor, it seems that the physical abuse of women is on the rise.

Significantly, sadly, the U.N. recently saw the defeat of a U.S.-sponsored resolution titled "Eliminating rape and other forms of sexual violence in all their manifestations, including as instruments to achieve political or military objectives." What should have been a no-brainer actually failed — despite the fact that in Darfur, women are routinely subjected to horrific acts of sexual abuse in a campaign to dominate and humiliate local communities. And despite the fact that in Myanmar, women from ethnic minorities face brutal, politically motivated sexual violence, often perpetrated by military officers themselves.

Resolutions don’t stop rape. But they at least send a message that civilized nations find the act repugnant and illegal. The U.N. should be ashamed of itself.

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