This month we will take a look at four issues that affect millions of women around the world:  the repression of women in Afghanistan, honour killings, slavery, and reproductive rights in China. 

Long before September 11 the women of Afghanistan were desperately trying to make their plight known to the rest of the world and improve their basic living conditions.  In 1977 a brave, young woman named Meena established the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) in an effort to organize and educate women and promote human rights in a country that held repressive policies towards its citizens, especially women.  Meena worked hard to give a voice to the repressed women of Afghanistan and obtain social justice.   In 1987, at the age of 30, government agents and others assassinated Meena in Quetta, Pakistan. 

Although Meena was murdered years ago, her work continues through the organization she helped found, RAWA.  According to the organization’s website,, RAWA is a “political/social organization of Afghan women struggling for peace, freedom, democracy, and women’s rights in fundamentalism-blighted Afghanistan.” 

RAWA’s website contains a wealth of information about the situation in Afghanistan, the organization, and the social/political activities of RAWA (which include education, health care, human rights, cultural, and economic activities).  The site also contains many suggestions for people wishing to help the women of Afghanistan, such as signing a petition, telling a friend, sending a donation, or sponsoring a teacher.  Links to 20 other related websites provide interested readers with vast resources of information about social justice issues for the repressed women of Afghanistan. 


“Honour killing” is the reprehensible practice whereby women who bring “dishonour” to their families because of sexual indiscretions are murdered or receive corporal punishment at the hands of their father, brother, or husband.  Many times these “indiscretions” are very minor or even alleged, rather being grounded in reality.  Official statistics are hard to come by since many communities sanction the practice and accurate records are not kept.  Murderers are unlikely to be reprimanded in court. 

“Honour killings emerged in the pre-Islamic era, according to Sharif Kanaana, professor of anthropology at Birzeit University.”  It is believed “that the honour killing stemmed from the patriarchal and patrilineal society’s interest in maintaining strict control over designated familial power structures.” The honour of the family is dependent on a woman’s virginity and her virginity is the property of the men around her – father, brothers, or husband.   Thus, there is no real basis in religion, but the practice is encouraged by the rise in religious fundamentalism, which frequently represses women’s rights and freedoms. 

For more information about this heinous crime against women in repressed cultures visit the following excellent websites. 

The Muslim Women’s League
The Muslim Women’s League is a “non-profit American Muslim organization working to implement the values of Islam and thereby reclaim the status of women as free, equal and vital contributors to society.”  This excellent site contains in-depth and comprehensive discussions, essays, and position papers on honour killings as well as other issues pertinent to Muslim women. 

Honour Killings in Palestine
Suzanne Ruggi, a staff reporter for the Jerusalem Times wrote this detailed and thoughtful look at honour killings.  This discussion examines the situation in Palestine and looks at what is currently being done to try to abolish the practice and make it socially unacceptable in the communities and cultures where the practice is observed. 

Asian Women Exposed to Violence
Pakistan:  Cost of a Lie
This article presents the situation as seen in Pakistan.



The UN Convention on Slavery defines a slave as anyone who is unable to withdraw his/her labour voluntarily. This broad definition includes economic slaves-child workers, serfs, and indentured labourers- and exists throughout much of Asia, the Middle East, and elsewhere.  In the year 2000, millions of people, the majority women and children, were forced to live as slaves.  This slavery can take many forms including but not limited to: 

Chattel slavery – where people are kidnapped from their homes and bought and sold as slaves or given as “gifts”. 

Forced marriage – where women and girls are forced into “marriage” against their will. 

Bonded labourers – are physically forced into hard labour for the repayment of a “loan”.  Typically, the market value of their work is many times greater then the sum of the money borrowed.  Under the set-up, they may never be able to repay the loan during their lifetime. 

Child slaves – are forced to work in dangerous conditions suitable only for adults, or as sex slaves, against their will. 

War and poverty play a large role in the continuation of slavery.  In the Sudan, government backed militia and troops raid Dinka and Nuba villages killing the men and taking the women and children to sell into slavery, some for as little as $15.  Along the Ivory Coast, parents, hoping to improve their children’s lives, often “sell” their children to brokers who promise to find them work with a master who will pay them a small salary and also educate them. 

For more information on modern day slavery, check out the following websites:     

UN Reports on North African Slavery
American Anti-Slavery group presents excerpts from United Nations reports on the practice of slavery in North Africa.

Freedom Now World News
News service features articles and analysis relating to worldwide human rights, religious persecution, and slavery.

CNN - Forum on Modern-day Slavery in Africa
News article reports on a forum that discussed modern-day slavery in Sudan and Mauritania. Includes related links.

Coalition Against Slavery in Mauritania and Sudan
Learn about the objectives of this anti-slavery organization focused on Mauritania and Sudan. Includes news links and contact details.


When it comes to the subject of women’s rights in China, quite frankly, there aren’t any.  As a result of China’s one-child policy and the resulting shortage of marriageable women, the risk factor for becoming a victim of violence is simply being female. 

China is a strictly patriarchal society, in which one’s identity is conferred by the father’s lineage; the mother’s is almost irrelevant.  In this society, a woman’s rights are transferred to the husband’s family at the time of marriage and it is understood that the woman’s future productivity and services belong to the husband’s family, whatever her parents’ needs may be.  This leads to a strong “son” preference, and results in the abandonment or infanticide of thousands of baby girls each year. 

As teenagers, the threat becomes not one of death but of abduction.  Because of the shortage of marriageable women, a result of the one-child policy, which has been in effect for several decades, teenage girls, are abducted off the streets and sold into marriage.  If they manage to escape, they are no longer suitable for marriage because they have “been” with another man. 

In accordance with the one-child policy, couples must obtain a permit before starting a pregnancy and once the permitted child is born, the woman is required to have an IUD (intra uterine device) inserted.  Women who are found to have unauthorized pregnancies must have their pregnancies terminated, some in the 7th, 8th, or even 9th month of pregnancy.  After having an out-of-plan birth, one spouse must be sterilized, most often the woman.  

An unauthorized second child also affects the rights of the first child, who could lose the right to attend school, receive health coverage, and even to be recognized as a Chinese citizen. 

For more information on Women’s Rights in China, consult the following websites:
Human Rights in China (HRIC) is an international non-governmental organization founded by Chinese scientists and scholars in March 1989. Their mission is to promote universally recognized human rights and advance the institutional protection of these rights in China.

Reproductive Law and Policy
Review of laws and policies affecting women's reproductive freedom in the US, Brazil, China, Germany, India and Nigeria. 

UN's WomenWatch
Gateway to information on United Nations programs to protect and empower women. With a forum, conference details, and news. 

Women's Rights -- A Global View
A cross-cultural historical and contemporary exploration of women's rights issues and activism in fifteen case studies of nations from around the world.



We’ve given you the briefest glimpse into the lives of millions of women and children around the world and hope that the information and links we have provided will be useful should you be interested in becoming involved in one of these causes. 

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