Religion

Why Women’s Rights are Important to Skeptics

UPDATE: see this post for how to donate.

I learned somewhere that the best way to give criticism is to compliment, then give constructive criticism, then compliment again. I think they called it a “compliment sandwich,” which is stupid because you’re supposed to name a sandwich after whatever’s on the inside. But I digress.

In the spirit of the compliment sandwich, I’m going to write this post in the following order: happy news, depressing news, happy slightly less depressing news.

Happy News: I’m having dinner and drinks tonight at 6pm at the Legal Sea Food on the Boston waterfront with a collection of microbiologists, SGU listeners, and Skepchick readers. Please stop by if you’re around! Okay, now get ready for the hard stuff.

Depressing News (really): You may recall that about a month ago, a girl in Basra was beaten to death by her father for expressing an interest in a British soldier. The murderer was never charged with a crime, because he was upholding his family’s honor. The man’s wife, Leila Hussein, courageously divorced him and ran away to hide in various safe houses. The Guardian has just reported that she was gunned down on May 17 while with two women’s rights activists who were helping her leave Iraq. The activists have been targeted in the past, and several have been murdered. They are now attempting to flee Basra, but lack the funding to do so.

Slightly Less Depressing News: Maybe we can help.

I read about Leila’s murder over on Jezebel, and immediately contacted them to find a way to help. They put me in touch with one of the Guardian journalists in Iraq, who in turn has helped me contact the activists. We’re working on a way to get money to the women, and in the meantime I just wanted to post the news and get a discussion going.

It’s situations like these where I think it’s so very important to have rational thinkers band together to publicly condemn the ridiculous supernatural crap and religious fundamentalism that is invoked in the name of denying women basic human rights. While the war in Iraq continues to fail miserably, the women are left with the worst of it. They are raised to believe that an all-loving God has declared them to be property that can be traded, abused, and destroyed at the will of any man. If you think that American troops have brought women American freedom, take a look at this report published just a few months ago. Here are some highlights:

“Throughout the country, women reported increasing pressure to wear veils, including within government ministries,” the report stated. “Women were targeted for undertaking normal activities, such as driving a car, and wearing trousers, in an effort to force them to remain at home, wear veils and adhere to a conservative interpretation of Islam.”

About Basra, where Leila was murdered:

Basra, the formerly cosmopolitan oil capital in southern Iraq once known as the “Venice of the Middle East,” witnessed specific targeting of women. At least 57 women, warned to cover up by ominous graffiti on city walls, were found killed.

I have no more time or energy to rant about this today, but I’ll be posting on this again very soon to give you all a heads up on how to donate. In the meantime, I just want you to think about this: whether we’re talking about Bigfoot or aliens or homeopathy or the virgin Mary on an overpass, encouraging people to think critically is very, very important.

Tags

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

Related Articles

50 Comments

  1. Check with the JREF, but maybe you could do or sell something at TAM to raise money for this cause?
    Assuming that wouldn’t nip too much into their own fundraising of course.

  2. Folks mistaking bronze age or middle age traditions for values is one of those things that makes me think knocking the planet into the sun might be the best way… Since geocide isn’t exactly an ethical response either, do let us know where we could send a few bucks.

  3. While serving in northern Iraq with the Kurds, we realized there was simple, sort of “under the radar” things we could do that would help the Kurdish women’s movement. We started a driver’s training program for women, under the guise that it was to keep the men & women separate. The thing is it was fully funded and there just so happened to be laptops in the office with instructors to teach the women computer skills. It’s the little things sometimes that lead to big things.

  4. When I was in Kuwait we had standing orders that the man was always to drive if a man and a woman were going to share a vehicle. If there wasn’t a man then the woman could drive. This pissed me off more than I could describe. We were told that people would run us off the road if they saw a woman driving with a man in the car. My immediate thought was “I have this M-16, if they run us off the road I will shoot them. After all this is a “combat zone” and someone raming out car (SUV usually) is an attack.” It just made me so angry. We always talk about the need to respect other cultures. Not everything is worthy of respect. The degredation of half of the human race isn’t worth respect.

  5. Gabrielbrawley wrote:

    We were told that people would run us off the road if they saw a woman driving with a man in the car. My immediate thought was “I have this M-16, if they run us off the road I will shoot them. After all this is a “combat zone” and someone raming out car (SUV usually) is an attack.”

