As I was preparing for this article, I asked a friend who is Jewish if it was appropriate to use the term “holocaust” to portray the worldwide violence against women. He was startled. But when I read him the figures in a 2004 policy paper published by the Geneva Center for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces, he said yes, without hesitation.
One United Nations estimate says from 113 million to 200 million women around the world are demographically “missing.” Every year, from 1.5 million to 3 million women and girls lose their lives as a result of gender-based violence or neglect.
How could this possibly be true? Here are some of the factors:
In countries where the birth of a boy is considered a gift and the birth of a girl a curse from the gods, selective abortion and infanticide eliminate female babies.
Young girls die disproportionately from neglect because food and medical attention is given first to brothers, fathers, husbands and sons.
In countries where women are considered the property of men, their fathers and brothers can murder them for choosing their own sexual partners. These are called “honor” killings, though honor has nothing to do with it.
Young brides are killed if their fathers do not pay sufficient money to the men who have married them. These are called “dowry deaths,” although they are not just deaths, they are murders.
The brutal international sex trade in young girls kills uncounted numbers of them.
Domestic violence is a major cause of death of women in every country.
So little value is placed on women’s health that every year roughly 600,000 women die giving birth.
Six thousand girls undergo genital mutilation every day, according to the World Health Organization. Many die; others live the rest of their lives in crippling pain.
According to the WHO, one woman out of every five worldwide is likely to be a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime.
What is happening to women and girls in many places across the globe is genocide. All the victims scream their suffering. It is not so much that the world doesn’t hear them; it is that fellow human beings choose not to pay attention.
It is much more comfortable for us to ignore these issues. And by “us,” I also mean women. Too often, we are the first to look away. We may even participate, by favoring our sons and neglecting the care of our daughters. All these figures are estimates; registering precise numbers for violence against women is not a priority in most countries.
Going forward, there are three challenges:
Women are not organized or united. Those of us in rich countries, who have attained equality under the law, need to mobilize to assist our fellows. Only our outrage and our political pressure can lead to change.
The Islamists are engaged in reviving and spreading a brutal and retrograde body of laws. Wherever the Islamists implement Shariah, or Islamic law, women are hounded from the public arena, denied education and forced into a life of domestic slavery.
Cultural and moral relativists sap our sense of moral outrage by claiming that human rights are a Western invention. Men who abuse women rarely fail to use the vocabulary the relativists have provided them. They claim the right to adhere to an alternative set of values – an “Asian,” “African” or “Islamic” approach to human rights.
This mind-set needs to be broken. A culture that carves the genitals of young girls, hobbles their minds and justifies their physical oppression is not equal to a culture that believes women have the same rights as men.
Three initial steps could be taken by world leaders to begin eradicating the mass murder of women:
A tribunal such as the court of justice in The Hague should look for the 113 million to 200 million women and girls who are missing.
A serious international effort must urgently be made to precisely register violence against girls and women, country by country.
We need a worldwide campaign to reform cultures that permit this kind of crime. Let’s start to name them and shame them.
In the past two centuries, those in the West have gradually changed the way they treat women. As a result, the West enjoys greater peace and progress. It is my hope that the third world will embark on this effort. Just as we put an end to slavery, we must end the gendercide.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born Dutch legislator, lives under 24-hour protection because of death threats against her by Islamic radicals since the murder of Theo van Gogh, with whom she made the film “Submission” about women and Islam. This Global Viewpoint article was distributed by Tribune Media Services.
The International Herald Tribune