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Why Women’s Rights are Important to Skeptics

I learned somewhere that the best way to give criticism is to compliment, then give constructive criticism, then compliment again. I think they called it a “compliment sandwich,” which is stupid because you’re supposed to name a sandwich after whatever’s on the inside. But I digress.

In the spirit of the compliment sandwich, I’m going to write this post in the following order: happy news, depressing news, happy slightly less depressing news.

Happy News: I’m having dinner and drinks tonight at 6pm at the Legal Sea Food on the Boston waterfront with a collection of microbiologists, SGU listeners, and Skepchick readers. Please stop by if you’re around! Okay, now get ready for the hard stuff.

Depressing News (really): You may recall that about a month ago, a girl in Basra was beaten to death by her father for expressing an interest in a British soldier. The murderer was never charged with a crime, because he was upholding his family’s honor. The man’s wife, Leila Hussein, courageously divorced him and ran away to hide in various safe houses. The Guardian has just reported that she was gunned down on May 17 while with two women’s rights activists who were helping her leave Iraq. The activists have been targeted in the past, and several have been murdered. They are now attempting to flee Basra, but lack the funding to do so.

Slightly Less Depressing News: Maybe we can help.

I read about Leila’s murder over on Jezebel, and immediately contacted them to find a way to help. They put me in touch with one of the Guardian journalists in Iraq, who in turn has helped me contact the activists. We’re working on a way to get money to the women, and in the meantime I just wanted to post the news and get a discussion going.

It’s situations like these where I think it’s so very important to have rational thinkers band together to publicly condemn the ridiculous supernatural crap and religious fundamentalism that is invoked in the name of denying women basic human rights. While the war in Iraq continues to fail miserably, the women are left with the worst of it. They are raised to believe that an all-loving God has declared them to be property that can be traded, abused, and destroyed at the will of any man. If you think that American troops have brought women American freedom, take a look at this report published just a few months ago. Here are some highlights:

“Throughout the country, women reported increasing pressure to wear veils, including within government ministries,” the report stated. “Women were targeted for undertaking normal activities, such as driving a car, and wearing trousers, in an effort to force them to remain at home, wear veils and adhere to a conservative interpretation of Islam.”

About Basra, where Leila was murdered:

Basra, the formerly cosmopolitan oil capital in southern Iraq once known as the “Venice of the Middle East,” witnessed specific targeting of women. At least 57 women, warned to cover up by ominous graffiti on city walls, were found killed.

I have no more time or energy to rant about this today, but I’ll be posting on this again very soon to give you all a heads up on how to donate. In the meantime, I just want you to think about this: whether we’re talking about Bigfoot or aliens or homeopathy or the virgin Mary on an overpass, encouraging people to think critically is very, very important.

9 comments to Why Women’s Rights are Important to Skeptics

  • Yoo

    I wish there was a way to get the extremist men some empathy and respect for women, but it’s discouraging to think that they probably think it’s their moral duty to be so bigoted. However, I think “it’s just the way things are done” is probably the more fundamental motivation than “my religion tells me so”.

    Religion is probably just an enabler that makes their bigotry much worse. Living in a culture where religion is not a widely accepted excuse for violence, I still encounter non-religious bigotry, but at least hate crimes are not tolerated by law (a few people might sympathize with the perpetuators, but they’d still be punished).

    There’s probably no way to change such social mores until the at least the current generation dies off, and even that is probably being optimistic. Which makes it all the more important to help out, so count my donation in, albeit it won’t be much considering my meager means.

    BTW, “compliment sandwich” is not alone in being a stupid name. “Rice burgers” are just as stupidly named, and it’s actual food to boot.

  • geoffrobert

    We used to call it a “Shit sandwich” which makes more sense though perhaps a bit too dramatic. Rebecca’s version is closer to one of those hamburgers you get in a restaurant where the bottom bun is kinda soggy.

  • Yoo said:

    Religion is probably just an enabler that makes their bigotry much worse.

    Religion is an enabler that makes everything worse because it allows ‘rules’ which are not necessarily based on rational thinking to become dogma. In other words, religion allows bigotry along with lots of other undesirable acts to become morally justified in the eyes of those committing them.

    Rebecca is exactly correct in my opinion: the key is to encourage people to think critically and rationally. Waiting for the current generation to die off will change nothing. In fact, my observations of the last thirty years of my adult life makes me think it’s likely to become worse.

    Which is why it’s such a relief to know that people like Rebecca & the Rogues are now around to fight the Good Fight.

  • Yoo

    I agree completely that people need more critical and rational thinking. But I’m a pessimist and think that skepticism is against the average person’s nature, considering that critical and rational thinking is somewhat lacking even in so-called civilized societies, much less a society steeped in religion. If it weren’t for the public skeptics, I’d be very afraid of how civilization could go … 🙁

  • DLC

    Rebecca: too bad we find ourselves in a position where the rights of half of the population Need to be fought for. However, it is necessary to do so.
    Skeptics have a place in this fight, particularly when men kill women and then cover themselves in their religion or culture, claiming supernatural approval of their murdering.

  • skeptiger

    Hearing this kind of story breaks my heart and makes me furiously angry. The fact that women who subscribe to a particular superstitious belief have their rights as human beings literally removed from them still stuns me.

    I do believe skeptics have a place in the fight. In fact, I believe every self-respecting human has a place. Will rational thinking solve it? I don’t know – I can’t help feeling that the misogyny inherent in so many fundamental religions (actually, scratch that, in so many religions period) is something that the perpetrators of will be reluctant to give up. Perhaps I am just a cynic, but changing that would mean giving up control and power. If you have the ultimate control over the life and death of a woman, you are dangerous indeed.

    Please let us know if there is anything that we can do to assist. If one less woman was killed due to some ridiculous and pathetic notion of ‘honour’ then that could only be a good thing.

  • MichaelHartwell

    DLC, I think you’re putting the cart before the horse. The way you worded it, it sounds like these people wanted to commit murder and than used their religion to get away with it.

    My world view is the opposite, where their beliefs require them to commit evil. If we can thwart the most malignant of religous beliefs, such as honor-killings, than we will have made the world a better place.

  • manadren


    I don’t think that’s entirely true. Religion itself is not enough of a force to persuade a person to commit murder. The culture surrounding it and the motives of the person play a big part. And in this I the biggest factor here is how these people think of women. The root of honor killings is not honor but anger, at the thought that a piece of their property dared to act against them. Then they point to religion as their justification.

    Not to say this is the case in all honor killings, but in others it’s more pressure from the community than adherence to religious texts.

  • Yoo

    A follwup in Skepchick that Rebecca seems to have forgotten to point out here.

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