Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Women's Rights: Different Worlds, Related Advice

Dallas Police Chief David Brown got himself in trouble this week with comments about the increase in incidences of rape in Dallas. Half a world away, in Afghanistan, rape and mutilation and denial of rights to education, jobs and free movement outside the home are the issues women struggle with.

After the jump, how two very different worlds deal with crimes against women.

This is what Chief Brown said about rape:

"We're giving a report to the mayor on that particular category at our next mayor's meeting this month. We've been looking at that number being significantly higher all year long and it's relating back to, at least from my preliminary analysis so far this year, a little bit of known offenders, date rape, primarily where alcohol is involved, and we're needing to create a message to the victims of these types of crimes on a prevention kind of component related to, you know, first dates, second dates, someone you don't know that well, but you're at a club, and you've have had a little too much to drink, having friends or someone help watch you or maybe have someone who doesn't drink in the group. ... We thought that [more of the victims are reporting the crime] initially earlier in the year, but we're finding that these are people that you may go out on a date with and have a little too much to drink, you don't know them that well, and a sexual assault. So, we're going to do quite a bit of awareness education campaign to that victims' group that's causing this spike."

That touched off a firestorm in the blogosphere. Based on one blogger's account of what was said, the police chief was accused of blaming the victims. He denied it. Upon review of his actual words, a consensus emerged that he was offering practical advice to women without in any way shifting the blame away from the rapists. The Chief expressed his point inartfully. Bloggers assumed the worst in their rush to judgment. At best, the whole episode serves as a teachable moment. It doesn't solve the problem of rape, but maybe it shines some light on the problem and that's good.

Meanwhile, as I was reading another story about an increasingly dire situation half a world away, I couldn't help drawing a parallel to Dallas. It's the cover story in Time magazine, "Afghan Women and the Return of the Taliban" (abridged version can be found here). It details the abuses women suffer under the Taliban and the unequal rights afforded women even under the American-backed Afghan government. Here's the quote that caused me to think of Dallas:

"In May, mounting violence in the west of the country prompted the religious council of Herat province to issue an edict forbidding women to leave their homes without a male relative. The northern province of Badakhshan quickly followed suit, and other councils are considering doing the same. The edicts are usually justified as a means of protecting women from the insurgency."

Now, I'm not claiming moral equivalence. I know the difference between life in the US and life in Afghanistan. Still, I'm struck that, in both cases, women are encouraged to sacrifice a little of their freedoms in order to increase their safety. Women in America are advised with good intentions not to go to a bar without a friend to keep an eye on each other. Women in Afghanistan are forbidden by law from going about in public without a male escort. There are people, men and women, in both countries who see such advice and laws as having the best interest of women in mind, as common sense reactions to a dangerous world. And there are other people, men and women, in both countries, who see any compromise in women's behavior to accommodate those would would deny them their human rights as the first step on a slippery slope to surrender to evil.

According to Time, Fawzia Koofi, the former Deputy Speaker of the Afghanistan's parliament, says there is a better way: improved governance and security. Here's where I see the parallel: Koofi's advice is as valid for Dallas police chiefs as it is for Afghan province councils.

No comments: