Commentary: Valuing women a sign of a healthy society

This editorial appeared in The Miami Herald.

Today is International Women's Day. One of today's themes is, "Women and men united to end violence against women and girls." It's not very catchy, but it certainly is appropriate. Women of all ages remain too susceptible to violence in this world. Not just random violence, but deliberate, targeted cruelty.

The victims are frequently met with a shrug by authorities who should protect them. International pressure must be applied to shake up these authorities to prevent the systemic abuse of women. In 2001 in India, for example, more than 106,000 women died in fires, according to an article on the website of The Lancet, a medical journal. That is 65 percent of all fire-related deaths in India that year. Young women there are more than three times as likely to die by fire as young men. Most of the women – ages 15 to 34 – were doused with gasoline and torched, usually by their in-laws over a dowry or other family dispute, according to a Lancet article. Too often, police are content to accept the explanation that they died by "accident."

In Afghanistan a lot of women die by fire, too, but these are often acts of self-immolation. The women are so hopeless that they prefer to die horridly rather than endure a wretched existence. They are routinely abused by spouses whom they were forced to marry. Many have no education, having grown up under the Taliban, which forces women to be subservient. Not long ago, with the Taliban resurgent, girls on their way to school were attacked with acid in Kandahar. The Indian and Afghanistan victims live in countries whose cultures have traditionally placed a low value on their gender. In poor, rural communities they are often considered property to be married at a price or indentured as a servant, their wages sent to their parents. They are not considered worth educating.

These views aren't universal in India today to be sure, where women in urban centers expect to be educated, have careers and choose who they marry. But outside the cities, women have fewer rights and face more threats to their safety.

Throughout the world women still remain second-class citizens when it comes to education, to protection from abuse, to financial independence. Progress has been made on many fronts but much remains undone.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Miami Herald.