Thursday, October 12, 2006

Stella Says…What crime did the women and children commit?

by Stella Ramsaroop

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 12 October 2006)

I am always stirred by the words of women who suffer at the hands of cruel men. Some of us have good men who treat us with love and respect, but we are the exception. In fact, a recent report from the United Nations said most countries do not do enough to prevent violence against women.

According to an Associated Press article, “The United Nations claimed that countries have failed to do enough to protect women from violence,” the report maintained that although violence against women has been recognised as a human rights violation on an international level, “many national policies fall short of appropriate condemnation and protection.”

The report also cited the high rates of violence in various countries. The article said, “Many of the highest rates were found in developing countries, such as Zambia, where 49 percent of women said they had experienced violence at some time in their lives, and Papua New Guinea, where 67 percent had. But industrial nations, like Lithuania, with 42 percent, and Australia, with 31 percent, were also near the top of the list.”

In fact, even in the United States this month a 32-year-old man went into an Amish schoolhouse, waiting until the boys had left the building and then opened fire with his gun on the girls. If this had been a hate crime against race or religion, there would have been an uproar over the incident.

Instead, because it was against gender, a hate crime that is still commonly acceptable, the media attention this incident received spotlighted the school killings and said very little about the fact that this man specifically targeted the girls.

This incident happened on October 2. Five days earlier, a 53-year-old man took six girls hostage in a Colorado school. He sexually assaulted the girls before killing a 16-year-old female student. However, the focal point of the investigations to date has been on the fact that these crimes were committed in schools, not that the crimes were against females.

Kaieteur News printed an editorial in Tuesday’s edition about the death of a woman who was burnt alive. I could not help but wonder about the circumstances surrounding this story since most women grow up cooking around open flames and know full well to keep their clothes a safe distance from fire.

However, the one story that really hit me in the heart this week was about a Kurdish woman who was testifying against the atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein’s regime. The woman told of rapes, chemical terror, savage beatings and so many other horror stories in the detention camps like one woman who was forced to give birth in the toilet while other women cut the umbilical cord with a broken peace of glass.

Several Kurdish women testified about these atrocities, but one woman said, “I'd like to ask Saddam, 'What crime did women and children commit'?” These words were like an arrow shot straight into my heart. Indeed, what crime did the women and children commit?

Proper protocol demands that women and children are generally exempt from being taken as prisoners of war. There is a reason for this; women and children are not the ones who decide to go to war in the first place. That is why they are often referred to as innocent.

In fact, given the opportunity, a woman will most often choose a more diplomatic solution than the violent avenue too frequently chosen by male leadership. Yet even in our modern times whole villages of women have been raped and oft times killed in the name of war.

What crime did those women commit? Likewise, what crime did those girls in the American classrooms commit to be victimised by those wicked men? What crime did women who are set on fire and burned alive commit?

I cannot help but wonder what causes men to act so violently toward women. An article by the National Organisation for Women (NOW) entitled, “School Shooters Target Girls, Point to Larger Problem of Violence Against Women,” touched on something Peeping Tom addressed in his column on Tuesday, the prevalence of a culture that degrades women and promotes violence.

The NOW article quoted educator and author Jackson Katz as saying, "The issue is not just violence in the media but the construction of violent masculinity as a cultural norm. From rock and rap music and videos, Hollywood action films, professional and college sports, the culture produces a stream of images of violent, abusive men and promotes characteristics such as dominance, power, and control as means of establishing or maintaining manhood."

This might explain why some Western men act so violently at times, but as a general rule, 53-year-old men, like the one who assaulted the girls from Colorado, do not associate with pop culture. And what about those who reject the Western culture of rap and rock?

The NOW article also said, “The continued stigma against being ‘feminine’ or sharing any traits with women works hand-in-hand with the aggressive image of manhood in our culture. The message to boys who are told by the coach ‘You throw like a girl’ or ‘Don't be a sissy’ is that girls and women are weak, inadequate, and definitely not equal.”

“Because women are frequently perceived as inferior to men, a perceived insult from, rejection by or upstaging from a woman can damaging a fragile ego. In that case, a boy or man looking to reassert his authority may well look to threats or acts of violence as his next course of action.”

In other words, when men are violent against women, it is because they are taught to be that way by society. If so, it is high time for society to start teaching men something else.

Since I grew up in an abusive home, I have always hated violence of any sort. I cannot even watch television shows or movies that contain violence. If I see someone slap or punch someone else on television, even if I know it is fictitious, I feel like it is happening to me.

This is why I have absolutely no tolerance for violence against women and children. If men want to beat the hell out of each other, that is their choice. But when it comes to women and children - that is a whole other story.

After all, just like that brave Kurdish woman in a courtroom in Iraq this week, someone has got to ask that rhetorical question, “What crime did the women and children commit?”

Email: StellaSays[at]

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