Next month the London Olympics begin and soon the headlines on television and newspapers will reflect the emerging stories that are guaranteed to capture our attention. One such headline caught my attention today:

“Saudi Arabia to let women compete in Olympics for first time”

Wow! For the first time! Did you know Saudi woman are not allowed to drive, vote, hold public office or marry, leave the country, go to school or open bank accounts without permission from a male guardian, who usually is the father or husband. Is this over protection or religious zealousness?

I read that Olympic country hopefuls Qatar and Brunei — also reversed course this year and said they will send female athletes to the London games that begin July 27. I guess that is progress…?

I did a little research and found some other countries that seem to be lacking in fundamental rights, especially for woman:

Afghanistan: Domestic violence is so common that 87 percent of women admit to experiencing it. But more than one million widows are on the streets, often forced into prostitution. Afghanistan is the only country in which the female suicide rate is higher than that of males.

Democratic Republic of Congo: In the eastern DRC, a war that claimed more than 3 million lives has ignited again, with women on the front line. Rapes are so brutal and systematic that UN investigators have called them unprecedented. Many victims die; others are infected with HIV and left to look after children alone.

Iraq: The U.S.-led invasion to “liberate” Iraq from Saddam Hussein has imprisoned women in an inferno of sectarian violence that targets women and girls. The literacy rate, once the highest in the Arab world, is now among the lowest as families fear risking kidnapping and rape by sending girls to school.

Nepal: Early marriage and childbirth exhaust the country’s malnourished women, and one in 24 will die in pregnancy or childbirth. Daughters who aren’t married off may be sold to traffickers before they reach their teens.

Sudan: While Sudanese women have made strides under reformed laws, the plight of those in Darfur, in western Sudan, has worsened. Abduction, rape or forced displacement have destroyed more than 1 million women’s lives since 2003.

Mali: One of the world’s poorest countries, few women escape the torture of genital mutilation, many are forced into early marriages, and one in 10 dies in pregnancy or childbirth.

“Human beings by nature want happiness and do not want suffering. With that feeling everyone tries to achieve happiness and tries to get rid of suffering, and everyone has the basic right to do this. In this way, all here are the same, whether rich or poor, educated or uneducated, Easterner or Westerner, believer or non-believer, and within believers whether Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and so on. Basically, from the viewpoint of real human value we are all the same.”

— His Holiness the Dalai Lama

I find it incredibly sad that here in 2012 there is still so much abuse, neglect and suffering – especially for women in impoverished countries. I posted this blog in an effort to continue to bring awareness to this terrible global problem. As the Olympics converge on London next month, we will see great strides in uniting the world but we must not forget the dark underbelly of humanity that exists especially in the Middle East and Africa.


John C. Bader