Monday, 31 December 2012

Sweet Nothings

Guest Post by Dr. Anonymous.

Yet another woman brutalized, and now dead.

We sit, we watch, we listen, drink our collective chai, heave a sigh of relief that it wasn’t someone we knew and pass a few words of commiserations.

Our inner voice of outrage rises and falls.

We return to our daily lives, counting our blessings, and buying extra coconuts for the next religious ritual to protect ourselves from a world that grows more evil and indifferent day by day.

As a recent song by a famous western singer goes, “I am living on such sweet nothing”.

India is a country that has had privilege and misfortune of multiple rulers and invaders, a rich ancient history and proud cultural traditions, that despite the upheavals of time has managed to absorb and march on with the beat of modernity.

Long renowned as being the biggest democracy and the largest country of secular governing, Indians till this day swell with pride and wipe a tear at the memories of their homeland. It has been a bittersweet journey however, for in its quest to reach the highest academic and technological feats India has forgotten its girls.

As a Australian of Indian origins I was surprised on a recent visit to India to see the same TV slogans and advertisements still playing, the same scenes from the intermissions of childhood cartoons. The two poor farmers meeting on a dusty road, one taking his girl child to school, the other to his farm, the time old misogynist of an ancient land making dialogue with the wisdom of a young father who hopes his daughter will learn and live in a better world.

More than twenty years have passed since. That one little girl from that rural area has now attended school, she has now grown up, finished her secondary education, she is now studying in a local tertiary University, graduating and then moving to a larger metropolis where she begins working as a young professional.

Perfect isn’t it?

Look a little closer; she is scarred physically and mentally by over a decade of abuse. It has been inflicted at the hands of peers, family friends, seniors, and those in positions of authority. They range from the time of her education beginning in primary school in the playgrounds to the after hours tuitions with the local ascetic academic who deploys his carnal desires on innocent bodies.

She is uncomfortable, ashamed, and naïve. She learns early these are things she cannot discuss with those close to her, as she has seen what happened to those that did.

As she matures her resolve increases, she meets peers in similar situations who have taken to defensive measures such as carrying sharp pins whilst travelling on public transport, to turning around and walking away as a strange male masturbates in front of her in public.

At University she has a greater sense of achievement, she has overcome many adversities and has become the first in her family to attend tertiary education, her family are proud and anxious for her future as she makes her way in the new world. She graduates with good marks, she begins to work in a respectable institution.

Her days however are not free of harassment, whether buying her groceries, or applying for a driving license, she is heckled, groped, and openly propositioned at every turn. She tells herself she is strong and shows unbelievable focus, after all she tells herself, all the girls are in the same boat and are making it through somehow.

One day however this girl will stand up, she will go from being defensive onto the offensive, she may stand up to an abusive partner, she may even bite a sexual predator, because she knows that these acts are wrong and she can tolerate it no more.

The tragedy is, she will most likely pay for it with her life.

This is but a small snap shot of the lives of millions of women in India, a scenario knitted together but not unique from the lives of many women I know. Despite the advent of democracy, secularism, and free education, the struggle to empower and improve the life of a female foetus is, if anything, disappearing.

Foeticide, sexual assaults, domestic violence, mutilations, torture, revenge and honour killings are still occurring at embarrassing rates. Embarrassing to the citizens of a country who despite nuclear reactors and seats on the UN, cannot guarantee that the next girl child on a dusty rural road will not suffer an avoidable disability or worse death, at the hands of a society that does not value her.

These issues however, should not just be an embarrassment to India, but to our global collective conscience. To all of us who participate within a globalised economy, and particularly to those who operate in the jurisdictions of global law enforcement and legislation that were created to police human rights.

The Geneva Convention and bill of human rights exists in India, as does the rule of the law. However the justice system has evolved into a monstrous glacier that crushes the victims as it grows larger fed by the rivers of corruption that are flowing in every layer of its foundation.

Cases of brutal sexual assaults that have been awaiting hearings for over two decades are no longer anomaly, but a common theme that is repeated in every state of the country. A country where women, be they child or adult, are promptly dumped on the outskirts of society as soon as it is revealed they have been assaulted. A society that worships the lotus feet of the virgin like goddess who are betrothed to virile and often violent gods, whose arbitrary actions often leave the female forms on earth to suffer penance.

Where is the justice for these women? They have not only endured the torture of assaults but also have the ongoing brutalization that the legal and social masses inflict on them. Is it any wonder that so many families believe that foeticide to be a kinder alternative? Better to have lost a girl infant early then to nourish her with your love only to lose her body and soul to the hands of a violent beast?

