In Egypt we learn about the systematic sexual assault of female protesters in Tahrir Square. We learn about the sex traffickers who put ads online for au pairs or waitresses from former Soviet states, only to confiscate the young women’s passports, rape them and sell them to brothels in Western Europe; a frightening number are never heard from again.
Then there are the UN peacekeepers who have exploited these girls in brothels in Bosnia and Kosovo, and ignored their pleas for help.
There are heartbreaking chapters on forced marriage, rape as a weapon of war, and honour killings, which take place at the rate of two or three a day in Pakistan. She visits Jordan, where premeditated murder is punishable by death – except for men who kill women in their family who have behaved in a way the men deem morally unacceptable.
And just when it seems it can surely get no worse, Lloyd-Roberts takes us to India, considered by the secretariat of the G20 group of nations (which includes India) to be the worst place on the planet to be born female. There, six-year-old girls are married off to grown men, paedophilia abetted by parents in the name of “tradition”. Unicef estimates 18 per cent of girls are married by aged 15, resulting in children giving birth to children and suffering lifelong injuries or death. Dowry deaths – meted out in revenge where a woman’s family have not paid the full dowry – are thought to take place at the rate of one an hour. Infanticide of girls aged up to four is rife. Girls are almost twice as likely as boys to have died in India by age five. Overall, there are 914 females for every 1000 males and rape is commonplace. Why is all this happening? Because girls are not valued.
Indian women are fighting back as best they can and one cause célèbre was the brutal gang rape and murder of student Jyoti Singh in 2012, after she and a male friend got in a bus with a group of men. One of her attackers has said “a girl is far more responsible for a rape than a boy” and lawyers for the accused have taken up that refrain, one even claiming that if his own daughter engaged in “pre-marital activities” he would pour petrol on her in front of the family and set her alight.
A war on women indeed. The murderous misogyny of Europe’s witch trial era has not been vanquished, just relocated.
Not that Lloyd-Roberts presents the UK as a haven of enlightenment. On equal pay, honour killings, forced marriage and FGM, she highlights inadequate protection for women and girls. While FGM has been robustly tackled in France, it still happens here.
Sue Lloyd-Roberts bursts forth with energy and passion from the pages of this book, crying out for change and posthumously recruiting new foot soldiers to fight back in this bitter war. It should rouse anyone who complacently imagines that feminism has done its job, to see how very much farther there is to travel.