Tuesday, August 9, 2011


When the news broke that Ameneh Bahrami had pardoned the man that disfigured her face in an acid attack that left her with physical and emotional scars that may never fade, the reactions ranged from incredulous to admiring. There were those who believed that despite the general consensus that barbaric laws have no place in modern society, the acid punishment on Ameneh's attacker was justified. Others lauded her forgiving spirit and spoke highly of her. Yet the underlying fact remained that Ameneh was just one of the millions of women in the Arab world and South East Asia constantly subject to emotional, psychological and physical abuse in the hands of men. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA, it is estimated that perhaps as many as 5,000 women and girls a year are killed by members of their own families. Not too far back this year, a Saudi man was reported to have bathed his wife and mother to his three children in acid as their children watched helplessly. Ameneh's country Iran may be behind Pakistan in acid throwing, but it also records a high number of victims who were disfigured by jealous lovers, family members, scorned suitors and even strangers they have no connection with. The Arab world has a long way to go in terms of women rights. Women are often regarded as properties of their husbands, remain largely voiceless and are sometimes treated like chattels to be bought, used and abused. No doubt there are liberal Arab States like the U.A.E where women enjoy relative freedom, but these states are far outnumbered by those that with oppressive environments for women.

Honour killings, the killing of a women of a family due to the belief of the perpetrators that the victim has brought dishonor upon the family or community which belong to the stone ages is still a reality in most Arab states and has been reported in Europe where Arab immigrants live. Women have been killed for the most flimsiest excuse. In 2008, a woman was killed in Saudi Arabia for "chatting" with a man on the social networking site Facebook. In 2010 a 16-year-old girl was buried alive by relatives for befriending boys in Southeast Turkey; her corpse was found 40 days after she went missing. Even recently, a Pakistani father killed six of his daughters over the allegation that two of them befriended local college boys, and four of them took sides with the two accused of the crime.

In order for the United Nations to realize the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), it must intensify its fight against gender oppression as the helpless women in the Arab world and South East Asia suffer the worst crimes against women. The ire drawn by Iran's bid to join the the board of a powerful new United Nations agency promoting equality for women is perfectly understandable. It is galling that Iran with its history of human rights abuse against women is vying for a seat in a body that promotes the liberation of women in oppressive climes. The U.N however need to do more than just report these abuses or prevent countries with reported abuses against women from joining strategic agencies. The UN should adopt a more severe approach of dealing with erring nations. To fully exploit human capital as underlined by the MDGs, women need to be completely free from discrimination. Pro active measure must be taken to prevent more abuses against women in countries all over the world. Justice should be served for perpetrators of such hideous crimes like acid pouring or honour killings in the Middle East and South East Asia. And unless this is done, it is highly improbable that the MDGs will be a reality any time soon.

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