Women and Their Rights As Sacrifice

Deepali Gaur Singh

Offering women and their rights as the first sacrifice is commonplace to preserve the chaste principles of almost any religion.

The King of Saudi Arabia, under pressure from some quarters, eventually granted pardon to the gang-rape victim ‘not because he wished to undermine the judgement of the courts' but for the larger common good.

Despite the blatant and brutal physical violation, this woman faced a judicial violation as punishment for being in the company of a man – who was not a relative – further victimizing her for a crime against her. This probably would be seen as an extreme example of the kind of hold religion and its tenets can have over the lives of people, in particular women; but in fact examples of women and their rights offered as the first sacrifice in preserving the chaste principles of almost any religion and its practices are not that uncommon in the world around us and not just the immediate community. Even though the Saudi case might appear horrific to many, including those in urban India, the case of women raped by influential men within their rural communities for daring to take up cudgels against patriarchal practices would not need very in depth research.

The irony is that in a multi-cultural society like India, with a history of both tolerance and conflict, the one thing that appears to have a common cause across religions, cultures and sub-cultures is the manner in which women are treated and perceived within the community — especially in the single-minded pursuance of protecting one's beliefs and value-systems. With honor and reputation being the driving forces of many South Asian societies and cultures, and women seen as the primary vessels of this family honor, very often women are also made to pay the price for family disrepute with their lives. Committing suicide after a rape was for a long time seen as the honorable thing to do for a woman — despite being the victim of the crime — which also ensures that rape continues unabated since the accused is never held accountable. Besides, in a society where most marriages are arranged by fathers and money is often exchanged as a price for the groom in the form of dowry, a woman's desire to choose her own husband is viewed as a grave act of defiance. Especially if the intended alliance is inter-caste or inter-religion despite enjoying a legal protection. Cases of women (and even men) killed just to end the ‘unholy' alliance are not uncommon even in urban India not to mention the often brutal punishments sanctioned by the local panchayats (see below) or other governing bodies in rural India.

That post-independent modern India has actually seen cases of Sati is in reality an extension of the same mind-set where women's lives are so inextricably tied to their husbands and dying on the pyre – willingly or unwillingly – is perceived as the honorable thing. So while communities condoning the practice erect temples in the name of these satis and the judiciary allows the abettors to escape any form of punishment, proud urban Indians continue to deny the existence of such a practise because it was apparently a feature of colonial India. That even one woman consigning herself to flames (under suspicious circumstances) in the late 1980s and being blatantly eulogized even today counts for nothing is the unfortunate reality of how wide the gap is between urban and rural India.

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How do you talk about women without talking about the orthodoxy of each and every religion, which in its own peculiar way ends up perceiving women and their bodily autonomy in much the same manner as the next? And the upholders of these various religious faiths, in maintaining their distinct traditional beliefs and faiths have, ironically, been quite unanimous in their opposition to sex education. Stretching the argument to a nationalistic screech of a western propaganda to it being against Indian values and culture and its corrupting effect on young minds, the curriculum has been doomed from the start. The truth is that sex education, even if it were implemented, will not reach most adolescents or young adults because most children still do not make it to schools in India. Those who do either drop out for various reasons– one being the pressure to start earning for the family. In the case of girls, most often when it comes to an education they figure last on the list of priorities.

And for those who do, they are married off very early and hence are unable to continue their education. And it is this group that really are the ones most in need of sex education. For a country where girls continue to be married off much before the legal age to men much older to them, what corruption of values are these politicians and religious heads referring to? Most often their husbands have already engaged in risky sexual behaviour placing these young girls at risk too. Besides, the urban minority of young adults that they are attempting to protect already have access to the information or misinformation on sex through the new media.

Not only are these young brides slaves to the sexual needs of their older husbands, but even access to contraception and other sexual health services are not available or they simply lack information on it. Moreover, contraception is rarely encouraged by the family since it is perceived as something used commonly by sex workers. India has had legal abortions since 1971 and while religious groups even belonging to the Hindu majority have not really openly advocated any anti-abortion laws the balance is always heavily tilted against family planning. In fact abortion has been practiced less as the woman's bodily right and more as a family planning alternative and even more so criminally in willfully selecting female fetuses for abortion.

Complicity by other women in the family and the community in perpetuating these acts only strengthens the concept of women as property and the perception that violence against family members is a family and not a judicial issue. Women are perceived as someone else's property to be nurtured by parents and given away. Boys are important not just for ritualistic practices but also because inheritance laws have for long been in their favour. Hence the girl is seen as someone who adds little value to even the parental home. And culturally, irrespective of the religious pursuance, this is the manner in which girls and women have been perceived and correspondingly treated both at their parental and marital homes.

The recent case of a father killing his daughter for refusing the hijab in Canada really is just a reminder of the conflict between religion and identity that many women face within the realms of their respective religions and faiths. The issue is not just about purdah or segregation but of the manner in which women as a group, a community, a gender, face discriminatory and violent treatment all in the name of religion and the garb of tradition and culture.

What Is a Panchayat?

The Panchayat system is based on the theory of local governance as part of the Indian political system and is constitutionally provided for. Panchayat literally means ‘an assembly of five' respected elders chosen and accepted by the village community. Traditionally, these assemblies settled disputes between individuals and villages. The Indian government has decentralised several administrative functions to the village level, empowering elected gram (village) panchayats. The gram (village) panchayat is the basic unit of administration. It has 3 levels – village, block and district and it is at the village level that it is called a Panchayat. The panchayat is meant to act as a conduit between the local government and the people.

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Commentary Sexuality

Auntie Conversations: Black Women Talk Sex, Self-Care, and Illness

Charmaine Lang

These auntie conversations were just as much about me as they were about my aunts and mama. I really want to know what to expect, what to anticipate, and perhaps, even, what not to do as I age and grow in relationships so that I, too, can have a fulfilling and healthy partnership.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

“You’re just being nosy,” one of my aunts said, after I asked her if she enjoyed having sex with her husband. I assured her this was all part of a research project on the intimate lives of Black women. She relented a bit, but still gave me the side-eye.

I’ve been engaged in archival research for the last year. While the personal letters of Black women writer-activists and the newspapers of the Third World Women’s Alliance are remarkable and informative, they provide little insight into the intimate lives and sexual desires of Black women. After all, sex improves our mood and alleviates stress: That immediate gratification of pleasure and release is a way to practice self-care.

So on a recent trip home to Los Angeles, I asked my aunties to share their stories with me at a little gathering they threw in my honor.

And they did.

I asked them: “What’s your sex life like?” “Do you want to have sex?” “Are you and your husband intimate?” “You know … does he kiss you and hold your hand?” And I learned that contrary to tropes that present us as either asexual mammies or hypersexual jezebels, the Black women in my life are vulnerable and wanting love and loving partners, at all stages of life.

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Between 1952 and 1969, my maternal grandmother had six daughters and one son. All of them grew up in South Central Los Angeles, witnessing white flight, the Watts riot of 1965, and the crack epidemic. At the same time, the women have kept the family intact. They are the ones who always plan big dinners for the holidays and organize food drives for their churches. And they arranged care of their mother toward the end of her life. I’ve always wondered how they were able to prioritize family and their own desires for intimacy.

So I asked.

My 57-year-old aunt who is a retired customer service representative living in Pomona, California, told me: “My lifetime of sex consisted of first starting off with getting to know the person, communicating, establishing companionship. Once that was done, the sex and intimacy followed. When you’re younger, you have no frets. You experiment all the time.”

I wanted to know more.

“You’re not just trying to get in our business? You’re actually going to write something, right?” was my mother’s response.

When asked about the state of her sex life, my 59-year-old aunt, a social worker, said: “I am a married woman without a physical sex life with my husband. His illness has a lot to do with this, along with the aging process.”

My Pomona aunt went into more detail about how as we get older our ability and desire changes.

“You try to keep pace with pleasing your partner, and he tries to please you. But it is hard when you are a full-time worker, wife, and mother, and you commute to work. You’re tired. Hear me: You’re tired; they are not. You grow older, gain weight, and get sicker. You start to take medicine, and all that affects your ability and desire to perform.”

“For me, in a nutshell, [sexual activity] feels like work: I don’t feel excited. When it happens, it happens,” she said.

I learned the combination of energy spent on wage work, domestic labor, and mothering is draining, dissipating the mood for sex or intimacy. A husband who does not have the same domestic responsibilities has more energy for sex. The unbalanced load equates to differences in desire.

I wondered: Did my aunts talk to their partners about this?

Illnesses, such as diabetes and cancer, can cause anxiety, depression, and fatigue, which interrupt lovemaking. Talking to a partner can help to create a new normal in the relationship.

However, as my social worker aunt made clear, “It takes two to talk openly and honestly, which I find very difficult most of the time.”

“To be vulnerable is hard because I do not want to get hurt emotionally, so I protect my heart from harm,” she explained. “[My husband and I] can be harsh and curt to each other at times, which leads to me shutting down and not expressing my true feelings. My husband can be prideful and unwilling to admit there are issues within the relationship.”

Aunt April, a 47-year-old Los Angeles teacher, had some things to share too. “My love life is complicated. After suffering an overwhelming and devastating loss in 2011 of my husband and mate of nearly 20 years, I’m very hesitant to fully try again.”

She hasn’t dated since 1991. After much counseling, grieving, and encouragement from her 12-year-old daughter, she decided to give it a try.

