Calcutta, India, has the lowest standard of urban living on the planet--and it's no wonder. Calcutta is named after Kali, the goddess of destruction, the most feared and most loved of Hinduism's 300 million gods.
In Women of the 10/40 Window, Lorry Lutz describes the statue of Kali that stands in a temple in Calcutta. The statue wears a garland of skulls and serpents. Her four arms hold an axe, a trident and a severed human head. Blood flows from her tongue as she stands astride the corpse of her consort, Shiva. Devotees cast garlands at her feet, pleading for her favor and protection.
Is it any surprise that Calcutta is also home to a lucrative sex trade that enslaves thousands of women and girls? In many cases, their parents and husbands have sold them into prostitution to help provide for their families in an economy crippled by poverty.
Calcutta is not the only place where women face degradation, brutality and violence. All over the world, women are enslaved in endless cycles of injustice that include kidnapping, slave labor, forced prostitution, abuse, rape, genital mutilation, female infanticide, repression, rejection and even murder--simply because they are women.
What you are about to read is brutal, violent, graphic--and true. It will make you uncomfortable. Hopefully it will make you angry enough to pray--and act--on behalf of these women who do not know they have a Father in heaven who loves them with an everlasting love.
THE SELLING OF WOMEN AND GIRLS More money is made by the sexual trafficking of women and girls than by any other illegal trade in the world--as much as $17 billion a year. In Nepal, approximately 100,000 young girls--some as young as 7 years old--have been kidnapped from Kathmandu and mountainous areas and smuggled across the border to Bombay, India.
There the girls are caged in windows, where they are publicly raped, molested and abused. After 30 days of torture and degradation, they have lost all self-esteem and do whatever the pimps tell them to do.
At least one ministry, Teen Challenge, is reaching out to the children of these prostitutes. The children live in two homes outside Bombay where they are rehabilitated and eventually sent back to Nepal and cared for by Nepali Christians.
In Thailand, parents regularly sell their daughters into prostitution to augment meager family incomes. Author Patrick Johnstone reports in Operation World that an estimated 700,000 female prostitutes operate in Bangkok alone, and more than 2 million people derive their income from the sex industry, which is protected by corrupt government leaders. Most of Bangkok's 35,000 street children end up in prostitution.
In Europe, more than half a million women, 13 years old and up, have been forcibly sold into the sex trade, which National Public Radio correspondent Sylvia Poggioli says is "insatiable and in constant need of new supplies." Many are from Eastern Europe and reply to ads for jobs as maids and childcare workers in countries such as Italy. When they arrive, they are beaten into submission and forced to sell themselves on the streets.
According to a CIA report published in 1999, the trafficking of women occurs in our own backyard, too. Each year 50,000 women and children are brought to the United States under false pretenses from Asia, Latin America, Africa and Eastern Europe. The report states that some girls from Asia and Africa are sold to traffickers by their parents "for less than the price of a toaster." Once in the United States, they are forced to work as prostitutes, exotic dancers or abused servants in an "indentured sexual-servitude arrangement."
American Christians find it inconceivable that parents would sell their daughters into prostitution, but these families face desperate poverty at a level that few in the United States can fathom. Moreover, their cultures and religions do not value women.
In a report titled "No Mercy" (1998), the International Justice Mission, a Christian human rights organization, states: "For many, prostitution seems to be the only option for survival....If a woman is not qualified for work in industry or if there is no demand for her qualifications, she can always find demand for sexual relations."
In India, crippling economic and social pressures combine with the demonic forces of a godless religion to bring about even further degradation of women and girls: temple prostitutes. These prostitutes, or devdasi, take a religious vow of prostitution and may engage in sexual relations with a Hindu priest. They receive a tattoo on their foreheads indicating they are "sexually committed to religion" and offer themselves to the Hindu goddess Yellaamma. When they become pregnant and give birth, their children continue as part of the devdasi system.
A few ministries are reaching out to the devdasi, despite threats of retaliation, violence and even death from Hindu leaders.
HONOR KILLING In Muslim cultures, a woman is considered a man's possession and a reflection of his honor. If a woman does something wrong, the honor of her husband or father is tarnished, and he is virtually obliged to kill her in order to protect his honor.
The Associated Press reports numerous examples. A woman in Cairo married a man not approved by her father, so her father cut off her head and paraded it down a Cairo street. A man in Pakistan killed his wife because a neighbor spotted a man who was not a family member near the field where she was working. A woman in Pakistan killed her own daughter because the daughter ran away from her husband after he threw her down a flight of stairs while she was pregnant. These women died so their family honor could survive.
Islam does not sanction honor killing, yet in many Muslim countries it survives as an ancient practice sanctioned by culture. Women have been shot, burned, strangled, stoned, poisoned, beheaded or stabbed--simply because they sat on a bus next to a man who was not a family member or were friendly to a brother-in-law. Statistics are sketchy because most honor killings go unreported or misreported, but in the West Bank and Gaza Strip alone more than two-thirds of all homicides in 1999 were believed to be honor killings.
IGNORANCE AND MUTILATION Every day in Africa 6,000 girls face a trauma known as female genital mutilation (FGM). Sometimes called by the euphemistic term "female circumcision," the practice is actually a barbaric ritual conducted in ignorance because adherents believe that it will help maintain chastity before marriage and fidelity during it, increase fertility, and prevent the death of first-born babies.
According to Amnesty International, one of many organizations that are working to abolish the practice, "The female child is usually placed naked on a stone with her legs held wide apart with the genital area exposed. Her mother or close relatives often place her on the stone.
"A stick is stuck into the mouth of the girl to prevent her from screaming aloud. The circumciser or mother then cuts the child's clitoris and sometimes all or part of the labia minora with a razor blade or a sharp-edged object. Ground herbs are sprinkled on the mutilated area. A cotton pad is put on the wound and four cowries are placed around the waist. After the operation, the mutilated girls are treated at regular times with herbs."
Amnesty International says that FGM is one of the most massive threats to the human rights of women and girls in Africa, where an estimated 100 million women are genitally mutilated. The consequences for the physical and emotional health of women and girls are devastating, and in many cases life-threatening. Complications include hemorrhage, shock and infection.
OTHER ISSUES Sadly, these are not the only issues that women and girls face around the world.
**In China, the communist government allows families to have only one child, and since boys are highly prized, girls are regularly aborted, killed at birth or abandoned.
**In India, where a bride's dowry can bankrupt a family, a group of physicians has put up billboards encouraging couples to have amniocentesis and an abortion rather than risk an expensive dowry later.
**In many countries, girls receive little or no schooling. In Algeria, illiteracy among women is nearly 90 percent.
**In Afghanistan, the violent Taliban government prohibits women from working, even widows who have no other means of support.
**In many countries of the world, women and girls are denied access to education, health care and basic human rights--simply because they are female.
Legislation would not stop these practices because in many cases they are ingrained in the cultural and social fabric of a society. It will take education, public awareness, dialogue and most of all, prayer. Without Jesus, these women face an endless cycle of hopelessness.
Will these women ever hear of the freedom that He offers? Most of them live in an area of the world known as the 10/40 Window--an imaginary rectangle between the 10th and 40th parallels north of the equator stretching from Africa to Japan. Ninety-five percent of the world's unreached women live in the 10/40 Window, yet most missionaries and the bulk of Western mission budgets go outside this area.
Non-Christians allege that the Bible is "repressive" toward women, and by taking Scripture out of context, they paint a false picture of Christian women as mindless robots locked in a repressive system of slavery. In reality, in every country of the world where Christianity has gained a foothold, the status of women is always elevated. Abuses still occur in these areas, of course, but for the most part, in countries without a strong Christian presence, women and girls face systematic and unrelenting repression, degradation and brutality.
Alice Bratton, director of A Woman's Voice International, says that when she shares stories of brutality against women, people often reply: "Leave them alone. It's part of their culture." Yet, she says, those same people would find it inconceivable to say about a starving child: "Leave her alone. Hunger is part of her culture."
"The essence of starvation is that unless we feed children, they perish," Bratton says. "How then can we remain silent while thousands of women perish because we refuse to help? The sad truth is that brutality is not a part of anyone's culture but exists because of our indifference to do anything about it."
To paraphrase Paul: "How, then, can these women call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?" (Rom. 10:14, NIV, paraphrased).
What can you do? First of all, pray. Then, become informed; visit applicable Web sites and read the books listed below. Give to ministries that are making a difference in the lives of women around the world, and consider going on a short-term mission trip yourself.
Yes, Jesus offers these women hope--but the reality is that most of them will live and die without ever hearing about their "Kinsman Redeemer"--the One who promises to be their Bridegroom. And that is the ultimate degradation of all.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
A Women's Voice International
713 WSW Loop 323, Suite 205
Tyler, TX 75701-9460
International Justice Mission
P.O. Box 58147
Washington, DC 20037
Teen Challenge International, Inc.
P.O. Box 745
Locust Grove, VA 22508
Women of Global Action
P.O. Box 62586
Colorado Springs, CO 80962
World Evangelical Fellowship (North American office)
Commission on Women's Concerns
P.O. Box WEF
Women of Vision
(part of World Vision, mobilizes volunteers to help women in developing countries)