Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Protecting our girls

The shooting of teenager Malala Yousafzai has shaken a lot of people, including me. Her maiming should be a wake-up call to all of us who believe we care about young women. We’re obviously not doing enough to protect girls from the fanatics who still believe women are property.

Religious extremists should not own government, and they should not own women. But if we allow them to do the first, the second never seems to be far behind. Let me be clear here. I’m not talking only about Pakistan. I’m talking about the world. I’m talking about the U.S. I’m talking about Oklahoma, where I live.

In 1979, the United Nations adopted its only international treaty specifically intended to protect women’s rights—the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. More than 30 years later, the U.S. has still not ratified this treaty. We’re in great company, with the tiny handful of countries, like Iran, who also want no part of it.

Shame on us. Why haven’t we insisted that our Senators bring this treaty to a vote over the past three decades? While we’ve allowed a few conservatives to block ratification of the Convention, to the world, we’ve been making a very clear statement: We don’t really support the elimination of discrimination against women.

And we don’t. I know we have it good in the U.S. You’re unlikely to get shot for trying to attend school. Your odds of getting murdered do go up, though, if you think you’re going to med school and becoming an abortion provider.

While extremists in some places commit honor killings, female genital mutilation or the sequestering of women, here at home we “just” force women to have babies against their will and charge them with first degree murder for suffering stillbirths or for insisting on natural childbirth rather than opting for a C-section.

I’m not trying to compare any of this to the shooting of Malala Yousafzai. I’m saying that it’s all part of the same ugly process.

Around the world, girls are wearing scarves and arm bands declaring, “I am Malala.” Darn right, they are. To the men who plotted to murder Malala, shame on you. And shame on home-grown extremists who, in their hearts, believe girls should grow up with different expectations, rights and privileges than do boys.

Protecting girls starts at home. Not one of us should be able to lay our heads on our pillows at night to sleep in peace as long as girls and women are seen as second-class citizens who don’t have the wherewithal to make moral decisions without the leadership of men. It’s not true. And claiming that god says so does not make it true.

Invoking god in political debate is a very bad idea, as we should be able to figure out from watching the world around us. It tempts people to use political power—or even force—to impose their own religious views on others. Don’t let it keep happening.

Take back the conversation. Public policy debates should not be based on who follows his or her religious beliefs the most closely. They should be based on proven outcomes for particular policies. You should know what the research says about the policies you support. Then you should stand up for them, without apology and without needing any reference to the almighty. Reality is on your side.

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