Feminists scholars and academics in developed nations have failed to comprehend the extent of the tragedy that is unfolding in not only India, but also the entire Asian diaspora. This is especially in the cases where women’s rights in third world and developing countries is concerned.

The rise and rise of political correctness has created a defensive shield within which many academics are herded, as they focus on the minute details and fine tuning of women’s issues, literally within their own backyard. Furthermore there is also a notorious increase in conscious ignorance of the significant chasm that now exists between the basic human rights enjoyed by women in the developed world in comparison to their more oppressed sisters.

The very fact that there is such discomfort within academic circles to even discuss issues such as clothing restrictions as a form of oppression and policing of women’s bodies is a point in itself. By self censoring to such a significant degree that even free speech and discussion is curtailed, feminism has returned to its turtle shell, back to its own roots, and is now busy analyzing its own difficulties.

These difficulties are surprising to discover in their banality, and at the same time shocking. Feminism in the west is facing a significant backlash from younger generations who are embracing“sexual freedom” and “freedom of expression and lifestyle” as an anti-feminist stance. There is not only gross misinformation within the current popular culture of what feminism stands for, but also a significant disenchantment within its own ranks.

There is talk of stagnation, of irrerelevance, of extremism, and of course of disempowerment. As western feminist routinely take stock of their achievements with analysis of countless statistics they have begun to lose sight of the looming tsunami crashing on the shores of their global sisters.



Tuesday, 25 December 2012

The Silent Feminism


The brutal sexual assault on the 23 year old physiotherapist in one of the posh areas of Delhi has left many of us traumatised and speechless. The assault left her abdomen severely damaged and she has had her entire intestines surgically removed. Social media is rife with comments and updates. For a change, even some Indian men have come forward to reflect on their upbringing and the roots of patriarchy while media has been relentlessly pursuing this case, reporting all the protests and anger in Delhi and the latest developments. From my Australian home, I have seen the major news outlets in Australia cover this horrific news and yet have noted, with disappointment, the silence of my Western feminist colleagues and friends on this issue (please see Note [1]). I have not seen any international petitions generated from this site condemning this act of brutality and the Indian government’s failure to protect its women citizens. I have not seen debates in the social/media in which Western feminists have said much. Those who are quick to condemn their governments who kill women and children in drone attacks in Afghanistan or Pakistan, or who are quick to point out that Western policies have endangered lives of civilians in many parts of the world, find no words to speak out against violence that women in the Global South face repeatedly and everyday. Violence against women that is routinely normalised in certain cultures, in certain societies, in certain countries, and violence that cannot be traced to Western militarism or Western foreign policy does not find easy critics. That would not be politically correct nor would it reflect commitment to anti-racism, perhaps.

Not long ago when Adele Wilde-Blavatsky wrote an article on why she abhors the burqa and thinks it is oppressive towards women in general, it irked many Western feminists and Muslim-feminists alike. An intense personal attack and slander followed in the social media and on the website where the article was published, accusing the author of simplifying the issue, of being a white middle class racist who could not look beyond her own privilege. How dare she have an opinion on an issue that she did not understand in her Islamophobic and racist mind? Following the backlash her article was withdrawn from the feminist wire website and a signature campaign was launched by Western feminists (mostly US based academics) to discredit her argument and point out its flaws. Instead of engaging the author in a respectful manner, feminists chose to censor what they perceived as an inappropriate attack on the Muslim community. Some of us who tried to argue for reason to prevail and debate to continue were hailed as ‘white supremacists’ in disguise. The argument was reduced to mere skin colour of its propounder. Silence and censorship became feminist tools.

The brutal rape in Delhi and for that matter series of rapes including of little girls as young as two years old, complete apathy of the government, the skewed sex ratio and unabated female foeticide and infanticide, high levels of domestic violence against women in India, none of this is significant enough for an international signature campaign or for any media release that can condemn this incident. I am convinced that news about this in the media must elicit predictable responses, of the bias and prejudices of the Western media that sensationalises any news about violence in ethnic communities and violence against women in the Global South. The ostrich approach helps, as I have written elsewhere.

