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When the World Isn't Safe for Women

Did you see the news report about Lara Logan, the foreign correspondent for CBS news? She was covering the Egyptian protests when she was separated from her crew, carried off by about 200 men, and brutally beaten and sexually assaulted before being rescued by a group of women and some members of the army.

My heart just goes out to her. Can you imagine how terrifying that would be? I was in Tunisia when I was 20, which is a far more educated and moderate country than Egypt, and yet I have never felt so vulnerable. On buses I was constantly groped. In public I was stared at and hissed at. When I came home, it took me two months before I could look men in the street in the eye again, or stop crossing the street when I saw a man coming towards me. And I wasn't even assaulted!

I think sometimes we forget how vulnerable women can be. I am not saying that Ms. Logan acted foolishly; she likely knew what she was risking, and CBS likely did, too, and she chose to go anyway. That is what reporters do, and it is a risk they are willing to take. Male reporters and cameramen have been attacked, kidnapped, beaten, and killed, too, in the Middle East this year. It's a dangerous job, but a lucrative and rewarding one, and I guess she took a risk that in retrospect was too much.

But women do bear a disproportionate risk than men. And if you've never been in the middle of a group of men who are all leering at you and reaching for you, I don't know if you understand how scary it is. We're insulated from that in most parts of North America because we don't have mobs, and we don't have that kind of society. The only thing that might compare is being black and walking through a group of whites (or vice versa). But I don't think the fear approaches what is the Middle East. What was weird about Tunisia was how many places were simply empty of women. When our team went walking through parts of the city, I and a friend were the only women in sight. That doesn't happen here. It's common there. And it's not a nice feeling.

It's also why I don't think we should kid ourselves about women in combat. They aren't safe; they just aren't. And women are at a far greater risk when they are in combat than men, because if we are captured, far worse things are almost guaranteed to be done to us than will ever be done to a man.

Should a country allow women to be raped or killed, when there are able bodied men not serving in the military? Even if those women are willing to take the risk?

That's a tough question. Lara Logan was willing to take the risk, and it didn't turn out well. But it was still her decision, and to say that she can't go because she's a woman seems paternalistic. It's like saying that a woman can't decide to be a missionary in a dangerous land, even if she feels called to do so, because it may be dangerous. We applaud women who risk their lives for the sake of the gospel; obviously no gospel is involved in what Ms. Logan was doing, but I don't think we can say one is wrong and the other right. In both cases, women are taking the responsibility for themselves on themselves.

When it comes to women in the military, though, I see a difference, because those women are fighting on our behalf. They are not just accepting risk; they are doing so in our name. And I think to allow women to accept the risk of rape and torture and murder on behalf of able bodied men seems wrong, especially when so many women in the military are single moms.

Of course, there's also the issue of military effectiveness when women are in combat, and how that would affect the men in their unit, but I see that as a separate issue. I'm just asking here: should we allow women to take on inordinate risk? Because there's no doubt that the Middle East is inordinantly risky for women.

I want to leave you with one more news story that has my blood boiling. In Bangladesh, a 14-year-old has been murdered for being raped. Andrew McCarthy reports:

A 14-year-old girl named Hena had been killed by fewer than 80 lashes of the 100-lash whipping local sharia authorities had ordered her to suffer. It’s difficult to contain one’s anger at the details. Hena had been raped by a 40-year-old Muslim man, described in news accounts as her “relative.” The allegation of rape got the authorities involved, but that turned out to be even worse than the sexual assault itself.

Under sharia, rape cannot be proved absent the testimony of four witnesses. Rapists tend not to bring witnesses along for their attacks. In any event, moreover, sharia values a woman’s testimony as only half that of a man, so the deck is stacked and rape cannot be proved in most cases. Yet that hardly means the report of rape is of no consequence. Unable to establish that she’d been forcibly violated, the teenager became in the eyes of the sharia court a woman who’d had sexual intercourse outside of marriage. Thus the draconian lashing sentence that became a death sentence.

Islam's founder, Muhammad, married a 6-year-old girl. He consummated that marriage when she was 9. That is just simply sick and evil. The Qu'ran says it's okay to beat your wife if she is disobedient. That is disgusting.

Can you imagine growing up in that religion, believing that God hates you because you're female? Believing that you deserve to be raped, that you should not be protected, that you aren't important?

We serve a God who loves women. He didn't stone an adulteress; He pardoned her. He had long conversations with another. He appeared first after His resurrection to another. He knew women, and He loved them, and He honoured them. And in Galatians 3:28, Paul wrote, "There is no male nor female...for we are all one in Christ Jesus."

My heart hurts for the girls who grow up thinking God is distant, angry, and cruel. God is not like that.

But in the part of the world that believes that this is what God wants--that it's okay to kill 14-year-old girls who are raped; that it is okay to marry 9-year-old girls; that it is fine to rape women, as long as they are not Muslim; that it is good to kill your daughter if she is defiled, then that is not a safe place for women. It just isn't.

I will never go to the Middle East again unless God specifically asks me, because being in Tunisia scarred me, even though nothing like what happened to Ms. Logan happened to me. But such things will keep happening until the pathology that is the radical Islamic view of women is ended. Any women going there must know that there is a huge risk. And because of that, I am very reticent to change our rules to allow women to serve in combat. I don't want any woman raped or murdered "in my name".

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At 11:59 AM , Anonymous ali @ an ordinary mom said…

I am horrified at what happened to the reporter, and absolutely gut-wrenchingly heartbroken over that 14 yr old girl... what a horrid way to die, and for such a horrid reason...


At 4:39 PM , Blogger Deborah said…

I also am appalled at what happened both to Lara Logan and to Hena. However, I think you're condemning the Middle East too quickly. I lived in Egypt, in a suburb of Cairo, with my husband and infant daughter until I was evacuated--with my acquiescence but only because my husband told me to go--on 31 January. I lived there from June 2008, other than vacations and a 4-month return to the States for the birth of my daughter. I felt safer there overall than when I've lived in the States. There was harassment, all verbal, but even that was minimized because I dressed and behaved appropriately for the culture (and no, I did not cover my hair). There were fundamentalist areas of the city that I avoided--just like I avoid bad neighborhoods here--but for the most part, I was safe. Most of the people were warm, friendly, and welcoming. I never felt endangered on the streets. Of course I also avoided demonstrations and other large gatherings, on order of our security people, because of the increased emotionality and potential for violence. Just like any other part of the world, it's a matter of becoming familiar with your surroundings and recognizing danger signs--Lara Logan, for example, never should have been in Tahrir that night. And I've seen plenty of western women who shouldn't have been in Egypt at all, based on their clothing choices--for some reason, these tend to complain the most about harassment. (I'm not implying that you dressed inappropriately on your trip.) But I love it there, and I'm desperately hoping to be allowed to go back before our scheduled rotation out this spring.


At 5:19 PM , Blogger Sheila said…


Thanks for that perspective! It's interesting. I also have friends who have lived in Cairo who didn't find it bad, so I guess I'm just clouded by what happened to me in Tunis. Interestingly, I DID start wearing a head covering after being groped wherever I went (being in line at a cafe; being on a bus; being in the airport). It didn't help. Whenever there were crowds, I was groped. Maybe it's a Tunisian thing! I don't know.


At 5:37 PM , Anonymous Kristin said…

Those stories are terrible! It makes me sick!
I agree with you about women serving in combat though. They just are not as physically strong as men. They are not even required to pass the same PT tests in training because they are build differently. Beyond that there are hygience issues that men do not have to deal with and living/bunking conditions. The worst part is what you already mentioned...if they were to be captured I'm sure the horrors they would endure would be far worse than it is for men. On top of that, what happens when they are killed? I do not think this country is ready to see mass amounts of women coming home in body bags. No one wants to see mothers and daughters coming home that way. No one wants to see anyone coming home that way, but it is farther beyond the social norm, if you will.


At 9:22 PM , Blogger Jeanne said…

Hi Sheila. Thanks for the story; it's a real eye-opener, especially Hena's tragic life. I have a different perspective on women in the military. I am a physician assistant and process soldiers, both male and female, before and after deployments. Most are quite capable and do as well as the men. Many have done multiple tours because we no longer draft men to fulfill our military needs. Female hygiene issues mentioned by Kristin have been addressed medically and in construction as have housing issues. I agree there is a risk for females that men may not have, eg rape, although guys can be raped too-ask prisoners in our penal system. I guess it really should be an individual choice to join military with eyes open knowing deployment is probability. Don't join expecting special concessions. Thanks again for the chance to dialogue on important issues.


At 9:36 PM , Blogger Sheila said…


Thanks for your thoughtful comment! I must admit that I'm probably more torn on this issue than many who read this blog, because I do believe that people should have choice--even if we disagree with that choice (with the exception of the choice of murder, like in abortion, but that's another story :) ). People should have the choice over their own lives.

That's where I'd put Lara Logan.

And I have no doubt that many women are just as capable as many men. I have known some women like that.

But I also know that women are at greater risk when captured, and I guess it still just bothers me that, militarily, it's in our name. It isn't just them volunteering; I am actually sending her there. And that's what I can't get past. Maybe it's semantics, but that's where I'm at. It just seems wrong, but maybe I'm being hypocritical. I haven't thought it through philosophically a ton, but it seems to me like there's a distinction between Ms. Logan and a female soldier, because I am responsible for that soldier.

