The Hidden War on Women

Posted on February 14, 2010


[In support and remembrance of the missing and murdered women of Canada.]

I was just starting at UBC.  An omnibus university course.  Philosophy, literature, culture.  You know, Encounters with Western Civilization, 101.  Faculty who discussed Shakespearean scholars with reverence simply because they were Shakespearean scholars.  Tolstoy.  Freud.  D.H. Lawrence. Hobbes. And then an encounter in Plato’s Republic.

I remember it was a slighting remark by one of Plato’s debaters about the senseless complaints of mothers, mothers sentimental about lost daughters.  As I subsequently discovered, in Plato’s Athens—the Athens of Pericles, Aristotle, Socrates, Sophocles and so on—fathers had a right to expose their first child on a hill if the first child was female.  There was a particular hill in Athens where this took place, and the fate of these girl babies was death or slavery—since any citizen of Athens could take up one of these doomed infants and keep them as a slave if he wished[1].

A slave in Athens had no rights over their own bodies.  They could be raped and disposed of at will.  And they could only testify at court under torture.  If daddy was stingy with his y-chromosomes, it could go hard for a firstborn in Athens.

Plato and the sentimental mothers of Athens were my introduction to gendercide.  Gendercide was routinely practiced by the Romans as well.  But it is not ancient practice that concerns me today, but contemporary practice.

An article by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn in the New York Times highlighted the modern issue globally.

According to the article:

  • 39,000 baby girls die annually in China because they do not receive the same medical attention that boys do in the first year of life.
  • In India, girls are less likely to be vaccinated than boys and are taken to the hospital when they are sicker.  The result is that girls in India from 1 to 5 years of age are 50% more likely to die than boys the same age.
  • More girls and women are now missing from the planet, precisely because they are female, than every brave boy killed on the battlefield in all the wars of the 20th century.  The number of victims of this everyday “gendercide” far exceeds the number of people who were slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century.
  • In Asia alone about one million children working in the sex trade are held in conditions indistinguishable from slavery.

All these statistics set out what happens when women do not have access to social, economic and political power.

Today (February 14th) in Vancouver, they are having a memorial for the missing and murdered women.

What the missing and murdered women in Canada have in common with all the persecuted women and girls of the rest of the world is that they, too, do not have access to social, economic and political power.

They are looked down at by society.  They are poor.  And they are unheard.

Until these things change, there will continue to be missing and murdered women in every jurisdiction in Canada.

[1]A citizen of Athens was male.  Females were not eligible for citizenship.



Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, “The Women’s Crusade,” New York Times, 17 August 2009.