    When someone is attempting vehicular manslaughter (is it still manslaughter if it’s premeditated?), that seems like the only reasonable response.
    Their motivation for trying to kill you is irrelevant to your self defense.

  6. Exarch
    The impression I always got when we would get this briefing, and we got it a lot, was that it would be our fault for letting a woman drive. Made me so angry. They way they treat women is wrong on a level that I can’t really comprehend it. It isn’t the kind of wrong that I can understand. It is like the roomate I had in college who insisted that there was air in space but we just couldn’t breathe it because it was poison. I couldn’t understand how he thought that. How do you even talk to them? How can you say anything beyond “You are an idiot”?

  7. This is such a sad situation and it is certainly not a one off situation. We need to raise awareness of the plight of women in these religion driven societies. I hope for the update on how to help soon.

  8. It’s situations like these where I think it’s so very important to have rational thinkers band together to publicly condemn the ridiculous supernatural crap and religious fundamentalism that is invoked in the name of denying women basic human rights.

    There is never a shortage of public condemnation when one group (gender-specific or otherwise) is denied basic human rights. Tragic and horrific cases like this one always tend to boost outcries by various groups around the world.

    I just worry that public condemnations don’t do much when it comes to changing engrained cultural mores, no matter what their source. Though I’m fairly certain that trying to transform cultures in the 21st century through conventional warfare has actually set any causes aimed at making such changes back instead of progressing them.

    . . . whether we’re talking about Bigfoot or aliens or homeopathy or the virgin Mary on an overpass, encouraging people to think critically is very, very important.

    Supremely important.

    Even though I am a contributor here at Skepchick and have been involved with the JREF for many years, and even though I don’t mind that people label me a skeptic or an atheist or whatever, I don’t really consider myself an activist for any movement other than the promotion of science and especially critical thinking.

    Of course there’s no simple fix, but until critical thinking — along with the development of free markets — becomes as engrained in these ass-backward, third world cultures as Dark Age religiosity, we’re sadly going to hear of more atrocities like this one.

    In the meantime, helping the people trapped in the fire is certainly worthwhile, and I look forward to finding out how to add whatever I can spare to the hopper.

  9. So how do we get the Middle East out of the metaphorical 15th century? (Maybe more like the 11th century…)

    Personally I think we should somehow find ways to infiltrate their culture with media that lets them see that the rest of the world does not live the same way and yet we are not a bunch of maniacal evil demons.

    I mean, these people live in a little bubble that shuts out most reasonable information about the outside world. At least that’s what I picked up by reading Infidel, and I am ashamed to say I don’t know much more about this area, but what can we do? I mean, I have no way to learn but from books, etc. But at least we have access to read about other cultures, etc.

  10. I think it is important to remember that we aren’t that far removed from this type of thinking. The Southern Baptist Convention has a ruling instructing its female members to “submit” to their husbands in all things and to do it cheerfully. I have heard women interviewed who say they wouldn’t vote for Clinton because women shouldn’t be in authority. I heard one woman say that the highest duty of women was to be subservient to men. I think this is crazy. This is America 21st century.

  11. I think it is important to remember that we aren’t that far removed from this type of thinking.

    Perhaps not entirely, but come on. There is one huge difference. The man who killed his daughter would be prosecuted. And those that killed Leila would be wanted by law enforcement.

  12. It is kind of surreal to sit down in the home of someone in a tiny, remote Iraqi village, drink chai and have the children tell you how excited they are that their teacher is coming back to teach. It’s not like when I was a kid in the States and everyone’s bummed about having to go to school. In Iraq it appears as though education is highly regarded. That said however, there’s still a lot of sexual segregation and this is variable based on location (shia Basra is insanely strict, kurdish Erbil is more liberal about it). Education and free access to raw information will likely play a big part in Middle Eastern society. However, it’ll also require a thirst for change on a scale we still haven’t seen. People really are beat down in places like Iraq and feel rather hopeless about their lot in life, so they seem resigned to the status quo. Sad.

  13. Sam,

    You are right. I want it to stay that way, I just want us to realise that there are people and groups that are working toward an America where religious beliefs, especially conservative christian beliefs, trump any law. One might seem like a small thing at first leads to larger things later.

  14. I just want us to realise that there are people and groups that are working toward an America where religious beliefs, especially conservative christian beliefs, trump any law.