It's not really a question of military readiness or capability (those are questions, but they're separate ones from the one I'm trying to raise, and I don't really think that I'm informed enough to speak on those issues). It's just a moral question of culpability, and that's what I can't seem to get past.


At 9:41 PM , Blogger Diana said…

While I agree with your sentiments, I'm another who feels women who enlist know what they are potentially getting into, they are adults and they should be able to choose if they want to take that risk or not. Now if we were talking mandatory service, I'd be with you 100%. :-)


At 2:38 AM , Anonymous daesy said…

i'm a muslim and disgusted by those actions. I do not believe at all it is correct. They use the name of Allah and Islam wrongly and declare it as wrong.

'Can you imagine growing up in that religion, believing that God hates you because you're female? Believing that you deserve to be raped, that you should not be protected, that you aren't important?'

I have never felt like wat u say above. I thnk those actions happen in countries where islamic law is not carried out correctly.

I live in Asia and things like that do NOT happen all.


At 8:11 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Your comments about Muslims make me so angry. You have no idea what you're talking about. You need to open your eyes and realize that extremeism exists everywhere, even in Christianity (GASP, say it isn't so!), and extremists DO NOT represent the religion. What you say in your post only furthers the negativity and misunderstanding about Islam that makes it so difficult to be a Muslim today. It's also ignorant. Educate yourself.


At 8:31 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

To the last two commenters:

Thank you for visiting this blog, and commenting. However, especially to the last blogger, if you want to change our minds about Islam, you'll have to do something other than just yell at us!

So let me ask you both, honestly, these two questions, which are really the sticking point for Western women looking at Islam:

1. Was Muhammad wrong to marry a 9-year-old girl? (Don't tell me that it was normal cultural practice at the time, because Muhammad is meant to be an example for all time. When I ask this question to Muslims, they usually hem and haw and say that it was different then. She was 9. She had not reached puberty. Is it okay for a man to have sex with a little girl who has not reached puberty?)

2. Is it okay for a man to beat a disobedient wife, even if you abide by some translations which say, "beat lightly".

Until a Muslim can say, "yes, Muhammad was wrong", and "No, it's not okay", then I'm not really interested in listening to how I'm wrong about Islam. These two things are non-negotiable to me. And I would imagine that they are non-negotiable to the readers of this blog.

I so wish that Muslim women could see that God really does not believe these things; that God really loves women. God doesn't want wives beaten. God doesn't want little girls raped. God cares about women. He really does.

To the Muslim women who say: Of course He cares, then I would just ask you to address those two questions again.


At 8:32 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

Let me also say to the second last commenter from Asia: I'm so glad that things aren't like that where you live! I'm so glad that Islam is not interpreted like that.

But then I have to ask: what, in your Islamic tradition, do people do with the fact that Muhammad married a 9-year-old girl? I'm honestly curious.


At 8:56 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I'll just have to ask you if you have actually read the Bible. The same sort violence and sexual misconduct are mentioned there, and Christian extremeists have been known to act on these ideas. So, I have to ask you what the difference is.

Have you ever opened a Koran? It's basically the same story as the Bible...same characters and everything. You'd like to set yourself apart, but you're really the same...unless, of course, you only look at the extremeist side of Islam. If you'd rather do that, and you'd rather remain blind and ignorant instead of open-minded and accepting, go right ahead. If you want to be the kind of person that promotes fear and hate instead of peace and understanding, go right ahead. But don't dare call yourself a Christian.


At 9:27 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

To the last Anonymous commenter,

I read the Bible everyday, and I have read the Koran. In university, I led a Muslim-Christian discussion group for 3 years.

The Bible does describe a lot of atrocities, but the difference is that God does not tell us to do those things now. He never ordered rapes. He doesn't sanction polygamy; though major figures did marry others, it didn't work well, and the Scriptural injunction was to only have one wife. They were disobeying when they married more than one wife, not following what God said.

Nowhere in the Bible does God say that men can order their wives around.

The Bible and the Qu'ran have similar characters, but the stories are different. The Qur'an is a distortion of Bible stories; just because they both have the stories, doesn't mean they are both right. The Qu'ran was written after the Bible, and it got many of the stories mixed up.

I really don't want this to be a debate on this blog, because this blog isn't meant for this. I write about marriage and parenting; this was just something I wrote because it was bothering me.

Jesus never had sex with a 9-year-old girl.

Muhammad did.

Jesus never ordered men to beat their wives.

Muhammad did.

Which God, which religion, really honours women?


At 10:18 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

You don't want to debate, you just want me and others to accept your ignorant and offensive comments. That's fine. Your comments speak for themselves, and for you as a person. My final thought is this: People who are secure in their faith and in themselves don't feel the need to spread misguided notions, and fearmongering untruths regarding others and their faith. Rather, they look at things objectively. Maybe you should think about that.

