Many posts in this report feature and seek to raise awareness about global human rights abuses with a specific emphasis women's rights abuses. Although the abuses we write about occur primarily in the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and Eurasia, these abuses can and do occur irrespective of religion, socioeconomic status, culture or geographic location. When a woman attempts to leave an unhappy marriage, depending upon where she resides it could result in her death, loss of her parental rights, disfigurement, impoverishment, ostracization or other dire consequences. When my father began to physically abuse my mother she was caught in an untenable situation because he had vowed that he would kill her rather than let her go and if she somehow managed to escape she would do so without her children.
A mother's love enables many women to endure unimaginable degradation and hardship to protect their children and to remain in situations often to their detriment. In America we are familiar with these stories but they are easily tuned into and out of in favor of the latest gossip story or 'reality' TV series. A story currently playing out in public is the scandalous case of Tamar Epstein and Aharon Friedman.
Friedman, 34, is a congressional committee aide working for U.S. Representative Dave Camp, a Michigan Republican. Although, he and Epstein, 27, who has custody of their daughter, divorced through Maryland civil courts, the couple are still bound to each other by an atavistic and tyrannical system that sanctions a husband's right to imprison his wife with impunity.
Friedman and Epstein are Orthodox Jews for whom a civil divorce is meaningless unless sanctioned by a Beit Din, a Jewish Rabbinical court. At issue in this disturbing case is the fact that Friedman refuses to grant Epstein a "get" which is a rabbinical divorce that will declare that the woman is totally freed from her marriage. Without this by Jewish Orthodox law, a woman is forever bound to her husband.
She is an agunah, in the eyes of the community because technically she is not divorced, and she cannot re-marry. In the Orthodox Jewish world, family and marital status is absolutely everything in adult life; without the freedom of a "get", she is for all intents and purposes - dead. If she were to remarry any children born from this union would be considered illegitimate by religious authorities and by the State of Israel.
"Very few women want to be in the position where their kids are considered mamzerim, or bastards. The stigma is really great and the stigma is so bad that it goes forever," Susan Weiss, director of the Center for Women's Justice in Israel told NPR in April. "In other words, the person who's stigmatized, his children are stigmatized, his grandchildren are stigmatized, everyone is stigmatized." Weiss launched a project in Israel to sue husbands for damages that deny their wives the get. "Why do these men do this? It is a form of control for many."
The practice of granting a man such absolute control over his wife, her future and her potential offspring is no different from the aberrant interpretations of Islam that results in Sharia law judgments against innocent women which results in atrocities like stoning for being a rape victim or beheading for being accused of impurity.
Tamar Epstein is not an isolated case, in fact the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot currently lists 35 women as agunot' and it is estimated that there are hundreds more in the United States, Israel and elsewhere in the Jewish diaspora. It is unconscionable that in the year 2011 women continue to be treated as chattel in both the West and the East, and it is our responsibility to bring a voice to those silenced by theocracy.
"Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed." ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.