Tuesday, March 28, 2006

In Disgrace, and Facing Death - New York Times

"God should not give daughters to poor people," she said in despair. "And if a daughter is born, God should grant her death."
In Disgrace, and Facing Death - New York Times: "Aisha Parveen will live another day. Indeed, at least another week.

Ms. Parveen, the young Pashtun woman I wrote about on Sunday, was kidnapped at the age of 14 and imprisoned in a brothel here in southeastern Pakistan for six years. She escaped in January and married the man who helped her flee, but now a Pakistani court has charged her with adultery and is threatening to hand her back to the brothel owner — even though she is adamant that he will then torture and kill her."

Ms. Parveen, now living in hiding after several kidnapping attempts in the last few days, faces an even more brutal struggle. Her only stroke of luck is having her new husband, Mohamed Akram, who rescued her from the brothel, on her side. The young couple are lovebirds, and each keeps talking about being so lucky to have found the other.

But Mr. Akram, while unwavering in his love, has disgraced his family by marrying a supposedly fallen woman, and his older sister is suffering.

"My brother-in-law sent me a message: 'Unless you divorce her, I will divorce your sister,' " Mr. Akram lamented. "She has two kids. And he's also beating her now. He's very upset because I married a girl who was in a brothel, who is not a virgin."

The couple cannot seek refuge with Ms. Parveen's parents, because Pashtun parents routinely protect their family honor by killing daughters accused of zina.

"I cannot go back there because if I do, they'll kill me," Ms. Parveen said. "In their eyes I'm dishonored, because even if a girl is kidnapped, then in their eyes she still should be killed."

Saddest of all, her story isn't newsworthy in a classic sense. There's nothing at all unusual about a young Asian woman suffering years of sexual enslavement, or judicial malpractice or murder.

And that's the challenge for us all, Asians and Americans alike — to change our worldview and put gender issues like sex trafficking higher on the global agenda.

A quarter-century ago, Jimmy Carter plucked human rights abuses from the backdrop of the international arena and put them on the agenda. Now it's time to focus on gender inequality in the developing world, for that is the greatest single source of human rights violations today.

Political dissidents tend to get the world's attention. But for every dissident who is beaten to death by government torturers somewhere in the world, thousands of ordinary women or girls die prematurely because of the effects of discrimination. In India, for example, girls 1 to 5 years old are 50 percent more likely to die than boys of the same age, because the boys are favored. That differential accounts for the death of a young Indian girl every four minutes.

Since these victims usually are voiceless, I'll give Ms. Parveen the last word so she can prick our consciences.

"God should not give daughters to poor people," she said in despair. "And if a daughter is born, God should grant her death."

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