“I have been seeing someone, but I have a lot of fear that if I relinquish my heart to him, he will die. So, I think about sabotaging the relationship so that I don’t have to get to know him and start worrying about his well-being and wondering if he feels the same way I do. In my mind, it’s easier to be casual and not give too much of my heart,” she said.

Intimacy, then, is also about being vulnerable in communicating how one feels—and open to all possibilities, even hurt.

As a 34-year-old queer Black woman figuring out my dating life, my aunt’s words about communication struck me. At times I can be guarded, too, fearful of letting someone get close. I started to ask myself: “What’s my sex life like?” and “What role does intimacy play in my life as I juggle a job and doctoral studies?”

These auntie conversations were just as much about me as they were about my aunts and mama. I really want to know what to expect, what to anticipate, and perhaps, even, what not to do as I age and grow in relationships so that I, too, can have a fulfilling and healthy partnership.

“I enjoy sex more now then I did before,” my mama, Jackie, said. Now 55, she remarried in 2013. She lives in Gilbert, Arizona, and works in the accounting and human resource field. “My husband loves me unconditionally; with him, I’m more comfortable. It’s more relaxing.”

My mama expressed her ability to enjoy herself with her husband because of the work she put into loving herself and prioritizing her needs.

I always talk to my mama about my dating life: heartbreaks and goals. She always says, “Learn to love yourself first.” It really isn’t what I want to hear, but it’s the truth. Self-love is important and central to the success of any relationship, especially the one with ourselves. My social worker aunt often takes trips to the spa and movies, and my aunt April is an avid concertgoer. They have found ways to have intimacy in their lives that is not informed by their relationship status.

The journey to self-love can be arduous at times as we discover parts of ourselves that we don’t like and want to transform. But with much compassion and patience, we can learn to be generous with the deepest parts of ourselves and each other. And isn’t that a necessary part of intimacy and sex?

The stories shared by my womenfolk reveal a side of Black women not often seen in pop culture. That is, Black women older than 45 learning how to date after the loss of a partner, and finding love and being intimate after 50. Neither mammies nor jezebels, these Black women, much like the Black women activists of the 1960s and 1970s I study, desire full lives, tenderness, and love. My aunts’ stories reassure me that Black women activists from decades past and present have intimate relationships, even if not explicit in the body of literature about them.

The stories of everyday Black women are essential in disrupting dehumanizing stereotypes so that we can begin to see representations of Black women that truly reflect our experiences and dynamic being.

News Politics

Trump Adviser and Possible Vice President Pick: ‘Women Have To Be Able to Choose’

Ally Boguhn

During an interview Sunday, Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn said when asked about his stance on abortion that women "are the ones that have to make the decision because they’re the ones that are going to decide to bring up that child or not.”

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, an adviser to Donald Trump who is also rumored to be a contender to join the presumptive Republican nominee’s ticket as vice president, said that women should “be able to choose” abortion during an interview on Sunday before backpedaling the next day.

“I think women have to be able to choose,” Flynn—a registered Democrat who is being vetted as a vice presidential contender, according to NBC News—said during an interview on ABC’s This Week when asked about his stance on abortion by Martha Raddatz. “They are the ones that have to make the decision because they’re the ones that are going to decide to bring up that child or not.”

In the same interview, Flynn also suggested that marriage equality was something “people [do] in their private lives.”

“These are not big issues that our country is dealing with that will cause our country to collapse,” Flynn went on, adding that he is “more concerned that our country could collapse because we are not dealing with education issues, immigration issues.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the national anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, swiftly condemned the retired general, claiming Flynn’s comments had “disqualified himself from consideration as Vice President” in a Sunday statement, according to USA Today. “His pro-abortion position is unacceptable and would undermine the pro-life policy commitments that Mr. Trump has made throughout the campaign.”

The next day, Flynn walked back his seeming support for abortion rights, telling Fox News that he is in fact a “pro-life Democrat.”

“This pro-choice issue is a legal issue that should be decided by the courts. I believe in law. If people want to change the law, they should vote so that we can appoint pro-life judges. I believe the law should be changed,” Flynn told the network on Monday, referring to Roe v. Wade.

Flynn’s comments on ABC had given the retired general sizable distance from the Republican Party’s stance on abortion. The party’s platform in 2012 was stringently anti-choice, calling for a “human life amendment to the Constitution,” or a so-called personhood amendment, which could criminalize abortion and ban many forms of contraception. Though Trump has previously claimed he would change the party’s platform to include exceptions on abortion bans, CNN’s Tal Kopan reported Monday that the 2016 platform draft shared with the outlet “does not include language about such exceptions” and “does not diverge strongly … from the 2012 position on abortion, saying that unborn children are protected by the Constitution and decrying abortion.”

Trump is expected to announce his pick for vice president ahead of next week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.