* David Aaronovitch
* From: The Australian
* August 16, 2010
IMAGINE for a moment that terrorist violence was, as some insist,
linked to real grievances.
Think what the women of the world might do to some of the men.
Let's say the Iranian authorities, who insist they will not be "swayed
by the hue and cry in the West", do hang or stone Sakineh Mohammadi
Ashtiani for alleged adultery and murder. Would any Iranian diplomat
be safe from the avenging female army?
Or the husband of Aisha, and the Taliban judge who ordered him to cut
off his young wife's nose and ears after she dared to run away from
her spouse's violence. What might the women's mujaheddin do to them?
Set fire to their beards and cut off slowly the attributes they
imagined conferred on them the right to mutilate another human being?
And the executioners of the nameless woman of Badghis. Or say Mullah
Daoud, the Taliban big cheese who was one of three judges who declared
that a widow who had become pregnant must be an adultress, and should
be flogged in public until nearly dead and then shot in the head. "We
gave this decision so that in future no one should have these illegal
affairs," the mullah said, although no man has been punished.
The "Revolutionary Women's Command", unable to locate the mullah,
would simply target any male in any country with a Pashtun name. "You
must learn to suffer as we have suffered," a video made by a woman in
a burka would say.
The cases are real, the fantasies of revenge are not. In some ways I
wish they were. If only you could take these bearded, yelling, violent
woman-haters and subject them to the same treatment they hand out. But
it would be wrong, counter-productive, and there are so many of them.
Twenty years ago, political philosopher Amartya Sen raised the
relatively undiscussed question of the missing women. In any
population, he pointed out, you might expect slightly more women than
men because of life expectancy. But in some parts of the world this
wasn't the case. In China, there were 107 men to every 100 women. In
India it was 108, and in Pakistan 111.
For whatever reason, this meant something like 100 million women were
simply missing. So where had they gone?
Probably they were killed at birth, died avoidably in childbirth or
were denied the same rights as males to medical care.
In a recent book on women in the developing world, Half the Sky,
American writers Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn write about how
girls in India between the ages of one and five were 50 per cent more
likely to die than their brothers. "More girls have been killed in the
past 50 years precisely because they were girls than people were
slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century," they say.
Kristof estimates there are annually about 6000 "honour killings" (ie
murders of women wanting minimal rights) worldwide. And as many as
three million girls and women have been coerced - as opposed to
recruited - into the Third World sex trade.
Weirdly, when Sen or Kristof and WuDunn or Time magazine point this
out, the reaction of some in the West is to accuse them of a
One female Cambridge academic said last week - from the very belly of
women's free speech and free agency - that the "affluent West" had
"little to offer Afghans other than bikini waxes and Oprah-imitators".
And a British critic of Half the Sky demanded: "Why are we so
wonderful? Our society is still just as sexist, albeit in more subtle
ways, than the burka-enforcing Taliban. Working on a farm and
producing your own food is a far more viable and healthy option than
slaving in a sweat or sex shop."
The dead woman of Badghis is in no position to argue that perhaps the
West might have offered equality before the law, a fair trial, an
absence of overwhelming judicial male violence, and life. She may have
gone to her death with that "stoic docility" noted by Kristof and
WuDunn. She is unlikely to have had any education, and may have
regarded her death as in some way inevitable and necessary. No one
seems to have asked for her views, or to have been interested in them.
And why should we be? We have our own battles to fight. We ought
perhaps to lament the way the world is, the way its different cultures
are, and then move on. It isn't as if we don't have plenty of stuff
left over from our own misogynist past. Take that residual squeak of
what the Iranians call the "golden penis" - the entitlement of the boy
to a greater share - emitted every time girls do better at school. Up
goes the whine that there is "feminisation" of education that
disadvantages boys, who can only succeed when coursework is not
assessed. What utter rubbish!
Here's why it matters so much. Even if we felt no moral imperative to
help (and many do), we have every practical motive. We simply aren't
cut off from the fate of the world's women. A small example surfaced
last week after the shooting of the British couple in Pakistan.
We reported the cases of a number of young British women on the run
from forced marriages and male "honour" violence in this country. As
the Muslim Labour MP Khalid Mahmood explained, when young Asian women
have the chance and the education, they certainly want to exercise
their own choice.
But far more than that, the oppression of women holds back social and
economic development in societies that practise legal misogyny, making
them poorer and more violent.
Birth rates are higher and poverty worse in the world's anti-women
cultures, where girls are usually uneducated.
And where there are more young men than young women, as a result of
polygamy and early death, I bet there is also more violence, more
psychosexual dysfunction, more substitution of the bomb for the
girlfriend. And we all get it in the neck.