Third wave feminism clearly suggested to us that the global sisterhood is a myth and the concerns of women in different parts of the world are different. More importantly, we were powerfully reminded that feminists in the Global North cannot speak for women in the South nor assume any emancipatory role to ‘liberate’ their sisters in the South. However, when (patriarchal) cultures, traditions become categories to defend rather than women, feminist commitment appears on rather shaky grounds, plagued by its own contradictions. One would have thought recognising ‘cultures’ as a category of oppression rather than something that must be preserved in the name of identity politics would come naturally to feminism. Not so these days, for, critics of culture are lampooned and chastised severely for being insensitive, ignorant and racist. When Egyptian feminist, Mona Eltahawy says something about the misogyny in the Middle East it seems to outrage feminists far and wide. Petitions, media articles, interviews, social media updates all work together to discredit her views without engaging her. The same feminists have nothing to say on specific cases of violence against women in the Global South for that would be racist. Interestingly they had no complaints when Robert Fisk argued along similar lines as Eltahawy. Bizarre logic, this.

Many of us (from the Global South) journeyed long and hard and embraced homelessness to make sense of our lives which would otherwise have been policed under strict patriarchal norms. Patriarchy would have denied us the most valuable and empowering tool we have today, education, with which we express ourselves and craft our own destinies. I live in Australia and earn my living here and yet I know that the gang rape survivor in Delhi could have been me or anyone I know. The banality of this crime is the reason why this case has touched a raw nerve for most of us, not the fact that the raped girl is from the middle class, as Arundhati Roy would have us believe. It finds resonance in the stories some of us have wilfully forgotten in our quest for a life of dignity and self-respect. It reminds us of our past world when the daily struggle was not about wages or getting an education but dealing with flashing penises and groping hands, violating our bodies with impunity. Hence, the anger, the rage at this brutal aggression on the woman who today battles for life in Delhi. Hence, the protests for justice not just for this one woman but many others who have to live under misogyny.

Abuse has been the ‘normal’ part of many of our lives, not an exception but the rule. I know I am not alone as I recall moments of abuse and assault from near ones and strangers. I am not alone as I recall the shame I was made to feel every time a man looked lecherously; I am not alone as I recall how I was made to hide my body and cover it in layers for it would attract undue attention; I am not alone as I recall lewd comments and masturbating men in the dark alleys of Delhi; I am not alone as I recall the nightmare of getting into a DTC or blue line bus in Delhi, being groped by a dozen hands; I am not alone as I recall avoiding the aisle seat in the bus for fear of a male crotch shoved at me or rubbing on my shoulders; and I am not alone as I recall being told several times by the conscience keepers of society that I should not ‘provoke’ bad behaviour in men. Buried deep in the subconscious mind are those moments of rage and agony, of complete helplessness when you complained and yelled while everyone around you thought it was good tamasha (entertainment). A million such indignities suffered daily, at home and in the public space, where there was neither security nor respect. Perhaps that is why homelessness comes easy to women, for ‘home’ we are told is

where we should feel secure.

This is not the first case of brutal rape in either India or South Asia. Rape as a political weapon to teach lessons to the ‘enemy’ has been very common. War time rape or rape of women in displacement/refugee camps has been seen in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Indian security forces have raped women in Kashmir and Northeast with impunity while women in poor villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan have been raped and exchanged to resolve clan/family disputes. Rape is also normalised in homes of the wealthy as a cultural weapon in the hands of patriarchy. Not to mention marital rape which doesn’t find any mention in public discourses. There are reports of one rape in every 20 minutes in India. Rape does not distinguish women of classes, creed, religion, region, race. It is targeted at specific gendered bodies of females. Arundhati Roy has argued that the recent Delhi rape protests are an eruption of the middle class. This is a crass, insensitive comment from a thinker from the left tradition which has always chastised middle class women for upholding a patriarchal morality. Roy is no different from those Western feminist colleagues I am addressing here who are silent or less outraged today because the rapists are not ‘white’ men or soldiers oppressing the poor female of colour.

Rape is what it is and succeeds in its impact because it is not considered a ‘crime’ but a matter of great shame for women. Rape is supposed to not just physically harm the woman but is also considered an act that destroys her ‘honour’ and that of her family/community. As long as such tags of honour and shame continue to be attached to women’s bodies, rape or any violence against women will not stop. The pain of the woman battling for her life in Delhi’s Safdarjung hospital reminds us of our pain too. It opens old wounds for many of us who experienced the indignity of assault and abuse on our bodies and chose to keep quiet, or fought in the midst of jeering crowds that loves a spirited woman or two for purposes of entertainment. Sometimes we gave up not because we didn’t believe in the fight but because we were too tired and we decided to choose our fights in life. Feminism’s ‘tool box’, as an esteemed colleague and mentor always mentions, is useful and has everything for every occasion. Perhaps, we began to choose our tools very carefully.

As a feminist then, I wonder at this silence that I can hear so loud. The lack of self-reflection among feminists is profound these days. The inability to empathise is astounding and the mimicry of the mainstream is becoming the norm than exception. We are obsessed as feminist academics and activists about where we publish, how we are seen, what we speak and where we stand, who notices us and who we speak for. We are concerned about whether what we say looks good on our CVs or in our public persona, whether we are on the side of the ‘progressives’, whether our politics looks good and popular. Saying unpopular things or taking radical positions is no longer fashionable or desirable. The comfort of the’ ivory tower’ from where we preach is good enough. Our job is done as soon as we have made the judgement of where we want to be seen/to belong. My disappointment grows by the day and I am not alone I know. Away from family and away from the troubling experiences, to tame my restless mind, I pursued education and learnt to ask questions of myself. I sought a home among like-minded colleagues and friends and in the moral/ethical framework of feminism, that would recognise differences and yet put women first; feminism that believed in debate and discourse and not a certain popular opinion as ‘progressive’; feminism that would not just think of diversity as tokenism but would truly strengthen its core foundations, above all feminism that would not just be an academic ‘ism’, but one which would stand for a better informed world and would open up terrains of knowledge, inquiry and experiences than fencing them.

That feminist ‘home’ has begun to look unfamiliar these days. Many of us agonise over the Delhi rape as it opens old wounds and we experience pain we had long supressed. It reminds us of how our own lives are as much a matter of chance given the patriarchal worlds we come from as it is of our hard work and opportunities that we embraced. The indifference of our feminist sisters and colleagues in times like these adds to that pain and grief. The silence of feminists is deafening, perhaps louder than the screams of every woman raped in every part of the world.

[1] I want to acknowledge here that there is a dominant Western feminist discourse that is anti-imperialist and rooted in the left tradition. There have been diversity of views on feminist methods to be deployed but the emergence of the hegemonic Western feminism is a point to be noted. My problem with this hegemonic Western feminism is that it places all other categories: race, class, culture, religion etc. before gender and has also stopped looking for hyphenated categories in the process. More importantly, this Western feminism ‘others’ women of the Global South by selectively addressing issues only linked to Western governments and patriarchal practices. There is a fierce ‘marking of territory’ in which the dominant concern relates to the questions of whose arguments are more authentic because of how they are positioned.

Women’s bodies and (en) gendered political violence in South Asia

The feminist axiom that ‘personal is political’ comes to mind while studying cases of political violence that include terrorism, armed insurgencies and communal riots. Women are part of the political violence landscape in three significant ways: as victims and survivors, as perpetrators; and as cultural bearers of ethnic, religious and national identities. In a short piece like this it is not possible to engage all questions around women, gender and political violence. I would like to focus on two important aspects – women and girls whose bodies continue to serve as battle ground and whose complex experiences of violence are reduced to ‘bare life’ stories of victimhood where women are further disempowered and kept away from peace processes and conflict resolution.

This piece is being written in the backdrop of the terrifying ordeal of the Pakistani teenager, Malala Yousufzai, from Swat who was shot by Taliban militants for praising the American ‘enemy’ and of propagating ‘secular’ values by advocating education for girls. Bizarre accusations, one would think. Malala recovers miraculously in the quiet surroundings of a hospital in the UK while her ordeal bears testimony to the fact that all militant projects and political violence are waging a ‘war on women’. A fourteen year old, school-going, teenage girl becomes a ‘threat’ to a militant group’s (Tehrik-e-Taliban in this case) ideology and their masculinity that is usually validated by erasing women out of public spaces, by issuing religious diktats of violence against women and by bombing and killing girls in schools and women in market places and shrines. Not long before this case a 14 year old girl affected by down’s syndrome, Rimsha Masih, was perceived as threat by extremists and fundamentalists. She was accused of burning pages of the Koran and charged under the notorious blasphemy laws in Pakistan. She was subsequently acquitted of the charges after an Imam was accused of falsely planting burnt Koran pages into the pile of papers she had burnt. Her life continues to be threatened and a normal childhood is denied to her.

