Five Women Buried Alive -- and the Media Ignore It
Last month, the U.S. media were full of stories about the resignation of Pervez Musharraf as president of Pakistan. But another event that same week in Pakistan -- that tribesmen buried five young women alive for wanting to choose their own husbands -- got almost no coverage.
According to the Asian Human Rights Commission, the women's "crime" was that they defied tribal elders and arranged marriages to men of their own choosing in a civil court. They were abducted at gunpoint by some men and dragged off to a remote field, where they were beaten, shot, thrown into a ditch, and then, while still breathing, smothered to death with rocks and mud.
Yet not even when a member of the Pakistani parliament, Israr Ullah Zehri, defended these barbaric killings as "century-old traditions" -- when he said that killing women who defy male control by wanting to chose their own husbands is necessary to "stop obscenity" -- was there international outrage.
Why is this? And why is there no international outrage about the fact that violence against women and female children is indeed a "century-old tradition"?
- Every day, so-called "honor killings" of girls and women -- often by members of their own families, and even when they are victims of rape -- are unpunished, and even lauded, in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern nations.
- In Africa and parts of Southeast Asia and the Middle East, each year an estimated 2 million girls are genitally mutilated -- another "moral" tradition that not only kills but exacts a terrible lifelong toll of disease and sexual dysfunction from those who survive.
- In China and India, millions of baby girls have been killed or abandoned.
- Indeed, female infanticide, selective female malnutrition and medical neglect of girls, common in many world regions, can be so severe that, according to a U.N. Human Development Report, girls ages 2 to 4 die at nearly twice the rate of boys in India's Punjab state.
- According to a World Health Organization report, 20 percent of women have suffered sexual abuse as children.
- According to another U.N. report, thousands of girl children are enslaved -- often offered for sale by members of their own families -- in the global sex industry.
- Even in these United States, more women are killed by their husbands or boyfriends than by automobile accidents.
- And domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women, according to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary.
Neither reporters nor pundits find all this violence against girls and women worthy of attention -- despite the U.S. media's seeming obsession with mayhem and murder. Nor have the world's religious leaders seen fit to speak out against this violence -- despite the fact that they often say they are against violence.
It's high time that we change the shameful fact that when it comes to barbarity against members of the female half of humanity, the silence of not only the press but also of political, religious and other leaders is almost deafening.
Women's organizations nationally and internationally have for years struggled to change this, and gradually human rights organizations have paid more attention to the pandemic of violence against women. But men -- and particularly men who identify themselves as moral leaders -- must also raise their voices. They too must voice their outrage about their "brothers" all over the world who are brutalizing women.
I co-founded the Spiritual Alliance to Stop Intimate Violence with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Betty Williams to engage leaders from the world's religions to at long last use their moral authority to end traditions of violence against women and children. We did this not only for the sake of the millions of girls and women who are beaten, burned, mutilated or killed each year, but for the sake of all of us. Because as long as brutality against women and children is ignored or dismissed as "just" a women's or children's issue, talk of a more just and caring world will only be just talk.
It is time that morality no longer be used to mask brutality and violence. It is time that women and men worldwide, including the women and men of the mass media, express outrage against the immorality of using tradition to justify mayhem and murder. If enough of us make this a top issue in our churches, synagogues and mosques, our religious authorities will eventually follow. If enough of us write letters to the editor, blog and otherwise break the silence about traditions of violence against women and children, the media -- and eventually also politicians and others who make and enforce social policy -- will follow worldwide.