Friday, December 7, 2012

Women's Rights and The World Before Her


Having grown up in the United States and as well as living in Canada for many years, I sometimes struggle to fully comprehend the difficult circumstances faced by women in other parts of the world.  We do face struggles here, but sometimes forget how many rights we have that others do not. Globally there are still places that women do not have access to the same opportunities we take for granted - education, career, financial independence and sometimes life itself.  Cultures where the male is considered the head and final word still abound and there many religions that continue striving to minimize the power women have - even when not endorsed by their religious writings.  A few stories in the last 6 months have touched my heart.


First there was the mother-to-be in Ireland - Savita Halappanavar - that died after the hospital left her to fate for 3 days while she struggled dealing with a painful miscarriage.. Only after they were sure the fetal heartbeat had stopped did they step in to help her, but by then it was too late.  She died of blood poisoning. Not once did they ever feel this fetus had a chance, but she was left to suffer anyway.


Savita Halappanavar
Then there was the attack on 14-year old Malala Yousufzai.  This young female student from Pakistan was shot in the head by the Taliban in October 2012.  Why?  Because she spoke against the Taliban's efforts to deprive girls of an education.  What better way to subjugate women than to deny them knowledge and exposure to the world.  The Taliban has labeled her a "..spy of the West.." and say the attack was justified because, "She used to propagate against mujahideen (holy warriors) to defame (the) Taliban...she would speak against the Taliban while sitting with shameless strangers and idealized the biggest enemy of Islam, Barack Obama."

Malala Yousufzai
In the paper today I read about Liu Xia, wife of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo who was placed under house arrest by the Chinese government.  For 26 months now she has been confined in her apartment - guards outside 24 hours a day - with no internet or outside phone line. The only times she is allowed outside is on weekly trips for groceries and parental visits and once a month to visit her husband in prison. "It is so absurd. I felt I was a person emotionally prepared to respond to the consequences of Liu Xiaobo winning the prize. But after he won the prize, I really never imagined...I would not be able to leave my home."  All this not because she has done anything wrong, but in an attempt to silence her husband.

Liu Xia - Photograph by: Ng Han Guan, The Associated Press

War is another area of concern for me.  When a country is invaded, first you hear about the number of citizens slaughtered and then you hear the horrific rapes of women and young girls.  It's a sad state that even in this century, a strong soldier with a gun still feels it is his right to exert this type of force against powerless females. I suspect it's about more than power. It's a throwback to feeling it's the right of the conquerors.  Sometimes it seems like we haven't evolved at all.  How do these same men face their mothers, wives and daughters when they return home?


Rwanda 1994

Below I want to share a review available today in the Vancouver Sun by Jay Stone, Post Media News, as well as the official trailer.  I have copied the article below as they only stay on line at the website for a few months and then have to be purchased through a news site. Please remember any movies like this showcase the extreme stories.  Life is much more of a kaleidoscope with changing views or perhaps a diamond with many facets.  This is in no way representative of the life of all women in India, but I think shedding light on women's struggles no matter who or where is a good thing.

The World Before Her delivers a provocative portrait of India and its current                                                                                                                cultural conflicts during a key transitional era in the country's modern history.


CAPSULE - The World Before Her: This documentary about the divisions in Indian society follows a beauty pageant and a fundamentalist religious camp where girls are taught to fight and obey. The contrasts illuminate the old and new in the country, and underline the tragic choices that women are forced to make. 4 stars out of 5 _ Jay Stone

The World Before Her
Starring: Ruhl Singh, Prachi Trivedi
Directed by: Nisha Pahuja
(In English and Hindi with English subtitles)

What does it mean to be a woman in India? That’s the question that hangs over the deceptively simple documentary The World Before Her, a look at two very different paths that women may take. Both seem devastating, but both are also sweeter than the alternative as presented by one young woman who says she respects her father because “he has given me birth, and knowing I am a girl child, he is letting me live.”

Canadian director Nisha Pahuja (Bollywood Bound) concentrates on two extremes of life. At one end is Ruhl Singh, a beautiful young woman who is one of 20 contestants in the Miss India beauty pageant. Self-possessed and confident, she understands the tawdry, sometimes lurid, aspects of the enterprise — the women have Botox injections to make their faces more “harmonious” and acidic compounds brushed on their skin to whiten it. They walk in bikinis and pose for sexy pictures for the newspapers. In one particularly devastating scene, the festival organizer has them bare only their legs so he won’t be distracted by the rest of their bodies: they walk a runway covered in white sacks with holes cut out for their eyes.

It’s all part of the Westernization of an old society, but it represents a rare chance for success and independence. A former Miss India winner, Pooja Chopra, is a particular success story: she was raised by a mother who walked out on her husband when he demanded the girl baby be killed (the film says 750,000 female fetuses a year are aborted, and an unknown number of girls are killed at birth.)
The other extreme is represented by a Durga Vahini camp, part of a right-wing movement of Hindu extremists who blame Muslims and Christians for diluting their religion. There, a teenager named Prachi Trivedi takes part in the exercises — learning martial arts, riflery — and the teaching that women are born to marry and have children. “Girls are educated but their heads are in the clouds,” a teacher tells them. “Erase these thoughts from your mind.”

Prachi is aggressively unglamorous — she thinks of herself as part boy and part girl — but her path to nationalism is also complicated. She is willing to die for “Mother India,” but her father demands that she follows a more traditional path. She is to marry and have children. “The obligation of girls is something God designed,” he says.

The World Before Her moves smoothly back and forth between the two training regimens - makeup and bikinis for one group, lessons in fundamentalist religion for the other - and Pahuja weaves in scenes of religious fighting throughout the country, as well as attacks by “Hindu Taliban” groups of men who beat women for being in bars, or for drinking alcohol.

It’s frightening, but the alternative hardly seems more palatable. “These girls have no honour,” says Prachi’s father as the family watches the Miss India pageant on TV: women answering silly questions with shallow answers, then walking around in their evening dresses, pouting seductively for a worldwide audience of a billion.

By the end of The World Before Her, we understand how high the stakes are, not just for Ruhl and the others, but for the girls in the audience who are fighting to abolish such images for a society that holds them in check. There are no easy answers here, just heartbreak.

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