Weekly Digest: March 5–Mother and Child Edition

The past weeks have brought much news of about mothering and growing up female.  Much of the news is saddening and frustrating.  The New York Times published a story explaining why, even in the midst of a rapidly growing economy, pregnant women are “gravely underweight.”

The reasons for Indian mothers’ relatively poor health are many, including a culture that discriminates against them. Sex differences in education, employment outside the home, and infant mortality are all greater in India than in Africa. ‘In India, young newly married women are at the bottom of household hierarchies,’ Ms. Coffey said. ‘So at the same time that Indian women become pregnant, they are often expected to keep quiet, work hard and eat little.’

It is not at all surprising to me that vast economic growth does not translate into better living conditions for women.  Capitalism and patriarchy go hand in hand:  both rely on oppressing a large majority.  And economic growth doesn’t simply erase generations’ worth of gendered hazing.

The NYT also ran a long piece, the second in their series about women and girls in Afghanistan, telling the story of Faheema who was able to flee her abusive husband and reach a women’s shelter, “one of the most provocative legacies of the Western presence in Afghanistan.”

The 45-minute session was filled with tears and screaming and bordered on physical violence — several times Faheema’s mother grabbed her daughter’s arm and held it in an iron grip as if to drag her from the mediation room, through the door and out the gate. A tall, thin woman with a frightening strength, she seemed to hold Faheema in her sway far more than the men in the family.

The women, most only going by a first name but allowing their images to be shared with the world, struggle to find a life free of violence in a family structure that sometimes puts honor over safety.  The story is a must read; if women were used a reason for invading the country, we must bear witness now to the women’s lives as they are 14 years later.  Women for Afghan Women was able to help Faheema leave the shelter.

My heart ached for girls of Nigeria this week.

A girl as young as 10 blew herself up in a busy market in northeastern Nigeria, killing herself and four others, and fueling fears Islamic extremists are using kidnapped girls as suicide bombers.

In the past six years of teaching my course on Women and Violence (in which we examine women as perpetrators of violence), I have remarked that it is only a matter of time before children, who have a mobility that suspect adults no longer have, will become the perpetrators of violence.  It makes sense.  Awful sense.  A group like Boko Haram can send a girl child into a Potiskum market to kill and no one will be the wiser until this girl child has killed in their name.

In recent months, Boko Haram has begun using teenage girls and young women for suicide bombings in marketplaces, bus stations and other busy areas, but the girl in Sunday’s attack appeared far younger. It is not clear whether the girls and women have set off the explosions themselves, or whether the detonations were controlled remotely.

And though it seems impossible, this storyline grows even sadder.  And even more frustrating.  Because several days later, in a market in Bauchi, a teenage girl was beaten to death by a terrified crowd.

But police told both news services that it was unlikely the girl was actually carrying explosives, since she did not detonate a bomb when she was being attacked. Speaking with the AP, Police Deputy Superintendent Mohammad Haruna described the girl as the victim of “mob action carried out by an irate crowd.” No arrests have been made.

The BBC has confirmed she was not a bomber.  This is a sad equality, a parity of violence.  And I fear–and know deep in my heart–that this kind of story will only become more and more common until we won’t even remark upon the gender of the perpetrator because we will be all too used to such a symmetry of violence.

With its genesis in London, a search for three girls feared to have fled to Syria to join ISIS continues across a wide swath of the world.  While world leaders point fingers at each other in blame, the girls remain missing after flying to Turkey, the wide assumption being they have crossed a border to engage in some kind of resistance.

The girls, named as Shamima Begum, 15, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and an unidentified 15-year-old girl, slipped out of their homes in east London last Tuesday and caught a flight to Istanbul, Turkey, from where they are thought to be travelling to the Syrian border. In the first public appeal of its kind, Scotland Yard counter-terrorism detectives pleaded for information about the whereabouts of the girls and urged them to return home to their “devastated” families. The three girls, all students at Bethnal Green academy in east London, were friends with a 15-year-old girl who is believed to have travelled to join Isis last December.

In the coverage I have heard of this story, the reporters consistently emphasize how “integrated” into Western society these girls were.  And I roll my eyes every time.  The idea that there are clear lines and boundaries between such ideologies is a comforting myth.  Just as the border between Syria and Turkey is fluid, as are the lines between ideologies.  Them being “integrated” (e.g., “And to all appearances, they’re very well integrated into contemporary society”) doesn’t act as a bulletproof suit “protecting” them from a different ideology. In fact, their age and gender served instead as an invisibility cloak that let them move freely without being suspect.

Saturday Night Live did a sketch using dadvertising of late to satirize the trend of young women leaving to join ISIS.  The Internet flipped its lid.

Editorial Note:  I think this skit is fantastic.  It cuts right through all of the gender bullcrap and gets to the point of showing how easy it would be for a woman to leave.  It is not cutting on the American military.  It is satire of a much broader scope.  (And PS Fox and Friends, there is nothing heartwarming about the original commercial either.)

To end this week’s “Mother and Child Edition,” I offer you this graphic (as in comics) commentary on miscarriage.  As a woman who lost two pregnancies, I am always grateful when women share their experiences and erase the shame that still surrounds miscarriage. Here is the entire panel from “The Nib.”




  1. lbowm052 · · Reply

    Wow. This is sad and frustrating, but this is an eye-opening post. I was not aware of most of this. I would like to take your Women and Violence course. It seems like you are covering a lot of timely and important topics. I know that I would get so angry, but I would be so much more aware.

    1. Thanks for reading.

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