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Violence Against Women

12/12/07 5:55PM
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(HOST) Recent headlines have reminded commentator Madeleine Kunin that in many parts of the world, women are still subjected to violence and injustice.    

(KUNIN) Women are protected by law as never before - laws against spouse abuse, laws against rape, and laws against discrimination in almost every sector.  Violence against women continues to happen, both in America and abroad, but women are increasingly recognized as victims rather than perpetrators.

But that is not true everywhere.

The brutal treatment of women in some instances was exposed by three recent news stories.  The most shocking is the case of a 20-year-old Saudi woman who was raped by seven men. She had been in a car with a man who was not her husband, and seven men raped her and the man.

Her first crime was "illegal mingling."

Her second crime was being a rape victim.  Her attackers received a sentence of 5 to 7 years. Her original sentence was 90 lashes, but when her lawyer appealed the sentence the judge more than doubled the punishment, and her lawyer, a human rights activist, was stripped of his license and told not to talk to the press.

How can this happen in 2007?  The sad truth is that it does, especially in parts of the world where Islamic Wahabi law prevails.  The encouraging news is that this case has provoked world-wide outrage.  Whether that outrage can influence the Saudi court is yet to be seen. Prince Saud al-Faisal, the foreign minister, whose royal family controls the court, as they do everything else in Saudia Arabia, was questioned about the case at the mid-east peace conference in Annapolis. Public embarrassment may save this rape victim from her sentence, but only if other nations protest.

Our country recently made an effort to protect women against government-sponsored rape as a tool of war. It introduced a resolution at the United Nations - and, shockingly, it failed.  Rape is used as a war tactic in several countries, including Sudan in Darfur, to terrorize the population. Objections to the resolution were raised by South Africa and Angola. On behalf of a 43 African nation coalition, the resolution was watered down to meaninglessness.

Public outrage at the treatment of  women was expressed in a different case in Sudan.  It did succeed in winning a pardon for a 54 year old British school teacher, Gillian Gibbons, who had been sentenced to 40 lashes and a prison term for permitting her 7-year-old students to name a teddy bear Muhammed.  In this case, public embarrassment worked.

The women who are the victims in these cases should not have to suffer in silence.  The world must not only take notice, it must protest and it must act.  We cannot be satisfied with the gains in equality American women have made without reaching out to our sisters around the world.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.
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