-Cassie (32 year old homeschooling mom of two, who has spent the last 12 years married to a Muslim man and has had nothing but love and light in her life)


At 10:53 AM , Blogger Sheila said…


I'm glad you have love in your life. I have no doubt that this is possible with a Muslim man; not at all!

With all due respect, though, I am not the one who is ceasing debate. In your post, you said I was fearmongering, insecure in my faith, and that I spread untruths.

But you never said what those untruths were. You called names, but you're not addressing my questions (which is what a debate is).

And so I'll repeat:

Was Muhammad wrong to sleep with a 9-year-old girl?

Is it okay for a husband to beat his wife, even if he beats her lightly?

These aren't spreading untruths; the latter is in the Qu'ran. And Muhammad married Aisha when she was 6, and consummated it when she was 9. That is undisputed and part of the Hadith.

I'm not particularly interested in a debate, I would just honestly like a Muslim woman to answer those questions honestly for me, but I have yet to find one who would, and that makes me sad, because I honestly do not understand these two things.

As for your marriage, I wish you all the best. I am glad you have found a man you love who is good to you, and I wish you all the happiness and peace and bliss in that relationship.


At 2:16 PM , Blogger Berji's domain said…

It isn't just the Middle East where women are groped in public. I grew up in South Asia and was groped, poked, prodded, leered at and called filthy things (from the age of about 10-18). (All while very culturally appropriately dressed.) And I assure you that 90% of the time it wasn't Muslims who were responsible.Yes, we do have more of a military presence in the Middle East than in South Asia currently, but we must not eliminate the possibility that we might go there one day. I think you have two parts to your post and they shouldn't necessarily be joined together.


At 3:13 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Personally I think you should re-check your history. Muhammad was given the hand of 'Aishah at 6 as a joining of the family lines, but wasnt consumated untill 18. Older then most cultures today. She moved in with him at 9 to help around the house and learn of him but he also helped with the housework. find a man today who will do that. As for beating a woman, you need to read your arabic better and leave off hadith. Hadith are but stories of the time, so many with no chains linking them back and considered rubbish or made up. Its a whole study into itself. I study Islamic history, Islam and Hadith and am currently doing my Masters. There is much misused in Shariah for the benifits of politics and those seeking control, as there is much misused in the many versions of Christianity and the Bible around the world. No religion is practiced full or properly around the world as religion is now controlled by politics and the power mongers. Believers of any faith can but do what we can to practice properly and leave the rest to god.


At 3:45 PM , Blogger Sheila said…


That's an interesting interpretation, but I haven't read that anywhere else. Everything I have ever seen from Muslim sources said that he consummated it at 9, married at 6. Even the Muslim students at the university where we did the Muslim-Christian discussion group asserted that he consummated at 9.

Obviously you have a different interpretation, but I'm wondering where it is from, because a quick search of the internet finds page after page confirming that he consummated at 9!

In terms of the beating, every Qu'ranic interpretation I have seen uses the term "beat", and sometimes the term "beat lightly", in the English translation.

Even if it is not beat, even if it is only admonish or chastise, I still have a problem with that. It is saying that husband and wife are not on equal footing, and that the husband should make the wife obey.

Christianity ASKS the wife to submit, but never tells the husband that he has the ability or right to force her or make her. It is voluntary.

That is my problem with the treatment of women.

Nevertheless, I am so glad you commented, because it is so encouraging to me that there are Muslims who do not believe that child brides are right, or that beating your wife is right. I really wish you all the best in your studies, and I hope that your view of Islam will prevail, and that you are able to tell many of your sisters what you believe, and convince both the men and the women that the current treatment of girls around the world in the name of Islam isn't right.

God bless you.


At 5:22 PM , Blogger Travels With Uncle Sam said…

In the past our country has always spared women the indignities of war by not allowing them to serve in combat. Even sending them to combat zones as medics and nurses and doctors is dangerous for them, too, I think. It is bad enough that men should have to go. Yes, men can be kidnapped, beaten, tortured and killed, however, they do not become pregnant!! They do not give birth!

Women soldiers in those cases can become pregnant when sexually assaulted. Think of the horror of bearing a child of such sexual assault and having to give birth to it under those conditions?? Our country has always tried to spare women soldiers that indignity. And think about the poor child born under such circumstances. What happens to it? (Women soldiers imprisoned and sexually molested and raped would probably not have access to birth control.)

There are plenty of other things women can do in the military where they are not put in such positions.


At 6:57 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Perhaps I have read through all the above posts too quickly, but what about the issue of some male soldiers feeling responsible for female soldiers? Wouldn't that make the male soldiers feel comprised in the heat of battle?

Just a thought.

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Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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