The Sacrifice of Women Continues
The story of the Akedah or the near sacrifice of Isaac, Abraham's son, has been discussed, debated, and pondered for years. Most moderns are aghast that such a request was made by God and even more disturbed that Abraham would, in fact, consider committing this act of human sacrifice as proof of his faith.
Not as well known, however, is the story of Jephtha's daughter in the Book of Judges. The story centers on a vow made by the warrior Jephtha that if he would defeat the Ammonites, then whatever came out of his home when he returned victorious, he would sacrifice as an offering to the Lord. Jephtha never considered that a member of his family would eagerly greet him -- he thought an animal would be the first to welcome him home.
Instead his daughter, his only child, comes out "to meet him with timbrels." Horrified at the implications of his promise, he rips his clothing. After hearing the vow that he made, his daughter asks that she have two months with her companions and then returns to fulfill this wretched promise.
Yet, Harriet Beecher Stowe, of Uncle Tom's Cabin fame, railed about this biblical story and wrote in Woman in Sacred History that "[i]n three or four places in the Jewish law, it is expressly stated that where a human being comes into the position of a whole offering to God, the life of that human being is not to be taken; and a process of substitution and redemption is pointed out. Thus...the animals were slain and burnt, but the human being was redeemed." Nonetheless, the daughter dies.
This story has haunted me ever since I learned about it when I was nine years old. And, unfortunately, the oppression of women, the mutilation and the death of girls, as well as the snuffing of women's spirits still takes its toll in all societies.
In the most recent Wilson Quarterly Review of Summer 2011, in the "Findings" section, one learns that '[i]n India, the 2011 census found about 7.1 million fewer girls than boys below age six." This skewed result is related to a "level of sex-selective abortion that's rising at a 'remarkable' rate.'" According to a World Net Daily piece penned in July 2006, "by conservative estimates, sex-selective abortion in India accounts for the termination of about 10 million females over the past 20 years." Tina Rosenberg highlighted the "daughter deficit" in August of 2009 and stated that "it is rarely good to be female anywhere in the developing world today, but in India and China the situation is dire...."
In April 2010, reporting on China, Peter Hitchens described the "gendercide" that is resulting in 30 million more men than women because ultrasound is being used in China to abort unborn female fetuses. Because of "China's state policy which has limited many families to one child since 1970, combined with an ancient and ruthless prejudice in favour of sons, the world's new superpower is beginning the century of its supremacy with an alarming surplus of males." This imbalance has resulted in greater lawbreaking by males as well as "sex-trafficking of women, forced marriages, polyandry, and legions of potentially restive mateless men." Thus, in China, gendercide has "resulted in the deaths of at least 50 million girls."
The ghosts of maimed and murdered Chinese females linger in many stories by Asian authors and one has only to see a picture of foot-binding done in the name of beauty to empathize with the intense pain and suffering of women. "On Discovery" is an excerpt from Maxine Hong Kinston's book China Men. It tells the story of a man who becomes a woman through coercion, and the force of social and cultural identification. Thus, every night [his] feet were unbound, "but his veins had shrunk and the blood pumping through them hurt so much [that] he begged to have his feet rewrapped tight."
In another of Kingston's works, The Woman Warrior, the reader meets "No Name Woman." At the end of "No Name Woman," Kingston reflects on the importance of her aunt's story. She concludes that the real lesson is not how No Name Woman died; rather, why she was forgotten. Thus, "[t]he real punishment was not the raid swiftly inflicted by the villagers, but the family's deliberately forgetting her." Yet another woman is erased but for the story that was told by a later ancestor.
In 1999, Americans were introduced to female genital mutilation (FGM) when BBC News wrote about "an appeals court in New York ruling in favour of a Ghanaian woman fighting deportation on the grounds that she feared female circumcision if she returned home." Adelaide Abankwah, 29, at the time, had been held in detention and had not been eligible for asylum; thus, the new decision had the dual role of giving shelter to an African woman and highlighting the cruel practice known as female genital mutilation (FGM), female circumcision or female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), female genital cutting (FGC). FMG is dangerous and its basic premise is to eliminate any sexual satisfaction on the part of the girl. It is practiced on 2-3 million women and girls each year and the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified four types of female genital cutting:
- Type 1 (also referred to as clitoridectomy) - cutting away of the clitoral hood, with or without removal of all or part of the clitoris.
