On the day after Thanksgiving, I came across a horrendous story about a young woman in Afghanistan. Posted by author/journalist Nicholas Kristof, the story was about Gulnaz, a 19-year-old girl who, after being raped in 2009 and impregnated by her rapist, was sentenced to 12 years in jail and accused of adultery. The accounts vary slightly, but it seems the Afghanistan law is forcing Gulnaz, now 21, to choose between enduring the prison term with her baby or marrying her rapist. Not only a horrific choice for her, but also a risky one, since her freedom will make her vulnerable to an honor killing by either her rapist’s family or her own.
I also discovered that the same day I read about Gulnaz — November 25 — was ironically the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, a day the UN created in 1999 to commemorate three women from the Dominican Republic. The Mirabal sisters were ruthlessly assassinated back in 1960 for their activism against the Trujillo regime, and have since “become a symbol against victimization of women.” As I nibbled on leftover turkey and sweet potatoes, I found it difficult to swallow that today, over fifty years since the assassination of those Dominican women and more than a decade since this United Nations day was established, violence against women still quietly rages across the globe.
In countries like Afghanistan, the gender violence is not only raging, it may be increasing. The Human Rights Commission of Afghanistan says that there have been 2,433 cases of violence against women in the past six months, compared to a total of 2,725 cases registered over last year. Human rights organizations are flooded with stories of women murdered and raped, of domestic violence and honor killings. A battered wife can serve a longer jail term than a suicide bomber.
The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is meant to launch 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, ending on December 10, International Human Rights Day — to emphasize the link between women’s rights and human rights. More than 250 events are planned worldwide — from marches and student training sessions to arts events and cultural exhibitions. Rather than just despairing about the state of women in the world, perhaps I should feel thankful that there are organizations devoted to raising awareness and educating the public, and that there are so many people who care.
Photo credit: Emmanuel Huybrechts