Canada's universities are becoming truly global, and when an unthinkable assault happens to a student from abroad, we need to ask the questions we would if she were a Canadian citizen: How could this happen? Why? What can be done to make sure it never happens to anyone else?
Rumana Monzur, a graduate political-science student at the University of British Columbia, was attacked in her home country of Bangladesh with grotesque cruelty. But Canadians should not be complacent or treat violence against women as something that happens elsewhere. Although Canada has moved strongly against it on many fronts institutionally, 67 women were killed by an intimate partner in 2009; on any given night, 3,000 women sleep in shelters to escape violence. Similar levels of violence are found in most developed countries.
The attack on Ms. Monzur was meant to leave a mark of shame on her. Her eyes were gouged till she was blind; part of her nose was bitten off. The attack was meant to destroy her beauty and leave her with lifelong pain. It is consonant with the acid attacks that are a not uncommon feature of violence against women in South Asia. Bangladesh has roughly 200 acid attacks a year, a majority involving women as victims. The attack echoes one by the Taliban in Afghanistan in which a young woman's nose and ears were chopped off.
The global scourge of violence against women takes especially severe forms in South Asia. India, Pakistan and Afghanistan were named three of the world's five most dangerous countries for women, in a Thomson Reuters poll this month of experts on five continents.
The shame of the attack on Ms. Monzur is on her attacker, and on society. Police in Bangladesh reportedly hesitated even to arrest the alleged attacker, Ms. Monzur's husband, until the teachers' union at Dhaka University (where she is an academic) threatened labour action. Ms. Monzur has been nothing but brave, speaking out from her hospital bed, rather than being cowed into silence.
Of her studies in Canada, she told The Globe's Stephanie Nolen, "I learned how to dream," but now she feels her dreams are gone. It is moving to note that the University of British Columbia pledges to do its best to keep her dreams alive, by considering how she can complete her degree. It has also set up a fund to help her with the immediate costs she's facing, and is looking at what it can do over the longer term. Bangladeshi families in Vancouver have posted an open letter in her support on the Internet.
Ms. Monzur has refused to be silent, and Canada has a stake in letting her voice, and the voices of all women seeking protection from violence in this country, be heard.
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