- Type 2 (also referred to as excision) - removal of the clitoris, together with part or all of the labia minora (the inner vaginal lips). This is the most widely practiced form.
- Type 3 (also known as infibulation) - removal of part or all of the external genitalia (clitoris, labia minora and labia majora), and stitching or narrowing of the vaginal opening, leaving a very small opening, about the size of a matchstick, to allow for the flow of urine and menstrual blood.
- Type 4 covers a variety of procedures including: pricking, piercing, or incision of the clitoris and/or labia; stretching the clitoris and/or labia; burning of the clitoris and surrounding tissues; scraping of the vaginal orifice or cutting of the vagina; insertion of substances into the vagina to cause bleeding or to tighten or narrow it.
The dire effects of FGM include tetanus, HIV, [and] hepatitis B as a result of the use of unsterilized tools. Furthermore, cow dung and/or ash is applied to the genitals as a local dressing which induces infection. Difficulty in passing urine; difficulty with menstrual flow; pain during sexual intercourse; pelvic infections leading to infertility and prolonged and obstructed labor as a result of tough unyielding scarring causes great physical and emotional pain to the woman. FMG may also result in prolonged labor and brain damaged and mentally handicapped babies may be delivered as a result.
In June 2001, Daniel Pipes reviewed the book entitled Female Genital Mutilation: A Guide to Laws and Policies Worldwide and explained that [a]lthough not strictly speaking an Islamic phenomenon, for nowhere does Islamic law call for the cutting of female genitals, the practice is almost entirely limited to Muslim societies, and logically so, for it follows from some basic Islamic assumptions about sexuality and ways to order a righteous society." Furthermore, the burqa "is a mask, a mask worn at all times, making identification or participation in economic and social life virtually impossible." In fact, "that is also its intent: to isolate the wearer from all aspects of public life."
As the Muslim world becomes even more fanatical in sharia law compliance, will there be an increase in female genital mutilation? From Indonesia to Egypt to Africa and even here in the United States, FMG continues to be inflicted upon young girls. Women have been conditioned to accept this painful brutality in the name of tradition, beauty, and acceptance into their society.
"Terrorizing Muslim Women" as penned by Nonie Darwish highlights the stoning, flogging and abuse of women under sharia law. Women in the Arab world live lives of misery and abuse as honor killings continue to be the norm of the society. In addition, Coptic Christian girls are now being kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam. Their lives are imperiled as they are reduced to slave status as sexual coercion is forcing them to convert.
There is an African folktale entitled "The Girl who was Sacrificed by Her Kin and Whom Her Lover Brought Back from Below. The title "essentially tells the whole story. This Kikuyu tale features a maiden who dies in her brother's stead. Her lover travels to the underworld and is allowed to bring the maiden back up if he does not look back to see her before reaching the surface. Unfortunately, he is not able to do this, and she is lost forever."
For far too long, women have been lost forever. They dare not publicly express their opinions, or challenge the "social death" or exile from their community if they refuse to comply with societal demands. Human dignity is still an elusive item. The psychological, physical and emotional toll on women continues to blight the world community. Bill Warner is committed to the herculean task of highlighting the oppression of women and children throughout the world in his weekly bulletins of the same name. This is not a women's rights issue; it is a human rights issue of the most urgent importance.
No longer can a community standard which inflicts pain on little girls or grown women be accepted. No longer can society stand by and accept definitions of beauty which mete out horrific suffering. In April 2010, H.R. 5137 or the Girls Protection Act was introduced into Congress. It would make it a crime to transport minors outside the U.S. for the purpose of performing female genital mutilation. As of July 1, 2010 a New York Times op-ed asked for quick passage of the bill.
We need to hear the echoes of Jephtha's daughter, the ghosts of those aborted girl babies, the screams of little girls undergoing unnecessary surgeries and understand the emotional and psychological toll that is wrought on so many women of the world. As George Eliot, aka Mary Ann Evans once wrote, "[c]ruelty, like every other vice, requires no motive outside of itself; it only requires opportunity." We must end the opportunity for such evil and work for the full potential of women across the globe.
Eileen can be reached at email@example.com.