Spotlight on Nigeria
This week in the news, the spotlight is on Nigeria where a local Islamic Fundamentalist group, Boko Haram has kidnapped more than 200 young girls . The Twitter hashtag “#BringBackOurGirls” has been trending at various points since the girls were taken, with many users from around the world demanding a swift rescue of the girls. The horror of their plight is worsened in the knowledge that the group plan to use and sell these women as sex slaves.
What is Boko Haram?
Loosely translated from the local Hausa language, this means “Western education is forbidden”. Boko originally meant fake but came to signify Western education, while Haram means forbidden. The group is fundamentally opposed to the education of women whom they believe are born to serve men, to cook their food, bear their children and provide free sex.
Schools were the hunting grounds for new “Jihadis” but as the group escalated into horrific violence, now commonplace in so many parts of Africa, they popularly came to be known as the Nigerian Taliban, despite no official connection with the mother organization. The group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau gloated “I abducted your girls. There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell.”
Islam and women
Neither the Koran nor Allah ever expounded any theory of deliberate suppression of women. In fact men only took more than one wife only if they could treat them all equally. Islam is one of the few religions that allows the woman to divorce her husband-Talaq. In fact, the husband has to return the “Mehr,” the bride price paid at the time of marriage. Mr. Abubakar is delusional and is venting his own psychological emasculation by enslaving innocent girls. It is unfortunate that men, Islamic or otherwise contort religion to give rationale for their own inadequacies. Education of women is seen as a threat, as men don’t wish to lose their control, which is a natural corollary when educated women join the work force and gain financial freedom. Here in the US, women still earn 30% less than men and it makes me wonder, if Hillary Clinton becomes President, will they pay her 30% less? It is regrettable that one needs an incident as horrific as this one to make the world rise from their slumber and examine more fundamental issues. Issues that govern how men view women but more importantly how women view themselves.
World view of women
Women’s issues have preoccupied me and it comes out in my writing. When the Lotus Blooms, my first published book highlights several issues pertaining to women and though set in the 1930s are valid even today.This world view of women as basically inferior is at the core of all violence against women and this disease is rampant, touching every society in every country. Why do we raise our daughters to cook while our sons can play outside? How many women, after a 40 hour work week, cook Sunday dinner while their husbands watch the game with a six-pack of beer handy. Our children learn from our habits and imbibe hidden messages through our body language and the legacy persists. A 30 year old unmarried daughter is a liability who could potentially become an “old maid” while her male counterpart is a bachelor “enjoying life.” Hindu marriages concretize the belief that women are “property” in a ritual called Kanyadaanwhere the father gives his daughter as a gift or offering to her husband. Today, we continue this ritual in our marriages without examining its hidden meaning and what this means for the emancipation of women.
Emancipation of Women
Freedom doesn’t come solely with voting rights and equal opportunities. As long as we treat women differently from men, as long as we assign roles to women, as long as overtly or covertly subscribe to the superiority of men we can never stop the rabid abuse of women. The plight of these Nigerian women should make each one of us examine why world over this patriarchal belief system reigns supreme? Why do women need looking after? Why should the destiny of women need to be controlled by men? Are we unconsciously enabling the subjugation of women? Does the very fabric of society, the complex web of inter-gender relationships need to be re examined? And the last rhetorical question- Are we as women in some way responsible for these crimes being perpetuated against us?