Skip to main content

How stoning of a woman riled the world

By Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
May 30, 2014 -- Updated 1234 GMT (2034 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • In Pakistan, a pregnant woman who wanted to marry for love was killed by relatives
  • Gayle Lemmon: In Nigeria, as well as U.S., we see crimes and hatred against women
  • She says the hashtag activism and social media outrage is a start, but it's not enough
  • Lemmon: There should be laws that can protect girls and punish abusers

Editor's note: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a fellow and deputy director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations. She wrote "The Dressmaker of Khair Khana," a book that tells the story of an Afghan girl whose business created jobs and hope during the Taliban years. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- "We were shouting for help, but nobody listened," said Muhammad Iqbal about the slaying of his pregnant 25-year-old wife, Farzana Parveen, at the hands of her relatives, who gathered to kill her in front of a courthouse in Lahore, Pakistan.

More than 20 members of the woman's family stoned her to death for the "crime" of "dishonoring" her family by choosing to marry someone she loved rather than a husband her family had chosen. A police officer said "one family member made a noose of rough cloth around her neck while her brothers smashed bricks into her skull."

Social media immediately picked up on the horrific and very public killing. #Farzana became a hashtag that provoked a conversation about the crime of so-called "honor killings" and society's tolerance and the police's alleged indifference to it. Suddenly a crime that not long ago would barely have elicited a headline was now a source of conversation and consternation among those on social media both within and outside Pakistan. And discussion about the slaying turned up another grim fact: Iqbal told CNN he killed his first wife so he could be free to propose to Farzana.

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

The #Farzana hashtag comes on the public heels of another long-known and rarely noted issue that caught fire in the public's imagination and provoked a storm of well-deserved outrage: the kidnapping of schoolgirls in northern Nigeria by the militant group Boko Haram.

A Nigerian lawyer created the #bringbackourgirls hashtag to call attention to the mass abduction of young women who gathered at school to take their exams.

Once the word got out, people around the world began talking about the issue over social media. Reporters and politicians rushed to follow their lead, and discussions about girls' education and the crimes of Boko Haram at last punctured public indifference.

Pregnant woman stoned by family members
Human rights activist speaks on violence

In America, another horrific crime unleashed a gush of online discourse. This time it was a 22-year-old man on a quest for what he called his "day of retribution," when he would torture and kill "good-looking people" before launching a "war on women" to punish girls and women who he said had "starved (him) of sex." The misogyny in the killer's more than 100-page diatribe led women to begin using the #Yesallwomen hashtag to push forward a conversation on Twitter and Facebook and Tumbler about the rarely discussed though frequently experienced issues of violence against women, from sexual assault to harassment to domestic brutality.

The #Yesallwomen hashtag went global and began trending on Twitter. Once again the mainstream media picked it up from there and followed the lead of women who had had enough of crimes and abuses perpetrated against them to speak publicly on the toll they have taken on their lives.

Yet, for all the hashtag consciousness-raising and social media meet-ups of the like-minded the question remains: Will what happens in cyberspace stay there? Or will online outrage lead to real world change? Will crimes committed against women and girls across the globe finally come to be seen as harming and hampering not just women, but the communities in which they live?

Much could be done if online activism led to real-life campaigning for concrete progress, such as:

-- Enacting and enforcing laws to protect girls as young as 8 and 9 from being married against their will

-- Providing aid and incentives to keep girls in schools -- built near their homes -- and to combat traditions that keep them out of the classroom

-- Pushing for more stringent laws in the United States and abroad to punish traffickers rather than children

-- Highlighting as role models the many fathers and brothers who value their daughters and allow them to pursue their futures unfettered, sometimes at the risk of their own safety and standing in society

And these are only the start. The hashtag activism and social media outrage is an important start to addressing issues to which the world for so long had remained indifferent. But it is just one step.

It falls to each of us to see whether all the talk about the power of women and girls and the shame of harming them translates into on-the-ground change. The stakes are high -- for all of us.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0242 GMT (1042 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT