And the Beatings Go On and On: Afghan and Nepalese Women

The days have just spun by and the realisation that it has been a week since my last post is startling.

Part of the reason for the lull in tappings has been the fervent reading for a book review, the deadline for which my editor has kindly overlooked, namely From Patriarchy to Empowerment edited by the inimitable Valentine M. Moghadam.

When it comes to gender studies I always look to Moghadam; her extensive work in the field is flawless and this collection of 20 papers covering women’s participation in the political processes, economic, social, and cultural sectors, and in times of war in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia presents an array of insights.

Such an intuitive array in fact, that it is difficult to discern one paper on which to rile; nevertheless, had I been compelled I would choose ‘Depression in Nepalese Women: Tradition, Changing Roles, and Public Health Policy’ by Dana Crowley Jack and Mark Van Ommeren.

The paper is traumatising, inspiring indignation at the accounts by Nepalese women and their male tormentors; grief at the plight of the women who become trapped in their own silence, and fascination at the exposure of a geographical and cultural phenomena.

The facts:

  • 57% of women are illiterate, compared with 11% of men;
  • 12% of women earn money through employment, whereas 56% of men are wage earners;
  • 60% of the women who identified problems in relationship with their husbands reported repeated physical beatings;
  • According to a 1997 SAATHI report on violence against girls and women in Nepal 95% of respondents had firsthand knowledge of such violence;
  • Nearly 60% percent reporting domestic violence to be a daily occurrence.

Invariably the accounts are dire:

“My older son is very troublesome… [H]e beats me and has no respect for me. I have been suffering from this disease for years. When I had the sickness I was beaten by my sister and father; my husband also beats me.”

“When I got out of hospital my husband beat me as I was unable to do house chores, and my husband never loved me. I have three children, and he still beats me when he is drunk.”

When you consider that many of the women were married as young as fifteen, the cases are all the more harrowing.

Oftentimes the male perspective is not disclosed; the male tormentors become shadowy figures of menace that lurk in the past of the brave women who succeed in breaking free.

One of the unique elements of the article is the authors’ profferance of male perspectives, though after the first few lines one begins to wish such horrifying insights were not available:

“I do not like to see my wife. When I do, I automatically want to kill her. When I am angry I run to cut her with a knife.”

“I can’t stand my wife. I want to fight with my wife. My friends tease me because my wife works and earns more than I do. I feel like my wife tries to dominate me, so I beat her.”

“I don’t share my feelings with my wife because I am male, and how can I lower myself in front of a women? Men are to rule women. Women should be kept under our feet.”

Just typing these accounts surges the bile to my throat.

A common response mechanism deployed by the women involved is ‘self-silencing’, and when asked by the authors how they deal with anger and distress the responses were muted: keep quiet, cry, stop eating, and so on.

The book is jam-packed with incredible papers, from female Iranian film directors to dowry legislation and Bedouin school girls in Israel, but the chapter detailed above is the one that sticks in my mind long after closing the tome.

A recurring theme is the value of literacy in easing the plight of such women and facilitating their empowerment.

Two weeks ago Queen Rania of Jordan wrote an inspired article in The Sunday Times Magazine of the virtues of reading, and this week literature comes to the fore once more in the following article by Christina Lamb, detailing the risks Afghan women take in order to read and write poetry.

Distressing, saddening and sickening though the circumstances are, one cannot help but feel admiration swell for these women, for they refuse to give up.

If we take anything from these grim accounts, let it be awareness of the ongoing repression of women around the world; appreciation for our own circumstances (if liberal); and the importance of faith and hope.

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This entry was posted on April 29, 2009 by in Asia, Caledoniyya Book Club, Culture and tagged , , , , , .
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