Friday, December 18, 2009

Thoughts on Nonviolence (4)

I cannot in good conscience fail to add in the context of this ongoing discussion about the need to practice nonviolence more assiduously, the outlandish amount of violence that throughout the world continues to be directed toward women. Once again, I rely on the data that Kristof and WuDunn have so brilliantly gathered together in their book Half the Sky to get some sort of grip on the extent of this problem. Consider this absolutely mind-boggling statistic: About one-third of all women world-wide face regular beatings in the home. Or what about this from The World Health Organization which estimates that 30-60% of all women have been subjected to some kind of physical or sexual violence. Or, perhaps most shocking of all, as Kristof and WuDunn reveal with stunning plainness on page 61 of their book, "Women aged fifteen through forty-four are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined."
Kristof and WuDunn also note that violence is not only out of control, it follows an increasingly cruel pattern. The first documented case of a man attacking a women with acid occurred in 1967. But since then, it has become a common practice throughout South Asia for men to hurl vials of sulphuric acid into the faces of women who have rejected their sexual advances. Kristof and WuDunn add that the "acid melts the skin and sometimes the bones underneath; if if strikes the eyes, the woman is blinded. In the world of misogyny, that is technological innovation."

This is not just a crisis, it is a world catastrophe that in terms of the sheer number of people afflicted exceeds anything that has been experienced since World War II. Such a picture of undiminished suffering would seem to demand from us a new, non-militaristic, nonviolent means for moving ahead. Violence is everywhere and only seems to beget more violence. Whatever good it does is short-lived. As Gandhi said, its evils are permanent. When will we learn? What can we do to transition, however glacially, toward a new, more human way of relating and co-existing together?

Kristof and WuDunn emphasize education. And they have seen it happen. In case after case where women have been denied education previously, when schools become available, cultures transform. Education changes people's minds and women, as well as men, become less tolerant of such everyday abuse. They begin to see ways to resist the notion that it is all right for men to treat women as things, and they pass laws and adopt customs that fly in the face of practices that make violence easy and opposition hard. All that makes me want to add that a necessary component of such an education should be learning the ways of being, seeing and behaving that together make up the nonviolent way of life. Only by making nonviolence a habitual part of how we think, work, and do can we finally make strides toward a humane society. Remember what Gandhi said when asked about Western Civilization? He answered," I think it would be a good idea." It still is.

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