    I got you. I live in Texas where I see a lot of people who would have just that sort of system if they could.

  15. There’s a LOT of people over there trying, trust me. Unfortunately it’s a really extreme case of turning rotten lemons into lemonade. There are, however, little victories sprinkled amongst the huge problems. Unfortunately every day is a frustrating struggle trying to keep locals from killing each other, convincing them to trust you and make you understand that your motives are sincere, fighting with bureaucrats to release a bit of money to do something good that won’t be blown up or wasted, etc etc. On top of that it’s a struggle to stay alive.

  16. “Personally I think we should somehow find ways to infiltrate their culture with media that lets them see that the rest of the world does not live the same way and yet we are not a bunch of maniacal evil demons. ”

    The flip side is that’s one way the extremists drum up support. It convinces the faithful that we in the west aren’t christians, but pagans and athiests, and thus worthy of being slaughtered. (I only wish we were less christian and more athiest, but that’s another story).

  17. In the mid ninties, while I was at Humboldt State, I was talking to an exchange student from Saudi Arabia who asked me if I thought we’d ever have a female president, and I told him we would. He asked what we’d do about the arab states, who’d lose all respect and look down on us, and I flipantly said that they’d have to get used to it. He wasn’t happy about that.

    I naively thought that when that day comes they’d wake up and face reality. I didn’t realize how bad it really was over there.

  18. Are you really going to donate? I mean, it is one particular case of thousands. The only thing that makes it special is the attention drawn by media. Why people can get so emotional upon some distant event that has almost no impact on their lives is beyond my comprehension (just wanted to say: calm down!).

    Are you sure, the story is true and exact ? I do not doubt such things happen pretty often in Iraq and similar countries, but I have also developed distrust of news and journalists.

    How do you make sure, that your donation will reach the people the right people? Will the donation really help them? It does not help much if they can not keep it for more than a few hours….
    Skepticism is required when donating as well. (remember some of those African leaders, who begged not to be given any donations/aids.)

    Something else.
    It is a nice thing, that we realized ca. a hundred years ago, that it is not a good idea to oppress half of the population based on their gender. But is it not a bit hypocritical to expect everyone else to realize it immediately? (No, I am not defending those bastards that kill women just because they can, but don’t understand the uprising on something that was obvious for a long time, [and now one example got much attention])

  19. Why people can get so emotional upon some distant event that has almost no impact on their lives is beyond my comprehension

    Um, because we have empathy and we can imagine the same thing happening to us?

    How people can hear terrible things happening to others, even if they are far away, and not seem to give a shit is beyond my comprehension.

  20. Nador, sometimes doing the right thing is worthwhile despite the level of futility one might perceive.

    And believe it or not, some people can get so emotional about a distant event that has almost no impact on their lives because they are capable of empathy, not to mention sympathy.

    Your skepticism (and cynicism) is well noted, if not misplaced in this instance.

  21. Well, yes, I admit that I more or less lack empathy.
    On the other hand, I still think the reaction is out of proportion (especially irrational, since the phenomena was well known), besides I am not sure donating is the best way to solve this.

  22. besides I am not sure donating is the best way to solve this.

    You probably won’t get many arguments about that. Donations may not change the cultural mores, but money might help these particular activists to safety.

    Baby steps.

  23. As far as skepticism and women’s rights are concerned: Since almost all misogyny (if not all) is based on woo, religion or really bad “science”, then it would seem to me that by definition a skeptic would have to be a feminist (yes, I used the “F” word).

    If I may relate a story from my ESL teaching days: My classes were typically European and Asian, with a smattering of Latin American, African, Central Asian (Iran in this case) and Middle Eastern adults from the upper eschelons and diplomatic corps of their respective societies.

    One day we were discussing abortion rights in various countries. I believe this was around the time of German reunification, and this was an issue because of differing laws in the two Germanies. Each student, in turn, told whether abortion was legal and/or readily available in his or her country. My Iranian student, a midwife (really much closer to OB/Gyn in this country) said abortion was available only if the life of the mother was in danger. We asked what the punishment would be for performing an abortion that didn’t meet this criterion. “Death”. I knew this student pretty well and she was a firecracker, so with a wink I asked her if she had ever performed an abortion. “Of course.” And then I asked her if the mother’s life was always at risk. “Of course not.” And then she said the thing that really hit the “enlightened” western women pretty hard. With a dismissive wave of her hand, “The thing is, men make all these rules for women, and they think we won’t stick together, it’s absurd.” The fact of the matter is, in the west, I think we don’t stick together as much as we should. While I would NEVER want to live under any theocracy or culture that devalued women so much, I think it is an important lesson for women everywhere to learn.

