In 2001, the mother of an 11-year-old girl spirited her out of Gothenburg, in Sweden, and back to Somalia where she had her brutally genitally mutilated (and without anesthesia). The mother and two other women held her down while a man made sure that she would never experience sexual pleasure and would instead, experience a great deal of pain for the rest of her life. According to the English language Swedish media,
“For several years after the violation the girl was subjected to repeated examinations by her mother who forced her fingers into her vagina to check that her virginity remained intact. She also repeatedly assaulted her daughter with various implements including books, a curtain rail and a belt.”
Yesterday, eight years later, the girl, now 19-years-old, won a lawsuit in which she was awarded a monetary compensation from her mother for the “abuse and gross violation of (her bodily) integrity.” Damages for pain and suffering are yet to be decided.
In Somalia, the girl would not have such legal recourse. My congratulations to the Swedish, Western legal system and to the bravery of this plaintiff. May we soon see many more such lawsuits and victories as well.
Also this month, in Manchester, England, a “wicked and cruel mother” has been jailed for three years after forcing her two young daughters to marry their cousins in Pakistan in 2007. The mother had “hoodwinked” her daughters, aged 14 and 15, into going on a family holiday. Once there, she not only forced the marriage upon them—she also threatened to “tie (her elder) daughter to the bed, blindfold her and strip her and watch to make sure she had sex with her new husband.”
The girls confided in a teacher after returning to the UK. My congratulations to the British, Western legal system and to the bravery of these two sisters who may now have to live in hiding or face death.
A victory of sorts in both these cases was possible due to European laws and to the willingness of law enforcement officials to use them to prosecute “customs” which are, essentially, crimes and human rights violations in the West. These two cases also show how barbaric a mother can be to her own daughter—in the name of family honor, religion or “custom.”
This phenomena does not surprise me. I spent twenty years writing a book Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman which is appearing this month in a new edition with a new Introduction. Such inhumanity is not confined to the Third World but is also alive and well in the West. Like men, women are capable of kindness and cruelty; they are as close to the apes as to the angels. In addition, like men, women also internalize sexism–and are permitted, even expected to be aggressive, either directly or indirectly, but mainly towards other women, not towards men.
There is nothing “indirect” about female-female aggression in the Third World. Earlier in the twentieth century, anthropologists began documenting the dangerous, often deadly Third World rivalries that took place between co-wives, between wives and concubines, mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law, and so on. By the late twentieth century, human rights activists, academics, and journalists added to this work.
Thus, we learned that women, like men, felt loyalty not to other women but rather to their own race, ethnicity, tribe, class, family, etc. Thus, the Western feminist view that women are more peaceful or more compassionate than men would not pass muster with the Western female inmates at Auschwitz (mainly Jews, Gypsies, and politicals), who were tormented and guarded by women who did far more than just “follow orders”; or with the German, Polish, and Austrian Jews, whose female neighbors envied them and coveted their apartments, clothing, and furniture and who happily turned them over to the Gestapo; or with the black African girls and women of Darfur today, whose brutal and public gang rapes by ethnic Arab Muslims are accompanied by the rapists’ women cheering them on while they, the presumably gentler sex, hurl racist insults at the rape victims.
The Tutsi women of Rwanda, who also experienced public gang rapes, mutilation, massacres, and genocide at the hands of both Hutu women and men, would not necessarily view all women as their “sisters.” Currently, three thousand Hutu women, including two Roman Catholic nuns and the former minister for Women’s and Family Affairs, and one hundred thousand Hutu men are standing trial for the heinous, hands-on roles they played in the genocide of one million human beings and the torture of many more survivors.
While this might seem completely “foreign,” let me note that the Tutsi women had been considered members of the lighter-skinned, more attractive “sexual elite,” and the Hutu women had envied and resented them for this reason for a long time. As you will see, women all over the world envy what they perceive as the “prettier” girl–the prom queen, cheerleader, movie star–whom they view as capable of stealing away male interest and therefore frustrating their own chances for well-funded reproductive success.
In parts of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and among immigrants in the West, girls are still genitally mutilated by their mothers or grandmothers—as was our 19-year-old heroic plaintiff, above. They are also slaughtered in honor killings with the full cooperation and support of their female relatives.
In India, an increasing number of mothers-in-law have been charged with murdering their daughters-in-law in dowry burnings. According to a 2001 report, dowry deaths rose from 400 a year in the mid-1980s to 5,800 a year in the mid-1990s. Today, Delhi’s largest prison has about 120 women detained in the mother-in-law cell block, many of whom are serving 20-year sentences for having murdered their daughters-in-law.
Incredibly, as I’ve written about HERE,a female homicide bomber in the Middle East will sometimes stand next to a mother with young children or next to female religious pilgrims before she blows herself (or just them) right up. In 2008, in Iraq, following this tragic pattern, one of four female homicide bombers entered a tent that provided shelter to weary female religious pilgrims. She sat down, read the Koran with them, and left a bag behind that, moments later, blew them all up.
And, just as Al-Qaeda will rape women to force them to become human bombs in order to “cleanse” their shame—just so will female Al-Qaeda operatives (at least one whom we know about), will shower the poor victims with fake, false “maternality,” seasoning them, pimp-style, into a glorified suicide-homicide.
These awful foreign war-related and tradition-related tragedies seem to tower over what women may do to one another in the more privileged West, especially in America. Well–not exactly. First, daily verbal and psychological torment (bullying, ostracism, slander), at the hands of female intimates is very common and has devastating social, economic, and emotional consequences. Also, we seem to be “catching up” in terms of direct woman-on-woman violence. This will be the subject of a future piece.
Let me close with one more Third World Muslim anecdote.
In Iran, Iranian feminist activists could not believe how harshly women police officers treated them as they demonstrated for womens’ rights. According to Lili Pourzand, one of many Muslim women reformers profiled in the forthcoming book Muslim Women Reformers. Inspiring Voices Against Oppression by Ida Lichter,
“The Iranian policewomen usually come from sectors that experience all the problems faced by women in a patriarchal society. So how could they use their clubs to silence the peaceful outcry of the Iranian women who went out to the streets to demonstrate and demand the restoration of their rights?” How could they beat them until they bled and then lead them like born criminals, handcuffed, to unfamiliar and frightening detention facilities?”
One conclusion: Life in the West can potentially be better for Third World Muslim girls and women—if and only if—Western governments are willing to enforce our laws against barbarism and human rights violations and if the girls and women are willing to pay a very high price for their freedom here.
This article is a partially excerpted from the author’s copyrighted 2009 Introduction to Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman.