The silent screams of women continue to haunt our world into the 21st century. Will they be heard today, or will the cosmos degenerate into an even more hostile habitat for womankind? This article supplements the discussion on Women’s Abuse In India, America and Elsewhere.
The Test of Virginity
Virginity has held the reins of a woman’s social acceptance since the Middle Ages. Today, the fates of countless women still hang upon the discovery of an intact hymen when forcibly subjected to horrifying virginity examinations. Scientifically, this traditional method is inaccurate. Outrage exploded in Turkey in 2001 when five teenage girls attempted suicide rather than to be subjected to such tests. Later, the Turkish Ministry of Health mandated virginity exams for female students; failing the exam would lead to expulsion from government-run schools. The law was shortly repealed due to widespread protest.
Down in South Africa, however, traditional virginity testing has been revived as a tool to promote sexual abstinence where modern birth control is not tolerated and the AIDS epidemic has dramatically exploded to alarming scales. However, the practice courts hazardous consequences. Using the same pair of gloves repeatedly after unknowingly having come into contact with an HIV-positive patient transmits the virus to other girls. Even more threatening is the predominant myth that having intercourse with a virgin can cure one of AIDS, encouraging rape, incest, and the further spread of AIDS in an embittered continent.
The close of 2004 in the Philippines saw a sudden maelstrom of TV screens shooting Pinky Estacio, 39, of Paete, Laguna, to stardom beyond belief. But there was something ghostly foul about the daredevil feat she was about to attempt. Standing atop a billboard along EDSA-the 10-lane roadway artery of Manila-the prospect that she met some 40 meters above the ground was one of certain-and very real-death. This is only one of prevalent reports that have sprung up during the recent years about women attempting to throw themselves off from highway billboards that have raised concerns among the Filipino community. Marital abuse has been the top reason for such desperate actions. Research shows that more than one-third of the women have been victims of physical or psychological abuse, or both. Drunkenness is also a main cause of domestic violence, with the most common acts of abuse being beating, boxing, slapping, and kicking. Nagging unemployment and a womanizing husband drove Pinky to climb that billboard to face an early death. Much later, at the peak of the drama, a nation in suspense met relief when her citizen cheated death with only minor wounds and bruises after being coaxed to calm down and land on an airbag.
How much more radical actions are necessary just to call attention to the plight of abused women today?
A New Light
Historically speaking, the world has not been especially clement to womankind. The stories above provide only a slit testimony to the monstrous acts continually committed against women day by day, most of which go by undocumented and are left unpunished. Thousands of injustices toward the female sex go unrecorded each year. But victories have also been won through the efforts waged by the fearless champions of women’s rights. Suttee, the Hindu practice of throwing a wife into her husband’s funeral pyre to be burned alongside him-alive-was finally banned in the 19th century. Yet alarming incidences still linger, one as recently as 1988, which triggered national outrage in India and led to the arrest of several men believed to have conspired to the crime. In a turn of events however, all were eventually acquitted of the charges in early 2004. Across the globe, UNICEF reports that more than 5000 Indians die annually due to insufficient dowries.
Progress seemed to fare better in neighboring Pakistan where Mukhtar Mai, who was publicly gang-raped in 2002 on orders from a village court, as punishment for the dishonor she brought on her family when her brother was seen frolicking with a young woman from a neighboring village. Mai is among hundreds of thousands of victims of honor killings. These killings are sanctioned by the family or village officials on their women when it has been decided that she has brought dishonor upon the family, or when some other male member has brought dishonor to the household. They are prevalent especially in rural areas and often go undocumented and are condoned by the village authorities. She bravely fought for her case in the courts and against all odds, won. Her case has been much publicized, and has gained a broad following in the international community. The perpetrators were sentenced and punished and the money she got from the compensation, she has used to open a school in her village. Taking a step further, Pakistan’s lower house of Parliament has passed legislation against honor killings, proposing life imprisonment and in extreme cases, the capital punishment of death. Forcing a woman into marriage would also merit a grave 10-year prison sentence.
The world lauded Pakistan for these drastic steps taken in advancing the cause of women’s rights. However, we have recently since seen the alarming degeneration of any progress taken. As Mukhtar Mai’s case faded from the global eye in the face of other breaking events, the situation for Pakistani women has seemingly drifted back to where it was only a few years ago. The suspects in Mai’s case have since been released, the cases have stalled in the courts, and Mai has found difficulty in leaving Pakistan for some speaking engagements abroad. The world only hopes that as the battle wages on, advocates of women’s rights will grow bolder to pave the way for a bright future for these women. Mai wages on her fight, in the hope of inspiring other women to do the same, in the hope that they will eventually win over the rights that they-and all womenkind-deserve.