As I sit here writing this post, I am saying to myself, “this is unbelievable.” But the greatest tragedy in all of this is that it’s not only believable but it is also the reality of countless women around the world.
I am past the point of trying to understand the government’s motives and objectives in Libya. President Obama in his address Monday said little to change my perspective. Nothing, if I am honest. More rhetoric, not substance. I don’t plan to write more scathing posts wondering what we are doing there.
But I did plan to write about another Libyan story that is gripping the media: that of Eman al-Obeidy. Eman is a young lawyer and a threat to the Gaddafi regime for being a “free woman.” As I reported in my Weekly Wrap Up, Emam burst into a room Saturday that was filled with foreign journalists to report that she had been brutally raped by 15 of Gaddafi’s men. Despite some of the reporters’ attempts to help her, she was quickly shuttled away and, reportedly, thrown in jail.
The news since has been hazy. Yesterday there were reports that some of these named militia men are suing her. Today, Gaddafi says that she was released. But her mother has yet to see or hear from her. She has not, in fact, been seen in public since she was dragged off by Gaddafi’s men on Saturday.
While I was reading news stories on the latest surrounding Eman’s case, I came across another, even more disturbing report about a 14-year-old girl in Bangladesh. A warning, this is beyond heartbreaking.
Nick Kristof reported on his blog today that a 14-year-old Bangladeshi girl, Hena, was raped by an older man in her village when she went outside to use the toilet. They were interrupted by the wife of the alleged rapist and, instead of turning her anger at her husband, she assaulted Hena.
A local Imam issued a fatwa (legal pronouncement) saying that Hena was guilty of adultery and must be punished. Punished. This “punishment” included 100 lashes in a public whipping.
A CNN blog post reported that the parents had no choice but to abide by the Iman’s orders. “They watched as the whip broke the skin of their youngest child and she fell unconscious to the ground.”
Hena fell to the ground after 70 lashes and was brought to the hospital. She died one week later.
As Kristof acknowledges, there is always more to a story than is reported in the media. Especially when it involves villages with little technology and cross cultural barriers.
But there is not a single ounce of me (and I hope you) that doesn’t get enraged at this story. It’s not just that the Imam issued the order (although that in itself is of course repulsive). It’s that this is the social construct. Women who are raped are seen as valueless. Many kill themselves so they don’t have to go through the trouble of shaming their family. This happens in countries around the world, in villages we will never hear of, to women whose names we will never know.
I don’t mean to paint this as if it’s everywhere in the developing world. It’s not and things are changing. In fact, there has been some public outcry in Bangladesh because of the fate Hena met so unjustly. There is hope, then, that the message will be one that shoulders the crime on that of the perpetrator not the victim.
A Take Away
To end on a more positive note, I want to say this. In a lecture today, my professor so rightly said, in a completely unrelated context, that change comes from people who are not in the government or other places of power. It comes from individuals and groups that are willing to demand more from the system and from the international community.
I don’t care if all you do with this post is read it and never talk about it. I just hope that it changes your perspective. And I envision that you will tell someone else; forward it on, talk about it with your significant other. We can sit and do nothing but the reality is that we can also do something. If all you “do” is share it with someone else and acknowledge that these incredibly heartbreaking injustices exist and shouldn’t, then I thank you. And if all this post says to you is, “this world is messed up” then I say to you, that for as much evil as there is in this world, there is also enough energy to help young girls like Hena.