Is the United States taking a step backwards in the area of women’s rights? It would seem so. Violence against American women goes un-prosecuted, and women who have suffered remain traumatized with no justice in sight.
“Millions of women throughout the world live in conditions of abject deprivation of, and attacks against, their fundamental human rights for no other reason than that they are women.” Shall we count America among the oppressive governments that violate an entire segment of their population’s basic human rights?
Stephen Fox posted an article on OpEdNews regarding Jamie Leigh Jones: “Waiting for Justice for two years, and nothing…. Jamie Leigh Jones, gang raped by Halliburton employees in Iraq.” When questioned regarding laws that govern American military contractors in Iraq, President Bush expressed that he had no clue, and dodged the question. The video documenting this callous behavior can be seen here. Notice how everyone at the Johns Hopkins school, including the President, thought the fact that he professed to not know the answer was hilarious. An American woman working for an American contractor, allegedly raped by her fellow employees and held against her will for 24 hours, now faces an extended battle to get a court, any court, to hear her case. When questioned regarding accountability for the contractors who are accused of committing the atrocity, the President of America and everyone at the conference has a good laugh. Where is the outrage? Where is the demand for accountability?
Our U.S. government is actually condoning this type of violence against women by its failure to provide an adequate system for dealing with the problem. I doubt seriously that this is an isolated case. When women know that they will be subject to an abusive legal system that only serves to compound the trauma, they will naturally be afraid to complain. Of the women who do complain in the U.S., those who make it to court get little satisfaction from the justice system. The U.S. 1994 conviction statistics for the crime of rape are 188 convictions out of 1000 cases.
Even with this appallingly low conviction rate, the Jamie Leigh Jones case stands out as a serious step backwards for women’s rights. And why should we be surprised? America gives aid and assistance on a regular basis to governments that subjugate women and promote violence against them, with no regard for the abused.
Abuses against women are relentless, systematic, and widely tolerated, if not explicitly condoned. Violence and discrimination against women are global social epidemics, notwithstanding the very real progress of the international women’s human rights movement in identifying, raising awareness about, and challenging impunity for women’s human rights violations.
We live in a world in which women do not have basic control over what happens to their bodies. Millions of women and girls are forced to marry and have sex with men they do not desire. Women are unable to depend on the government to protect them from physical violence in the home, with sometimes fatal consequences, including increased risk of HIV/AIDS infection. Women in state custody face sexual assault by their jailers. Women are punished for having sex outside of marriage or with a person of their choosing (rather than of their family’s choosing). Husbands and other male family members obstruct or dictate women’s access to reproductive health care. Doctors and government officials disproportionately target women from disadvantaged or marginalized communities for coercive family planning policies.
“Cultural relativism…argues that there are no universal human rights and that rights are culture-specific and culturally determined.” This is simply justification for acts of aggression against a weaker segment of society. While each culture has its own unique way of life, that way of life should not include a free pass to torture and subjugate women.
Women’s lives matter, whether they are overseas or at home. The appalling apathy expressed by the President of the U.S. and the Johns Hopkins school is unacceptable. Human rights violations committed against both domestic and foreign women are never acceptable, and a lack of accountability for acts of aggression against women is never amusing.
Copyright 2007, Barbara H. Peterson