When I first heard the news report about Taliban gunmen shooting a 15-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl, I thought about my sister Marilyn. Both Marilyn and Malala Yousafzai were victims of religious bigotry. While Malala will survive, my sister died after she was violently attacked. Even though the details are different, if their stories can be presented to the world community as examples of how outdated religious dogma breeds ignorance and fosters crimes against women, they may spark positive changes.
Malala was born in a rural valley in Pakistan at a time when the Taliban ruled the area. Even at an early age, she was acutely aware that girls were treated as second class citizens by a fanatical religious group enforcing an out-of-date religious dogma which strictly forbids any education for girls.
When she was eleven, Malala began writing a blog for the BBC detailing her early life under Taliban rule, how they’d been expelled from the area, and her own views on education for girls. A few months later, the New York Times filmed a documentary on her life and she began giving interviews in print and on television. She was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize and won Pakistan’s first National Peace Prize. On October 9, 2012, while returning home on a school bus, Malala was nearly killed after being shot in the head and neck. She remained unconscious and in critical condition for days. When her condition improved, she was sent to an intensive rehabilitation hospital in England, where she is now recovering.
My sister Marilyn was born in 1948. Our parents were new converts and passionate believing Jehovah’s Witnesses. They taught Marilyn and me that we lived in a very bad world, but God was going to act soon. He’d destroy this world and all non-JW believers at Armageddon and do it before we reached adulthood.
While my parents loved my sister, they didn’t believe that she had the same rights that I did. God had a pecking order which mandated that a woman’s role be at a lower level than a man’s. For girls, a good education wasn’t important. Our parents also believed that Marilyn’s primary goal should be to please Jehovah so He wouldn’t destroy her at Armageddon.
When she grew up and Armageddon didn’t happen, she wasn’t prepared for a normal adult life in the real world. Due to a limited, ill-advised education she had not been trained to think on her own. She needed a man to take care of her. Unfortunately, Marilyn was attracted to men who treated women as sex objects and not equals. During each of her failed marriages, she was emotionally and physically abused. It did little good to report this abuse to her church elders because their religious dogma dictated that the man be the head of the family and that the wife must always be subject to her husband’s authority.
Marilyn’s life story does not have a happy ending. Only forty-nine, she was brutally knifed to death by her third abusive husband on April 11, 1998.
I tell her story in my book, The Ghosts from Mama’s Club. If people know Marilyn’s story, I believe it could help them so that they, their sisters and daughters will not become victims of religious bigotry. Perhaps it will help some people mature and better understand that there are equally valid religions around the world that meet the needs of their followers. In fact, many religions are willing to be held accountable and to make changes for any of their out-of-date beliefs that foster social injustices toward women.
I would also like to share some similarities between Jehovah’s Witnesses and the extreme Islamic beliefs of the Taliban. First and foremost, both groups discourage education for girls and women. Women do not have any authority to teach religious concepts to men. Both groups have dress codes that fly in the face of common sense. A wife must be subject to her husband. There is no way for a wife to divorce her husband for non-support, acts of violence directed at her, or for sexual incompetence. Divorce and re-marriage are only allowed in cases of fornication and then only when the wife can conclusively prove her case. Even violent criminals cannot be divorced by their wives if they did not perform a provable act of fornication with another woman. Women are not encouraged to have a career. Women must wear head coverings when praying in the presence of men. Women have no positions of leadership at any level, locally or at the religion’s headquarters. Men create strict rules for women in their religious communities and women are not allowed to challenge those rules.
The Watchtower discourages JW women from divorcing their husbands for anything other than fornication. If they choose to do so out of fear for their own safety or for other equally valid reasons, then they are forbidden to remarry. If they do marry again, they are classified as “adulterers” and are subject to excommunication/disfellowshipping and shunning by their friends and family.
In order to create a greater awareness of religious bigotry, I have scheduled fifteen talk show interviews in the next ninety days. I feel that more people need a better understanding about how outdated religious dogma can perpetuate ignorance and rep;ress women. On November 13, I talked with Doug Kellett on WPTF AM 50 (7:05 AM EST) and Frankie Boyer on Lifestyle Talk Radio Network (11:17 AM EST. On November 15, Armstrong Williams interviewed me on Sirius XM Satellite Radio Network (12:50 PM EST). On November 21, I will talk with Larry Whitler and Robin MacBlane on WOCA-AM 1370 at 10:05 AM EST.