What is the value of a woman?


It didn’t matter that the observer couldn’t speak the language of the couple who had caught her attention in the shopping mall. The look of fear in the woman’s eyes and her cowering posture along with the man’s intimidating stance told the observer that the woman was being threatened.

The observer stepped out of the usual ignore-and-move-on reaction and firmly asked the woman if she needed help. But the woman’s eyes went from fear to terror. “No, no, no,” she said hurriedly, then added meekly, “It’s okay.”

The man who had been intimidating the woman then turned his aggression to the observer with, “Mind you own business.”

They exchanged a few more words, some of which included the observer, now turned intervener, offering to call mall security for the sake of the woman. The threat to call security was the moment the man took the woman’s hand and firmly led her away, with the woman still pleading, “It’s okay.”

One of the oft-repeated explanations for why Canadian soldiers are in Afghanistan is that females in that country had no rights and little freedom. Canadian combatants are about to leave that troubled nation but the situation for women and girls has hardly changed.

This week came the horror of 33-year-old Fulbright scholar, Rumania Manzur, a woman from Bangladesh who had been pursuing graduate studies in political science at the University of British Columbia. When Manzur, a wife and the mother of a five-year-old daughter, returned to her home country recently both her eyes were gouged out and her nose disfigured in the course of a violent beating, allegedly from her husband, who has been arrested.

These vicious actions, allegedly done in jealousy, have significantly diverted the potential of this one woman. In a region of the world that is fighting to break the cycle of gender-based violence that potential is destroyed all too frequently.

However, as in the case of the observer in the mall we don’t have to look as far away as Afghanistan or Bangladesh to find acts of violence perpetrated against females. For, almost 16 years later, can we ever forget what happened to the sisters Marsha and Tamara Ottey whose young lives, so full of promise, were brutally and tragically taken from their families and this community?

Having worked on a female help line some years ago, it became evident that there are female victims of gender-based assault and abuse in this city who have been so traumatized that they will not trust, associate with, or marry any man. Their reasoning is that they do not want to risk putting themselves in harm’s way again, risking assault or any form of abuse from a spouse.

That sounds like an extreme reaction since most men do not engage in violence against women, however, the prevalence of this type of social aberration has left some females in post trauma overly cautious.

According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation (CWF), one woman is killed every six days, on average, by an intimate partner. CWF also states that 50 per cent of all women in Canada have experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of 16, and that 61 per cent of all Canadians say they personally know at least one woman who has been sexually or physically assaulted.

Police statistics show that the number of reports of violence against women had been falling for 10 years, but then the rate of reporting began to level off so that between 2004 and 2009 reports by victims of spousal violence held at the same rate. People working in the field indicate that these days victims of spousal abuse are less likely to get the police involved and to report such incidents.

So, while women continue to gain ground in the academic arena and to expand their presence in prestigious professions, the understanding of women as equal and equally valuable human beings is still incomplete. Until such an understanding becomes well anchored in our social psychology, we face ongoing gender-based tragedies.

A note on decision-making at the municipal level…

When a person is awarded the privilege of becoming the mayor of a city like Toronto, how does he or she weigh the civic responsibilities of being mayor for all the people against his or her own private life? What exactly does it say in the job description about that aspect of the job demands? And what is left to the discretion of the individual in the job? Even as any individual takes pride in his or her job there is always some part of it that proves onerous, or at least not enjoyable.

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