There are many Malalas and Rimshas in the world today. Militant groups in Afghanistan perpetrate violence and abuse against women with ease, despite aid dollars pouring in and government pledges to fight terrorism and extremism. Extremist groups in Pakistan target women and girls (Muslims and non-Muslims) indiscriminately. The situation is no different in India, where Maoist women cadres are targeted by their own comrades who rape and abuse them. The state does no better when security forces kill ‘Maoist’ women and carry them like animals for barbeque. The rape and torture of women in custody is also common (Soni Sori’s case is a brutal reminder here) and dehumanising women who are considered as the ‘other’ is the norm. In Sri Lanka, former women cadres of the LTTE have not been spared either, as they are abused, raped and marginalised while the government propaganda machinery talks about its benevolent rehabilitation efforts. It is, therefore, not without significance that large numbers of women continue to be soft targets in acts of political violence (by state and non-state actors) and this factor needs to be exposed and highlighted consistently.

The fallout of this violence against women is their absence in formal peace talks and conflict resolution processes. This is based on the widely held belief that men participate in armed resistance and thus ‘sacrifice’ their lives and freedom for their ethnic, political or religious group. Women, on the other hand, perform multiple roles in wars and political violence, including as armed guerrilla fighters, militants and support systems. However, their experiences are only documented in public memory as ‘worst sufferers and victims’. Lack of social and political recognition of their participation in armed resistance (for example in Kashmir, Sri Lanka etc.)* has resulted in their exclusion from all peace talks. The message from such situations is that stakeholders in peace must have served and sacrificed in the war and it is usually men who are recognised in their war roles. Increasingly, feminist scholarship and activism has challenged this notion of what women ‘do’ in wars and articulated that women’s voices are critical in not just engendering and sustaining a conflict but also in its resolution.

There is another aspect to this exclusion of women in resolutions of political violence and conflict. ‘Peace’ deals are waged on women’s bodies as we witnessed in the case of the Nizam- e -Adl resolution negotiated between the Taliban and the Government of Pakistan in February 2009. Under the “peace for Sharia” deal the Taliban agreed to stop its armed campaign in the Swat region and surrender its arms in exchange for the legal enforcement of the Sharia laws. Sharia courts would interpret civil rights according to Islamic strictures and women would be veiled and pushed into a life of invisibility, violence and abuse. This deal subsequently collapsed because the Taliban refused to disarm but it highlighted how wars – and also peace – are waged on women’s bodies. In many parts of Afghanistan, women and girls continue to be exchanged as part of the practice of baad or informal conflict resolution. The violence against women continues even if there are policies and laws to prevent it.

As someone who studies political violence and insurgent wars, I conclude with the conviction that political violence has deep implications on the personal lives of people and is particularly played out on women’s bodies. Feminist discourses, in recent times, have been increasingly divided over the universal application of human rights, gender equality and respect for local cultures and traditions (this debate did not end with the Shah Bano case in India!). We would be doing great disservice to our own feminist activism and scholarship if we argue that violence against women is acceptable in any culture and tradition. Political violence thrives on ideologies that ‘other’ women and justify violence against them. The way forward lies not just in exposing these cultures of violence but in articulating our fundamental feminist commitment that critiques and questions traditions and cultural and religious practices that marginalise women and inflict violence on them. I am always reminded of the poet Sahir Ludhianvi’s powerful words;

Zulm ki baat hi kya, zulm ki auqaat hi kya
Zulm bas zulm hai, aaghaaz se anjaam talak

(What is about oppression? What is with its impression?
Oppression is, all of it, but oppression. From beginning to end.)

For further references on these and related topics see the following.
  • Alison, Miranda (2004), “Women as Agents of Political Violence: Gendering Security,” Security Dialogue, 35, 447–463
  • Moser, Caroline and Fiona Clark, eds. (2001), Victims, Perpetrators or Actors? Gender, Armed Conflict and Political Violence (New York: Zed Books)
  • Parashar, Swati (2011) “Gender, Jihad, and Jingoism: Women as Perpetrators, Planners, and Patrons of Militancy in Kashmir”, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 34: 4, 295 — 317

Violence, Migrant Women and the Ostrich Approach

Published in Asian Currents (Dec. 2012)

Joumanah El Matrah is the Executive Director of the Australian Muslim Women's Centre for Human Rights. In her article, Misrepresenting Migrant Violence, carried by the ABC on its website on the 29th of October, 2012, she argued how cases of violence against women were being represented in the Australian media as cultural problems in migrant communities or as ‘spectacular’ violence happening in some distant non Western locations. She cited feminist theorising around violence to talk about the exotic/erotic nature of violence and pointed out how media reports in Australia often seem to convey that, “violence and oppression are core to minority migrant cultures. It is something they import with them when they migrate and it is their dirty little secret they keep as they settle into Australia.”

