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Lois M. Collins: Pay attention to the abuses of women worldwide

Published: Thursday, Jan. 26 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

You can't look very far at news sites online without coming across an image of Sahar Gul, 15, an Afghani teen who was tortured by her husband and his family for refusing to prostitute herself to support them.

The story unfolded this month after her rescue from the bathroom where she was imprisoned and, even many days later, you could still see bald patches where her hair was yanked out and scabs where her fingernails used to be. Bruises and scars linger around her eyes and a trail of cigarette burns is clearly visible.

Criminal mistreatment of women occurs in all countries, including ours. But for millions of women and girls worldwide, that's just business as usual. And we should be furious.

Ask Americans whether it's right as a country to try to "police" the world and you're apt to hear different views, depending on what the driver is: politics, oil prices, human rights, terrorism, whatever.

America should take a hard line when it comes to providing any kind of aid or support to countries that allow and even institutionalize the abuse of women and girls.

The issue is way more fundamental than whether women should have political clout or access to jobs or pay equality. It's about forcing women who are victims of rape to marry their attackers or stoning them to death because they are no longer morally chaste. The heart of the matter is allowing little girls and teens to be given as toys to sexual predators or traded like cattle to settle a debt. It's all about ignoring domestic violence and handing women and girls who have escaped hideous abuse back to their torturers.

Those practices all occur with regularity in some parts of the world. And our national foreign policy should be inflexible on the issue, the pressure we place to stop it unrelenting.

In Gul's Afghanistan, about half of all girls are ramrodded into marriage before they are 15, according to international studies. To get justice in such cases requires a robust and prolonged international outcry.

Just such an outraged response led Afghanistan's president to pardon a young woman who had been imprisoned for being raped. Still, she was urged to marry her attacker so her honor could be restored.

TrustLaw has published a list of "the world's most dangerous countries for women," based on a Thomson Reuters Foundation poll. Afghanistan tops the list, followed by Congo, Pakistan, India and Somalia. The countries were selected, it noted, for treatment of women that ranged from violence and rape to what TrustLaw, the foundation's newswire, calls "honor killings."

Hundreds of thousands of women are raped in the Congo each year with no attempt to bring the attackers to justice. In Pakistan, domestic violence is institutionalized, with more than 1,000 of the so-called "honor killings" each year. Husbands, fathers, even male siblings can kill a female for shaming the family name.

Of India, it notes that aborting female fetuses, "child marriage and high levels of trafficking and domestic servitude make the world's largest democracy" dangerous to females of all ages. Somalia's dangers include rape, female genital mutilation and child marriage.

I recognize that it's not just political pressure that brings change. My own profession, journalism, sometimes fails these females, too. We don't put enough pressure on the topic. And we have short attention spans, so we don't follow through to document change in each case we do report. We don't always tell the outcome and we should. A column in the Daily Beast recently noted this trend, as well. If governments knew we were there to tell the story's conclusion, they'd likely be more apt to present a just conclusion.

Deseret News staff writer Lois M. Collins may be reached by email at lois@desnews.com. Follow her on Twitter at loisco.

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