  24. Oh, and as far as this particular story goes: it is time we start taking women’s rights seriously as human rights when it comes to immigration policy. Women under such circumstances should be given the same priority refugees from communist countries were given during the cold war.

  25. BTW, Rebecca is doing more research into this before actually asking for donations. That’s why she didn’t set up a way to donate with this initial post.

    I personally hope that Skepchick can do more and more about women’s human rights issues in the future.

  26. It looks to me like Nador is opposed to that weird groupthink that I like to call “Baby Jessica Syndrome”, as in that little girl that fell down the well. The whole country was freaking out for that one little girl’s plight – meanwhile, millions of kids in this country are impoverished, and living horrible lives, going unnoticed.

    However, baby Jessica accidentally fell down a well. The woman in Iraq was intentionally killed, and that is a symptom of a totally screwed up system that allows this kind of thing to happen probably more than we ever hear about (and the fact is that it’s just an extreme example of the misogyny in the middle east that needs to be combated.)

    Does that make any sense?

  27. On the other hand, I still think the reaction is out of proportion (especially irrational, since the phenomena was well known), besides I am not sure donating is the best way to solve this.

    Just because something is known to happen commonly, does that mean we should shrug and live with it? I agree, we have to think about the right way to help. To Sam’s point, in this case, donating could help get them out and safe and that would be one less case of people in danger. Are you saying we should ignore it and hope that the problem solves itself?

  28. I’ve forwarded this entry on to http://bitchphd.blogspot.com/ via email.

    I hope we can help these women out.

    Also, to those who might be discouraged by the futility of it all – remember the story of the Star Thrower (Loren Eiseley). It’s been romanticized for chain-mail’s sake, but the general story is that of a man throwing starfish into the sea to save them from collectors who would allow them to dry out and die (so they could sell them), and another man attempting to dissuade him by remarking that “death is the only successful collector” – meaning that all of the starfish will eventually die, and that saving them this once will not make any real difference. Later, though, the second man ponders this and realizes that he was wrong – that to be human means to be compassionate and to help other creatures. Though it might not seem rational in the long run, the truth is that saving the starfish does make a difference, though small, and is a worthy act. He later joins the first man on the beach, and begins throwing the stars into the sea, remarking, “I understand. Call me another thrower.”

    It is the “small changes aren’t important” theory that allows these kinds of problems to grow and affect so many people. Seeing the overwhelming instances of abuse and suffering that so many go through needlessly is enough to make people wonder if the small changes really matter.

    The truth is, that it takes a lot of small changes to make change on an enormous scale. Certainly it’s not going to solve the bigger issues, and there are others deserving (maybe moreso) of assistance – but that is no reason to feel that this makes no difference or that it is not worth doing.

    The hope is that through many small changes, we can eventually change the world. Maybe a lofty goal, but history shows that the theory is correct.

  29. Every step matters. A single stride only takes you a couple of feet, but if you put enough of them in the same direction, you can cross a continent.

    Sweat the small stuff. Seriously. In the end, that’s all there is – tons and tons of little things that add together to make the big ones.

  30. to whitebird:
    Yes, I certainly feel opposed to the collective insanity that you called “Baby Jessica Syndrome”.

    to Masala Skeptic:
    „Just because something is known to happen commonly, does that mean we should shrug and live with it?”
    In a way, yes. If we know something bad is going on, we should act against. And actually some sort of attempts have even been done as Brando mentioned here. And it is obviously a problem that is really difficult to solve, and certainly requires the death of whole generations (hopefully (?) in a natural way) as cultural indoctrination is difficult to overcome. So when one rather extreme case of tragedy is revealed one should not lose his mind. One might reinforce his efforts, but I don’t think we are witnessing that. At the moment it looks like those many attempts that usually involve high publicity and which tend to help a few (if anyone) and be abandoned as media heap wears off. [Of course it is not necessarily such a case.]

  31. Nador, I’ve read your comments and don’t understand what you’re trying to say. The situation is this: women in Iraq have been working to help other women escape dangerous conditions. Now the activists themselves are being murdered and must escape the city. They lack the funds to escape. Some of us have money we can donate to help them escape.

