Interesting Previews: Shackled Women

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Tradition, religion or just plain old prejudice are making the lives of countless women hell. Often seen as the legal or sexual property of men, many third world women are confined to a life of almost incessant childbirth, especially until they bear a son.

Across the Southern Hemisphere abortion is only really available to save life, and the safe version of the pill was until recently illegal even in first world countries like Japan. There temples are dedicated to the spirits of aborted foetuses.

Parvathi's husband killed their second daughter the day she was born. In parts of India female infanticide is so common that a second daughter is known as 'the girl born for the burial pit'. If a girl makes it through childhood she may still not survive marriage if her dowry is seen by her in-laws as too low. Dowries in South Asia have risen steadily over the last 40 years and now amount to over 50% of a household's income. Married for six months, Om and his wife, Rajari, have spent three of them fighting over the dowry – and especially about what happened to the jewellery. Others are even less lucky: domestic violence is endemic in India. Anita left her husband's home after four years of beatings.

Prostitution and trafficking women is now the third most lucrative trade in the world - behind drugs smuggling and arms sales - worth $7 billion a year. The streets of Pretoria are full of child prostitutes and it's not hard to catch their punters in the act. On Spain's border with Portugal, women are being sold into 'whorehouses' and forced to prostitute themselves to pay off their price. Their pimps keep them imprisoned with violence.

Under Pakistan’s Islamic zina law a woman can be imprisoned for being raped, whilst Afghanistan’s Taliban have cracked down mercilessly on women. But Islam is not always harmful to women. Iranian women themselves are divided over wearing hejab - the Islamic headscarf. Some believe it limits freedom whilst others claim it is legitimate, as women are judged equally with men, 'not according to their beauty or ugliness'.

6,000 girls are circumcised each day and many die. But women often insist on this painful practise, because they believe it will make their daughters clean. Whilst many men still believe that circumcision will help them dominate their womenfolk, young women in Burkina Faso talk of tricking girls into circumcision. If circumcision is ever to die out, it's clear that the attitudes of both men and women need to evolve.

Women's rights have never been higher on the global agenda, yet until the patriarchal structures of many societies are further chipped away, women will remain shackled.

ABC Australia

Frank Kitman