Published June 27, 2013
Violence against women wasn’t explicitly mentioned on the program of the Council on Foreign Relations workshop that Satpal Singh attended earlier this week in New York, but he believes it is relevant to the topics that were discussed.
Singh, associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, seeks opportunities with widely varying audiences to bring up the issue of violence against women.
At UB, Singh conducts research on interactions between drugs and ion channels. From time to time, he has tacked onto the end of his neuroscience presentations a brief discussion of the global problem of violence against women in the context of the neurological underpinnings of such behavior.
“Violence against women is part of the fabric of our society,” says Singh, whose personal experience with violent religious conflict in India left a lasting impression. “Even in the U.S., where abuse against women is relatively rare, compared to other parts of the world, four women everyday die from abuse. People ignore the fact that it’s so widespread.”
As chairperson of the World Sikh Council—America Region, Singh was invited to become a Huffington Post blogger. He often uses his columns to discuss such incidents of violence as the rape and brutal homicide of an Indian medical student last year and violence perpetrated against women and girls in the Syrian war.
International organizations seek his participation in forums on religious diversity and global conflict. In February, he was featured in a bulletin published by the Council on Foreign Relations.
In April, Singh was invited to the Ukraine to speak about “Religion, Women and Political Change” at an international interfaith forum. Other panelists included the chair of UNESCO’s Aladdin Project, which promotes greater mutual knowledge among peoples of different cultures and religions, and the president of the International Council of Christians and Jews. Singh and five other delegates were chosen to meet with the Ukrainian president.
“My personal view is that political leaders and religious leaders have to take an active part,” he says. “Society has to become more involved. I want to communicate that violence against women is one of the most prevalent and pernicious of actions.”
At the “Religion and Foreign Policy Summer Workshop” that he attended this week, topics ranged from modern warfare and immigration reform to global human rights. Violence against women is relevant to all of them, Singh says.
“I hoped to make a point at this workshop that we must accept women as equal to men in our religion, just as we must accept followers of all religions as equal,” says Singh.
War itself cannot be discussed without a focus on women’s rights, he continues.
“Discussions on the ethics of modern warfare almost always exclude the fact that women are deliberately targeted in any conflict,” he says. “Women are used as pawns in any battle in any war. Most of the strife in Africa and Asia affects women far more horrifically than it does men. In fact, even in times of so-called peace, the lives of many women in Asian and African countries are a perpetual nightmare.”
Even in the U.S., which Singh says is among the safest places for women, one in four are raped or sexually molested at some time in their life, according to national statistics.
He recounts just the most infamous incidents that have grabbed headlines: the three women kidnapped and held hostage in Cleveland, the case of Elizabeth Smart, the beheading of a wife and mother in Western New York.
And throughout the world, he says, honor killings and rapes not only go unreported but the victims—not the perpetrators—of rape are seen as guilty.
“In many countries, if you go to the police station and say that someone raped you, the next thing that will happen is that the police are going to rape you. Then they will pressure you to marry the rapist,” he says. “You are handed off to this vulture so he can legally and officially do whatever he pleases. The girl has brought dishonor to society by being raped. When you marry the girl to the rapist, the problem for society goes away.”
Singh also describes dowry deaths, where a man burns his wife alive in order to take a new wife, who will bring him another dowry.
All of these incidents occur with a society’s tacit approval, Singh says.
“I personally feel that the status of women in a society is diagnostic of what that society is going to be,” he concludes. “The atrocities that tens of millions of women suffer daily cannot be put into words, but only can be felt by those who have to endure them. While most of us cannot even fathom those real feelings, we should at least do whatever we can. The hands of those women are tied, sometimes literally. Ours are not.”