Post: The Crime Against Women

On the 14th April 250 schoolgirls were kidnapped from their school in North Eastern Nigeria by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram. They are still held in captivity. In the past week a further three cases of atrocities against women have been reported by the world media. In the first case a pregnant woman was beaten to death in a so-called ‘honour killing’ by her male relatives in front of a courthouse in Lahore, Pakistan. The second case involved two young girls who were gang raped and then hanged on a tree, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Lastly there is the case of a Christian woman in Sudan who gave birth to a child in a prison cell and then faced a death sentence for apostasy by refusing to reconvert back to Islam. In the case of Pakistan and India the Police have been accused of negligence. In the case of Pakistan, where the pregnant wife was beaten to death in broad daylight, it seems that both the police and public simply stood by and did nothing to intervene.

These cases are the tip of the iceberg, just a tiny example of many thousands of other cases of violence committed against women around the world, most of which never get reported. All the above cases have provoked an international outcry. With expressions of shock and horror the atrocities have been described as ‘barbaric’ and ‘medieval’. Thankfully, as a result of international outrage, it seems that the Sudanese Christian woman is to be released.

While this on-going violence against women is abhorrent, there is another, sinister and related issue that gives cause for concern. Out of the four cases mentioned, three are linked to the world of Islam. The fourth, that in Uttar Pradesh, has its roots in the low status of women in general and attitudes towards the lower castes in particular. Unfortunately when such stories hit the media headlines, they simply reinforce an already negative view of Islam in the eyes many Westerners, so fuelling an already endemic Islamophobia. A large majority of people in the West are unfamiliar with authentic Islamic teaching and therefore unable to arrive at informed opinions. For example, the leaders of Boko Horam proclaim an extremely distorted version of Islam and ‘honour killings’ and FGM (female genital mutilation), are cultural practices rather than religious and are not exclusive to Muslims. The same can be said, of course, for Muslims or people of other Faiths who have a corrupt view of Christianity.

The scale of worldwide crime against women is so vast that it can make us feel impotent. We ask ourselves “how can we stop these atrocities’? Although large- scale high profile protest movements initiated by the West have their place, what is really needed is a change in attitude at all levels towards women. Furthermore, if many of these crimes are committed in the name of a religious faith, we need better education in that faith, whether it be Islam, Christianity or indeed all world faiths. In this respect it is incumbent upon the Faith leaders of each community to do all they can to challenge the use and abuse of religion in the oppression of women. For millennia religious traditions have been guilty of oppressing women behind a veil of traditional religious teaching, but what we have witnessed over the past few weeks must surely act as a wake up call for all of us.