Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

International Women’s Day

Today, 08 March 2007, is International Women’s Day, commemorating both the struggle for women’s rights and the equality of the sexes, and also the struggle for global peace since women, especially in the modern & postmodern eras, have usually been at the forefront of the struggle for peace.  The United Nations’ theme for this year’s commemoration is “Ending Impunity for Violence Against Women and Girls.”  Nothing could be more appropriate:  A few stats:

  •  Each year in India, around 25,000 brides are burned to death because of insufficient dowries. The groom’s family kills the bride by burning her alive and claiming that it was either accidental or a suicide. Then the groom is free to remarry.  Because of pervasive sexism, the authorities do not investigate these crimes very thoroughly or attempt vigorous prosecutions or prevention.
  • In India and elsewhere, many doctors are refusing to give sonograms to pregnant women because if they find out the sex of the developing fetus, they will likely abort it if it’s a girl. Boys are wanted and girls are not and so female fetuses are more likely to be aborted–or abandoned once born.
  • In many countries, women who are raped are killed by their own families in order to “preserve the family honor.” Honor killings can also take place if there is voluntary sex or even marriage to someone not approved by the family. Such “honor killings” are common in Jordan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and other Persian Gulf countries.
  • In Africa, female genital mutilation (sometimes called euphemistically “female circumcision,”), or FGM, is so common that UNICEF estimates that somewhere between 100 million and 140 million girls and women have been subjected to this vile practice. The idea seems to be that if the clitoris is removed and the labia sewn tighter, it will guarantee pre-marital virginity and marital chastity by removing any chance of female pleasure during sex and guaranteeing great pain.  28 African countries have massive problems with this practice–although it is outlawed in more than half of them.
  • Rape as a weapon of war has been used in the former Yugoslavia, the Chiapas region of Mexico, Rwanda, Kuwait, Haiti, Colombia, Liberia, and elsewhere. In the U.S. in 2004 (the last year with published data), according to the FBI, there were over 94,600 reported rapes–which means that over 32 women were raped out of every 100,000. The FBI also estimates that only 37% of all rapes in the U.S. are ever reported.

I could go on, but the grim picture is easily discerned already.  Because in most of the world, women are still not seen as the equals to men, their lives are less valued. Therefore, violence against women and girls is “justified” in numerous ways.  Many religions, including many conservative interpretations of Christianity, consider women to be inferior to men (although the latest attempt to hide this truth is to re-brand such subordinationism with the title “complementarianism,” which claims that women are ontologically equal to men, but still must have “complementary” roles–which are coincidentally enough subordinate to the roles of men).  Some religions, or versions of some religions, openly justify violence toward women and girls to “keep them in their place.” In the developed world this is no longer usually stated so baldly. Instead, religious traditionalists pretend to be apalled that any could misunderstand their teachings of subordination to include violence and they refuse to take responsibility for the way their teachings produce spouse abusers and other males who hurt women.

Usually during women’s history month (March) and on International Women’s Day, I join in celebrating the many accomplishments of women–and they are many indeed.  But, today, as the father of two daughters, I find it appropriate to stick with the UN Theme. We need to stop violence against women and girls–and the greatest responsibility for this rest on us men–to give up our false senses of superiority and entitlement.

More stats on the state of women globally:

  • Of the 800 million adults worldwide who are illiterate (cannot read or write in their native language), two-thirds are women since girls are not seen as worth the investment or are busy with domestic chores during schooltime.
  • 2 million girls (aged 5-15) join the international commercial sex market every year.  This is not a “lifestyle choice” to be left as an unregulated market, but a form of sex slavery. As the AIDS pandemic has grown the “market demand” for younger and younger girl prostitutes has grown since (a) young girls are less likely to be infected with HIV and (b) there is a widely held myth in much of the world that men with HIV/AIDS can cure themselves by having sex with a virgin!!
  • 70% of the world’s poorest people are women.
  • Violence against women causes more deaths and disabilities globally than war, cancer, malaria, or traffic accidents.
  • Women produce 50% of the world’s food, but own less than 2% of the world’s land.
  • Of the more than 1 billion people living in extreme poverty, 70% are women.
  • Almost 1/3 of the world’s women are homeless or live in inadequate housing.
  • 50% of all murdered women are killed by their current or former husbands or boyfriends.
  • Every minute that goes by a woman dies of pregnancy complications–usually ones easily preventable with proper prenatal care and obstetrics.
  • Women work 2/3 of the world’s working hours, but earn only 10% of the world’s income.
  • According to some estimates, 1 out of every 3 women will be raped, beaten, non-physically coerced into sex, or otherwise abused at some point in her life.

All this, of course, makes the amazing achievements of women throughout the world and throughout all history all the more incredible.  The struggle is long and hard. It is far to easy to forget that here in the U.S., women struggled for 70 years to get the right to vote–and the Equal Rights Amendment failed to get ratification by the required 3/4 of the states. Women of faith and courage have almost always struggled for justice and peace for others and not just themselves, yet men have far too often depicted feminists as “selfish.” Men of the world, especially CHRISTIAN men, I say, “repent!”

UPDATE: The U.S. has not ratified CEDAW, the U.N.’s Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women.  So, to commemorate International Women’s Day, Amnesty International is urging everyone in the U.S. to email their U.S. senators and urge CEDAW’s ratification as one way to help stop violence against women.  You can take this action here.

Update II: Aric Clark (the Miner of the blog, Mined Splatterings) has listed some more stats specifically dealing with the U.S. treatment of women in the comments section. Be sure to see them–and repent.

March 8, 2007 - Posted by | economic justice, human rights., nonviolence, Obituaries, sexism, women


  1. Amen! I say, Amen!

    All that is missing is some of the statistics that show how far we still have to go in this country. For example:

    at a conservative estimate 40% of women in the US are physically or sexually abused before the age of 21. (American Psychological Association)

    women are ten times more likely than men to be the victim of violence by an intimate.

    almost 50% of female murder victims over the age of 14 are killed by their current or former spouse (as compared with 4 percent for men).

    only about 50% of domestic violence is reported.

    30% of women will be the victim of attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.

    2/3 of those women will know their assailant.

    1 out of 39 rapists will be convicted.


    98% of all secretaries are female as are:
    80% of all waiters, librarians, cashiers and receptionists
    and only 2% of carpenters and auto mechanics.

    75% of working women still earn less than $25,000 a year

    They earn about 68%-80% of what a man in the same position would earn.

    Only 2 of the top 1,000 US companies has ever had a women CEO.

    To say, “Repent!” is to put it mildly.

    Comment by Aric Clark | March 8, 2007

  2. Thanks for those stats, Aric. I did include a few from the U.S., but not enough. Thanks for your additions. How about this, “O Men of the World! If you do not repent, the Day of the Lord will be for you darkness and not light!” (With apologies to Amos.)

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | March 8, 2007

  3. Great post Michael! Thanks for the info.

    Comment by Marty | March 9, 2007

  4. Those statistics are staggering – thanks so much for this post.

    Comment by kim | March 9, 2007

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