    Please explain how this is “losing one’s mind,” or at least explain how this would be ineffectual as you claim. Giving them money will have a very real consequence — that of saving the lives of brave women who are trying to make a difference in Iraq.

  32. If money is the only thing they need to get to a safe place, then it is all right and effective. Just this scenario seems unlikely to me [but I might be wrong about that]. I am not against helping them, as I have mentioned that previously, just might be overly cautious about foreign help and journalist as well. Probably American journalists are better.
    Sorry about “losing mind”, it might have different connotations in English. What I wanted to say is if something bad happens that we are already fighting and are aware of, we should not just change policy.

  33. Sorry, I realized that it was rather unnecessary to break down your enthusiasm about the issue (fortunately I did not succeed). Go, donate and feel good about the thought of doing something good.

  34. Nador, thanks for responding.

    If money is the only thing they need to get to a safe place, then it is all right and effective. Just this scenario seems unlikely to me [but I might be wrong about that].

    What about it seems unlikely? Have you by chance read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book, Infidel? It costs money to escape a dangerous situation — money for bribes, for apartment rentals, for cars. Women there have no power and are raped and murdered simply for going outside unaccompanied by a man. As others who have actually been there have stated in these comments, women can’t even just get in a car and drive away.

    Obviously we need to be careful to verify that funds reach the right hands . . . as Donna stated above, that is what I am doing and that is what is delaying the collection of money.

    Sorry about “losing mind”, it might have different connotations in English.

    “Losing one’s mind” implies that one is acting aggressively irrational. I don’t see that happening here.

    What I wanted to say is if something bad happens that we are already fighting and are aware of, we should not just change policy.

    What policy?

  35. The losing mind thing was an answer to Masala Skeptic, and referred to a theoretical event of the revelation of something bad. And referred to that, such a thing should generally not imply extraordinary acts, especially if we know such things are common. [And in this case helping particular people is somewhat extraordinary.]
    What policy? – I think you mean that there is no policy dedicated to helping brave women. Yes, you are right about that, but it was the same as above.

    About infidel:
    No, I have not read it.

    Yes, bribes may cost much.
    Do they have visa to some other countries? As they acted directly against some immoral social rules, they might need to flee from the country: Although news coverage is not really good in such countries, some of them still reach people, which makes it more difficult to flee and to bribe (this might be a very serious disadvantage). So I think they need much more help than bare money. So just give them money and things are going to be all right seems unlikely. And we have not asked any questions about the interpretation of news, but that would be a whole different story.

  36. Writerdd: Actually, don’t they consider Christians to be infidels as well?

    Christians and Jews are also religions of the Book. They are considered beneath Moslems for failing to acknowledge Mohamed as the last prophet, but are allowed their error as long as they are dhimmis … people who pay tribute and are subservient to Islam.

    We atheists, as well as members of any other religion, are all considered kafirs, and can have anything done to us the Moslem thinks he can get away with … murder, rape, enslavement … these are all allowed under sharia to be inflicted on those who aren’t followers of the book.

  37. As far as skepticism and women’s rights are concerned: Since almost all misogyny (if not all) is based on woo, religion or really bad “science”…
    I’d really wonder about that.
    When it comes to discrimination based on class/gender/race/religion/whatever, I’d have thought one important thing was simply selfish interest.
    If someone can get more power/leisure time/sex/money by having people from some other group be obedient, work for little or nothing, etc, then that’s undeniably inviting to many people.

    It would seem that even over a short period, once it’s seen that “That’s what happens to people who resist”, many victims will comply out of fear even if they know any justifications are bogus. Likewise, the beneficiaries can see the benefits with or without any justification.

    There may be a fig-leaf element in using religion to try to cover up selfishness, but I’m not sure how many people would *really* buy it, even among the believers.

    Anyway, I’d have thought that a fair amount of the time, religions survive by telling people what they were already doing, or had already decided to do was OK.
    There can certainly be an element of inertia, with religions helping to stop things changing, but even then, I’m unsure how often that actually flies in the face of what people (or at least, the people in power) want to do.

  38. As to how much difference helping these women will make: These women really stuck their necks out to help other women they probably don’t know. Surely we should help them out when they need it.

Leave a Reply

You May Also Enjoy

Close
Close