By Asian Development Bank
For every crime against women’s health and well-being, there must be a solution. Three worldwide organizations stand strong for women’s rights.
I try my best to keep this blog upbeat, so I searched all around for light-hearted topics this week. Perhaps I could find a comedic movie to review or a politician’s sexist comments to lambast. I try to keep things fun around here, I really do.
But then I learned that terrorists have poisoned over 320 Afghan schoolgirls this month.
It’s true that women have more cause to celebrate these days than ever before. Globally, we’re seeing increases in literacy, economic independence, legal representation and awareness of rights violations. But while things might be “better,” they’re not yet “good.” Both in America and abroad, women still face some of the most disgusting, spirit-crushing acts of oppression and violence humankind could ever fathom.
I’d like to talk about three of them, and more importantly, about what women are doing to stop them.
PROBLEM: In the Middle East and elsewhere, both extremists and political officials oppose women’s education. Over the last two weeks, Afghanistan has seen three terrorist attacks in which girls’ schools were sprayed with toxic chemicals. It’s not the first time; attacks in 2009 and 2010 confirm a pattern of oppression from militant extremists like the Taliban.
Even more upsetting is the explanation some officials have posited for the attacks: apparently the hospitalized girls’ symptoms come not from poisoning but from “mass hysteria.” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: silly women and their emotions, am I right, fellas?
SOLUTION: The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) promotes women’s health care, education and independent income in Afghanistan and Pakistan. RAWA also hosts a variety of cultural events like women’s discussion circles, poetry and story nights, and computer literacy courses.
The overwhelming majority of RAWA’s pleas for aid involve merely increasing awareness of the plight of women in the Middle East. It’s especially touching that the women of RAWA request donations of digital cameras, “preferably in small size for hidden use,” to document the atrocities they face. I’m appalled that women should ever have to go so far to prove that they need help.
PROBLEM:As many as 140 million girls and women in Africa and worldwide are survivors of the sickening practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). I caution you…“sickening” is a good word for what comes next.
In some cultures, parents remove a daughter’s clitoris because they believe it will reduce her libido and keep her a virgin for her eventual husband. Others perform surgeries to narrow a woman’s vaginal opening, discouraging her from having sex for fear of pain and injury. Whenever the husband wants sex, the woman is subjected to the painful, dangerous procedure anew each time.
In addition to the obvious pain and shock, survivors of FGM may suffer from recurrent infections, cysts, and infertility, to say nothing of the emotional trauma. For more information, read the World Health Organization factsheet.
SOLUTION:The Campaign Against Female Genital Mutilation (CAGeM) hosts educational workshops for citizens, doctors, and schools, debunking myths about FGM and empowering women to stand for their own rights. This month, CAGeM partners with the New York Academy of Medicine to host “Their Voice,” an awareness conference in which courageous survivors of FGM will share their previously unheard stories.
PROBLEM: Rape. I shouldn’t have to justify my outrage any further than that. The fact that over 200,000 people are sexually assaulted each year should never become easy to swallow. Up to 20 percent of women in the United States have survived a rape , which is only counting the few who report their experiences to law enforcement. Of every 100 rapes, only 46 are reported, and only three end in even a single day of jail time.
SOLUTION: Peace Over Violence is an assault and abuse prevention center offering 24-hour bilingual emergency hotlines, legal advocacy, youth education conferences and self-defense training. Their annual nationwide event Denim Day raises awareness about common myths surrounding rape and the need for increased support for survivors.
These worthy organizations and many like them deserve our praise, support and contributions. I challenge all of us to create a better, safer and more equal life for women worldwide.