Boko Haram Kidnapping, Child Brides, Female Genital Mutilation
The Never Ending War Against Females Part 2
By N Oji Mzilikazi
Originally appeared in the Montreal Community Contact Volume 24, Number 10 May 15, 2014
In face of the awesomeness and majesty of the universe and the finiteness of man, religion as a system of unquestionable faith was birthed to motivate, sustain, make sense of life, and to control society, maintain personal and public order.
Religion became the great unifier — the culture and politics of the tribe, the state religion. However, its “divine” laws, rules, and doctrines disproportionally disadvantage, oppress and exploit females, keep females under the permanent heel of patriarchy.
Wars for resources, territory, and simply to subjugate and rule others saw victory positioned as evidence of the power of a tribe’s god(s), theirs being the one true god/religion. The vanquished had to acknowledge the religious beliefs of the victorious, their new gods and dogma, convert or die, or feign belief to worship their ancient god(s) in secret.
Sometimes, in an act of benevolence or political expediency, the gods and religion of a defeated people were allowed existence.
Overlooking the effects of colonialism and western cultural imperialism, loving the reflection in the mirror is hardwired into people. Accordingly, all races and ethnicities have their own factors of beauty and attractiveness (And what is attractive to one ethnicity might be perceived as unattractive by another ethnicity.), and what constitutes culture.
Inevitably, environmental factors and cultural traditions of a tribe/people were fused into the religious tapestry, even positioned as God ordained or believed to be so.
Just as French is the language of France, Arabs speak Arabic. An Islamic Hadith says “Love the Arab for three things…,” one being that the language spoken in Heaven is Arabic. (Wouldn’t someone who only speaks French say the same thing?) Thus Muslims use a common language in prayers —language unites believers, and converts to Islam take Arabic names.
Sandstorms are common in deserts. Keeping sand and dust out of one’s hair and face makes a headgear a necessity. In Islam, that head dress has become a religious identifier, and its facilitation to veil – cover the nose and mouth from the sand was elevated as religiously binding on women, to protect them from lustful eyes.
All religions paint Heaven as a place of delights unattainable in our earthly existence. For a desert tribe, Heaven cannot but be a place flowing with rivers of water.
More often than not, religions depend on blind faith bordering on ignorance and fear to keep devotees in line. Should a critically-thinking believer venture to separate cultural practices or untruths from religion, they will be accused of heresy, excommunicated, and even killed.
Christians will tell you that the Bible is the word of God, and everything in it is truth; nothing could be added or subtracted from it.
Biblical scripture, Joshua’s miracle, his commanding the sun to stand still, and it did, and on that day Joshua slaughtered thousands of his enemies, was proof positive that the earth was indeed the centre of the universe, the sun revolved around the earth.
In 1633, Italian astronomer Galileo Galilee declared that wasn’t the case. The earth revolved around the sun. Pope Urban VIII gave Galilee the option of recanting or excommunication.
In the 1980s Pope John Paul II exonerated Galileo. He admitted that the church erred in insisting that the sun revolves around the earth.
Apologizing for doctrinal errors does nothing for the millions persecuted, reduced to poverty, and murdered in the name of God —holding opinions contrary to what was considered the true doctrine, or believing in a different god. God beliefs continue to victimize and kill millions.
Perchance, it was on account of the short life expectancy of our progenitors, but puberty once defined adulthood, and girls were betrothed while quite young.
Since marriage between a very young girl and a much older man has its roots in antiquity, child marriage was perceived as religiously blessed, righteous, and — legal.
Pregnancy in a still developing or an under developed female resulted in high mortality rates of infants and women dying in childbirth. Hence, “Till death do us part” became an integral part of the Roman Catholic/Christian marriage vows.
Marriage has a long history of being motivated by family enrichment and politics, including brokering peace or to form or strengthen an alliance. Little girls/princesses/a chief’s daughter marrying royalty were nothing new.
In 1396, Richard II of England, then aged 29, married Princess Isabella of France, the eldest daughter of King Charles VI, of France. The French princess was six-years-old.
It’s worth noting that Richard’s mother Joan of Kent was secretly married at age 12, to Thomas Holland, Earl of Kent, and a man twice her age. And at 13, was publicly married to William Montacute, Earl of Salisbury.
In the 6th Century, marauding Muslims periodically invaded India, for among other things, to seize, carry away young women. Inasmuch as Islam forbade the defiling of married women, the practice of child marriages as a preventative measure against kidnapping gained favour and became common.
In India, married Hindu females were identified by the Bindi, a red dot between their eyebrows or in the center of their forehead, so it was easy for Muslim raiders to distinguish the married from unmarried.
Though female abductions by the followers of Islam have long been a thing of the past, child marriages in India and elsewhere continue, sometimes driven by culture and other times by poverty. Child marriage (along with the selling of a child) is simply one less mouth to feed.
For all the moral condemnation in the west of child marriage, girls in fundamentalist Christian and Jewish communities are often married by age 15, and to older men.
The UN defines child marriage as marriage before the age of 18, and it applies to boys as well. That being said, regardless of religious or philosophical dressing, child marriage of young girls to much older males is criminal and nothing but legalized pedophilia.
Nine of the ten countries with the highest rates of child marriage are in Africa. The 10th country is Bangladesh. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) 7 March 2013, press release,“In terms of absolute numbers, because of the size of its population, India has the most child marriages.”
In positioning child marriage as a violation of the rights of girls, and affirming that “No girl should be robbed of her childhood, her education and health, and her aspirations,” the release proffers that “Between 2011 and 2020, more than 140 million girls will become child brides.”
As numerous studies have repeatedly confirmed, countries with high child marriages have significantly higher rates of maternal and infant mortality. Plus, child brides are quite susceptible to obstetric fistula, a debilitating injury —a hole that develops between either the rectum and vagina or between the bladder and vagina, on account of obstructed labour, severe or failed childbirth — their body not sufficiently matured to facilitate childbirth.
Religious belief that women are born to serve men and to be a baby making machine are at the heart of Boko Haram abduction of over 200 girls in Nigeria. In their eyes, education is not a requirement for that calling.
Religious belief in India that women are of no worth except to birth sons, along with the potential for indebtedness on account of having to pay dowry created a culture of sex-selection — gendercide, the abortion of the female foetus. A 2011 study by Lancet alleges that in the past three decades over 12 million girls were aborted in India.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) which involves removing part or all of a girl’s outer sexual organs for non-medical reasons — and worse yet, with no anesthetic, no pain medication, no bona fide medical practitioner on hand, and performed in an unsterilized environment is recognised as a violation of the human rights of women and girls.
FGM psychologically scars, inhibits sexual pleasure, and engender sexual and reproductive health complications. Girls die from complications arising from FGM.
In Somalia, 98 per cent of young girls suffer genital mutilation. A 2013 UNICEF report revealed that in Egypt, 91 per cent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 have been cut.
In spite of legislation in Canada, America, and the UK against FGM, the practice is very much alive. Thousands of Canadian, British, and American born girls continue to be traumatised and victimized by this barbaric cultural practice as cutters are flown in, or girls are given a vacation trip to meet family back in the homeland of their parents, only to be seized and cut.
According to the World Health Organisation, “Between 100 million and 140 million women and girls are thought to be living with the consequences of female genital mutilation.”
While we rightfully get worked up over the doings of Boko Haram, we also need to do what we can to help stop the exploitation and oppression of women. Women are our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, daughters, lovers and wives.
Part 1 was published in the February 7, 2013, Montreal Community Contact