Women are suffering in Afghanistan. The NY Times reports that many young Afghani girls are dressed up as young boys for “economic need, social pressure to have sons, and in some cases, a superstition that doing so can lead to the birth of a real boy.” In many Islamic nations, women are not allowed to leave their home without being accompanied by a male relative. If no such relative exists, women are forced to transform their daughters into sons so they can simply buy food for their family. Nina Burleigh, recently wrote in the Huffington Post, about the terrorism against Afghani school girls. “It appears the Taliban, taking a page out of the Nazi playbook, has been pumping stuff like Zyklon B, the notorious Holocaust gas, into girls' schools, to further their goal of keeping their females illiterate.” The claims of these young women were disregarded for two years chalked up to nothing more than female hysteria.
Women are suffering in Africa. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, in her book Infidel, recounts her personal experience of undergoing female circumcision. It is a common practice in Somalia in which the clitoris and sometimes other parts of the vagina are cut off and then sown shut in order to ensure young women remain virgins until their husbands cut them open on their wedding night. The obsession with preserving virginity is so extreme that male family members perform “honor killings” against less chaste women. According to Hirsi Ali these horrors occur in Somalia, Ethiopia, and all over the world.
Women are suffering in the third world. Dr. Paul Farmer, in his book Pathologies of Power, recalls the stories of young impoverished Haitian women who have little choice to ward off advances from military officials. These advances are always reciprocated either out of fear or desire to escape poverty. Farmer wonders how the traditional understanding of “consensual sex” can apply to such a situation.
Women are suffering in Europe, Asia, and America. Five years ago, CBS went undercover to buy a young Romanian girl out of the sex slave trade. They paid almost $2,000 to free her. The slave trade has only grown in number and depravity. In Indonesia, young girls are forced into sex slavery. If they try to escape or refuse to perform, they are gang raped or tortured. A popular tactic is to stuff hot chilies into the girl’s vaginal cavity and leave her strung up for days. Many are sown shut at the close of every work day so that they can be sold again as a “virgin.” Sex slavery has permeated every part of the world including the U.S. In the Office of Children and Family Services 2007 Prevalence Study, it was found that more than 2,000 young girls are victimized by commercial sexual exploitation in New York alone.
What is the total number of injustices that must occur against women in order for anger to finally turn into action? There is little doubt that if men were subjected to the same oppressive tortures, action would be instantaneous. If men were valued as less than women and forced to dress and act as the other sex in order to provide for their family, perhaps outrage would be more widespread. If men were forbidden education and threatened for expressing independence, a civil rights revolution would likely follow. If men had their genitals mutilated and were killed for not remaining abstinent, surely then reform would be imminent. If men were pressured to sleep with women in power in order to ensure their survival, certainly then both liberals and conservatives would put aside their differences to enact change. If men were manipulated and forced into sexual slavery, if they endured acid burns and sexual degradation perchance their cries would be heard and their sufferings end.
Neglecting the duty of fighting inequality and injustice will not prohibit a revolution but it will certainly create a great divide between those who fought and those who watched. Consider the Civil Rights Movement. Though equal rights were finally awarded – as indeed they should have - equal respect has never been fully cultivated Though exceptions certainly exist, overall the evils of segregation and suspicion remain entwined in the fabric of our culture (and other cultures with similar oppressive histories). Thus the Civil Rights Movement was only half of a triumph. The blame does not rest on the White Citizens’ Council or the Klu Klux Klan but rather on the sympathetic who remained silent and drug their feet when the opposite was required. Had they indignantly demanded equality along with their black brothers and sisters, true unity would now be a reality.
The same is true for the women’s rights movement; for one day, either with or without help, we women will free ourselves. We will help our sisters name their suffering. We will empower one another to reclaim our right to life. We will endure and we will overcome. But we will not forget those who stood silently by and watched us do it on our own.
It is the duty of all humankind to fight tirelessly against inequality and injustice, yet many who are unaffected by these evils remain unmoved. Wishing life was better for those who experience oppression is not enough. Do not be silent! Contact your senator. Tell them you want the degradation of women to end both in the U.S. and around the world. Donate to a charity. Help buy freedom for one of the millions of women and young girls who are forced to work in the sex industry. Educate yourself about relevant legislation and campaigns. But perhaps above all, do not ignore the cries of the oppressed. Listen to their stories, acknowledge their pain, and enact change on their behalf as if they were your own sister or mother or daughter.