As someone who teaches feminist international relations and researches on global patterns of political violence, I have bad news for the author. I do not necessarily bring up my own ethnic/migrant positionality (of Indian origin) in my writings but in this case it might add that due authenticity to my arguments that many feminists are more concerned about than the strength of the argument itself. And finally, as someone who has been a witness to the suffering of a friend exposed to domestic violence by her ethnic migrant partner, I would like to argue that being an apologist of one culture or another and speaking from our perceived moral high ground from where we preach ‘human rights’ of minorities and migrants is not going to help the situation much.

Fact is that in Australia the level of violence faced by migrant women (from South Asia, Middle East and Africa) is much higher than domestic violence faced by white Australian women. A careful study of the Anti-Violence Orders sought by migrant women will reveal a dismal picture. The cultural factor becomes even more significant because many of these women are unable to seek help even when laws are in place to protect them. In many cases, as even the author agrees, the governments and law enforcement turn a blind eye to abuses faced by migrant women. In the high profile case of the Indian Sikh couple which made news recently in Victoria, the woman had sought AVO against her husband who repeatedly committed breaches but the police failed to act on her complaints.

The author contradicts herself as she advocates specific policies targeted at protecting migrant women from abusive partners. That is ofcourse pertinent but cannot happen unless it is acknowledged in the first place that these women face unprecedented levels of violence coming from cultures in which beating/bashing women is a commonplace offence. Violence against women is not taken seriously by their families or by the law enforcement in their ‘home’ countries. Many migrant women are vulnerable, first time foreign travellers who have no support systems in place and carry with them their cultural baggage in which speaking out against their partners/husbands is not an acceptable, approved course of action. In the case of my friend, a highly educated medical professional, the violence came from a husband who thought intimidation and abuse was the ‘normal’ thing to do. Violence does not discriminate. It targets the professional and the home-maker alike and those who speak against it, like the Sikh woman Sargun Ragi, they pay the price with their lives.

Turning a blind eye to crimes being committed within migrant communities is not going to help the cause of human rights or gender equality. Respecting minority cultures cannot imply living in denial and ignoring (dis)honour killings, emotional and physical abuse, domestic violence, female foeticide and genital mutilation practiced within certain communities all in the name of one culture or another. Female foeticide in Australia is practised by migrant women from Middle East and South Asia. Ultrasound doctors are approached by families to determine the sex of the foetus and organise the medical termination of pregnancy of female foetuses. Similar cases of foeticide and declining sex ratio of girls born to women of Indian origin has been noted in a recent study by the Canadian Medical Association Journal. We cannot pretend that “cultures” have nothing to do with these cases. All other cases of violence the author mentions about non-Western women; beheadings, gang rapes, acid throwing, public executions and stonings are all unfortunately true and the cultural relativism argument cannot obfuscate the reality, irrespective of what one chooses/wishes to read in the Western media or not.

The author dismisses the Western media portrayal of Pakistani girl Malala Yousufzai’s shooting by the Taliban and of the brutal murder of a young Afghani girl who refused to be coerced into sex work as cases of ‘spectacular’ violence. As someone associated with a Centre for Women’s Rights, she should know better. These cases are neither spectacular nor exceptional. Many girls and women in conflict zones in Pakistan and Afghanistan are subjected to violence of this kind at a daily level. Reporting on these events does not imply that there should be a disclaimer published everytime that “violence happens in Western societies too!’. Recognising violence among ethnic communities does not mean denying the violence against women in Western societies. These cases got the media attention they deserved because of the resistance these girls put up against the diktats of their own culture, tradition. The author, instead, could have worried more about why a ridiculous film on the Prophet Mohammed (not even seen by many people) made by an racist bigot, caused so much protest world-wide that also spiralled into violence, while not much was heard when a teenage girl (guilty of wanting education!) was shot by the Taliban all in the name of religion. If the shooting of one girl, the brutal murder of another is not worthy enough for people to galvanise a protest against their own societies and cultures, it is a more worrying trend surely?

Yes, certainly migrant women are entitled to citizenship, residency rights and protection against violence under the Australian law. But adopting the ostrich approach and having the head buried in the sand is not going to help the situation. What is so fundamentally radical about claiming that cultures, traditions and religions can be violent towards women? My appeal to the author and others who may think like her: let us decide who we want to protect and defend….women or cultures?