Monday, January 30, 2012

Rest in peace, girls...


Sunday afternoon, dh & I were glued to CBC Newsworld. A verdict was imminent in the Sh.af.ia murder trial that had been playing out & making headlines in Kingston over the past several months.

I don't know how much coverage this trial has had outside of Canada. Do some Googling (remove the periods in the name) and you will find tons of coverage.

The barebones of the story is this: Father S., an immigrant from Afghanistan; his wife and their 21-year-old son, were all found guilty of murdering four women -- including not just one, not just two, but three of their teenaged daughters/sisters -- as well as an older "cousin" of the family, R.o.n.a. (top left), who immigrated to Canada to help with the seven (!) children.

A car containing the four bodies was pulled from the Rideau Canal near the locks near Kingston, Ontario, in late June 2009. The water was not deep (a mere 18 inches above the roof of the car) and the window was wide open, but there was no indication that they had tried to escape. The official cause of death was drowning, but, ominously, the three girls all had bruising on the tops of their heads.

The murders have been called "honour killings" by some. Not long after I started this blog, I wrote about a teenaged Pakistani girl from suburban Toronto named A.q.sa Pa.rv.ez, who refused to wear the hijab, stayed out with her friends, and ran away from home several times. Her brother convinced her to return home; shortly afterwards, she was found dead in her bed; her father & brother were later convicted of strangling her.

Like A., the S. daughters chafed at the restrictions placed on them by their father. When their tattletale brothers reported that the girls were changing from the hijab into revealing clothing at school and (horrors!) being seen in the company of boys, Father S. would fly into a rage. His daughters were pulled out of school for months at a time & confined to the house. At various times, the girls sought help from social services authorities, but understandably were reluctant to discuss their complaints in front of their parents when the police or child welfare officers arrived at the house to investigate. The oldest daughter, Z., age 19, got married, seeing it as the only way out of the home, but was persuaded to annul the marriage before the ink was barely dry on the license.

As with A. several years earlier, I wanted to weep when I learned about this case. As someone who lost a very much wanted daughter, the idea that a father (& mother) could just throw away the lives of three beautiful, spirited, NORMAL teenaged girls, like they were garbage, all for some twisted sense of family "honour," all because they were girls and therefore deemed disposable, made (and makes) me ill.

But I will admit that it was R.'s death that has affected me the most. The family presented her as a cousin/aunt who helped with the seven children. The truth was a little more complicated: the children's mother was actually Father S.'s second wife. R.was his first; it was a polygamous marriage. R. was infertile. Because she could not bear children, she encouraged Father S. to take another wife -- who promptly popped out seven over the following years, and enlisted R. to help raise them.

If female life is cheap in Afghanistan, you can only imagine what it's like for an infertile, childless female. After years of living essentially as a servant (which she chronicled in a diary that was entered as evidence at the trial), R. somehow screwed up the courage to request a divorce, and a little money to help her move to France and start a new life near her siblings.

Instead, she wound up in a car at the bottom of the Rideau Canal. She was 52 years old when she died -- a few years older than me.

As I have written before, hearing stories like this makes me eternally grateful to the Powers That Be that, as a woman, I happened to be born in Canada in the late 20th century (how much more fortunate can you be, really??), and into a family where I was never, ever made to feel less than or disadvantaged because I was a girl.

But that doesn't mean that all the women living in this country are as lucky as I am. And it doesn't mean that I don't mourn for the A.'s and R.'s and S. daughters of this country and this world. There are still far, far too many of them.

9 comments:

  1. Thank you for writing about this. I just heard about it on the news today and had to sit down for a while as I tried to absorb it. I am so very angry and sad about this - those beautiful women, lost.

    And I think of Teddy and how much we wanted to keep him, and I look at Dot and feel how lucky we are to get to watch her grow up, and I really just don't understand how anyone could, so very coldly, kill their children.

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  2. This story has been breaking my heart since it first broke. And yesterday, there was a story of a woman in Afghanistan strangled by her husband after giving birth to (horror) another girl. It just saddens me that women's lives have so little value in a good part of the world.

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  3. It's a chilling story. We are getting some coverage of it down here, and it's disturbing to consider what sort of person throws away life like that. I didn't know about the reality of the relationship between the two adults, or that she was infertile, creating an extra layer of discomfort. An extra layer of wonder about what she went through.

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  4. It's such a tragic story, and you voiced so well the senselessness of that kind of violence toward women. I will never understand how taking a life like that could ever be an "honorable" choice.

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  5. It is strange to hear about such happening nowadays, when you think the world has evolved. In Austria and Germany there have been three fathers who had abused their daughters for tens of years (TENS!) and children were born and lives ruined and distroyed... I cannot understand this. Or children abuse. What kind of monsters are these people?

    On a related note, you should read A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini. It tells, among others, the story of an infertile woman in Afghanistan. The book is really well written, not as good as Kite Runner, some say, but I found it very good. It is not a happy story, but there is hope in the darkness that ruled that period.

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  6. I've been following it in the news. What a disgusting, sickening display of misogyny.
    Interesting article http://www.canada.com/news/Corbella+Shafia+girls+needed+voice+before+they+died+after/6074758/story.html

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  7. That comment was from me, Deathstar, LB, but no matter how many times i correctly enter the word verification, it won't let me comment via wordpress

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  8. I had heard very little of it until the other day. Sickening. And your information adds another layer of tragedy. The concept of the honor killing sends me into a rage.

    Just the other day, another customer at the coffee shop told an employee (I didn't hear the prompting question) that she had prayed to NOT have a girl -- with her preschool-aged daughter beside her. I should have said, "Your daughter can hear you."

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  9. This story is so heartbreaking. And then there's the bureaucratic nonsense...the girls spoke to two different agencies - one french and one enlish - neither of which had access to the other's records. Had there been one record of multiple complaints (instead of two separate records), maybe something could have been done. I mourn these women.

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