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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

A never-ending story

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With Aisha Jallow

This is an essay I wish I didn’t have to write, but it is necessary.

Let us begin with some background facts to the International Women’s Day which is celebrated every year on March 8. The movement started in the US in 1910 in an attempt to stress the issues that are in common for women. During that time, women were not allowed to vote in the elections, so that was one of the matters that was highlighted. This movement spread slowly around the world, and now most countries celebrate the day. It’s good, in a way, that we have this day, but I wish we didn’t have to. I wish we would have come further by now, so any issues that are highlighted would only be human issues, not emphasising one gender.

It is really hard to know where to begin, as there still are so many things that needs to be dealt with. Women have the right to vote, thank God, but that was a right so many women had to fight for and even sacrifice their lives for. We must never forget our history, because if we do, we begin to take things for granted and stop appreciating them. If our rights lose their value, we can even lose our rights. The right to vote is one part of democracy, and if you wish democracy to maintain in your country, you should use your right to vote whenever there is an election. With any right, there also comes a duty, and that duty is to stay informed. Make sure that you know what you are voting for. Don’t allow anyone to lure you with free meals, gifts or else. Stay calm and level-headed, stay focused and question the given promises.

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Before I began to write this essay, I did some research to find inspiration and facts. It is a strange feeling to look for inspiration in such depressing material as where I searched, but I had no option. The topics are plenty, so I just dive right in. I will begin with a term that is completely new for me, it is called balcony murders. Balcony murders are camouflaged as suicides, where the victim dies and the perpetrators claim that she took her life. These murders are hard to prove, but there are warning signals that can be found. Unfortunately, these signals have not often led to any kind of help or protection of the victim.

Most of the balcony murders are affecting girls and women who live in a so-called honour context. It is about young girls who are claimed to have damaged and dishonored the family. The girl might have got herself a boyfriend, even though she was not allowed to. The girl might have contacted the social services, asking for help. This way she has shown that she doesn’t accept the demands of the family. It can also be a case of a woman asking for divorce from an abusive husband. She gets threatened and beaten, not only by her husband, but also by her family members. They harass her to the level that she loses her will to live. Her self-esteem is so low because the only thing she is told is how worthless she is. She is told that the world would be a better place without her, and that it would be better if she killed herself.

The balcony murders are made to look as suicides or accidents. The witnesses tell the same story to the police, to protect the family honor and avoid pointing out who actually pushed the girl over the balcony railing. The life of the girl is worth nothing, the honor of the family is everything. In Sweden, we will soon implement a new law which says that it is illegal to make someone commit suicide. This will not give the life back to the victim, but it is one step in the right direction. It has been hard to prove that these cases, where the police suspect that the suicide is actually a murder. With the new law there are other factors that will be taken into consideration, such as; has the girl sought help at the social services, has her behaviour changed, has she appeared depressed and afraid and so on.

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The control of girls and women seems to go on forever, and I wonder what the reasons are. It seems that fear is the main factor in this drama that is spread more or less all over the world. If I look back at our Swedish history, I can see that the same things have happened here, but that was a long time ago. Girls and women were the property of men, they were controlled first by their father and after the marriage by their husbands. The only value the woman had was as a mother, and preferably to sons. As a person she had no value and no saying. Love had nothing to do with a marriage, it was mainly an affair made between the girl’s father and her father-in-law. Thanks to education, this mindset has changed and nowadays men and women choose their partners of free will.

The problem has started all over again with new generations where people from foreign countries try to implement their old-fashioned customs in a new-fashioned society. This leads to clashes, of course, and takes a long time to change. During this time, too many young girls and women are suffering and are losing their lives. It is not easy to try to understand how a new and unknown society functions. The language barrier is a huge road block on the way to a new understanding and thinking. New customs can be scary when you don’t understand them, and you don’t have anyone to ask about them. People who are born in the country, and used to the customs, take them for granted and somehow take for granted also that new people should understand everything by themselves. That is impossible, of course, so the lack of communication leads to conflicts and misunderstandings.

Let us look at a country that has suffered under oppression for a long time. Iran, now a religious dictatorship, was once a developed country where the women were free. They were free to study, work outside the home, and move around without a chaperone. This was when the Shah, the King, ruled the country, but in 1979 was the Iranian revolution and strict rules made the country go backwards again. Some people were mispleased with the development of Iran; they accused the King to be too much Western for their taste. Ayatollah Khomeini took over the power and the times became dark and hard again.

Corporal punishments in public places are considered as normal in Iran, as well as death penalty. Women can be whipped or stoned to death for being seen with a man who is not their husband. Perhaps you have heard of the case where a young woman was beaten to death by the religious police because they didn’t like the way she wore her head scarf. This has caused several demonstrations in Iran, where people have been out on the streets, showing their dissatisfaction. They have been demonstrating, risking their lives, and many have been killed on the streets or in custody.

The International Women’s Day should be a day full of joy, a day of celebration, but for me, it is a sad day. I really wish we didn’t have to clarify that one gender is still oppressed in so many ways.

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