Disclaimer: this article contains information that may be concerning to those sensitive to the topics of rape, abuse and bodily mutilation.
Choosing a thesis topic as a senior in high school was the first moment I realized how truly lucky I am to be a woman of the west — that there are women in other places who are not as lucky. And this topic has become one I am deeply passionate about. I am a true global feminist, wanting change for women who are still cast into the shadows of society, still raped or killed as a tool of subservience, still forced into child marriage, victims of mutilation for the mere purpose of chastity. As I sit here on my computer, in my safe air-conditioned home, where I am surrounded by those who would give their lives to protect me, this is happening to them.
Countries like India — where a caste system is still present. Tribal African societies that offer little government protection for women and girls, and Middle Eastern countries that enforce Sharia law.
As a woman living in the world’s most stable and free society that history has ever seen, it is easy to forget what real suffering is — not forget, but to never have known or faced such real suffering. The truly heinous treatment of women in these countries is gut wrenching to say the least, the aforementioned child marriages, rape for discipline, female genital mutilation, and honor violence and killings are status quo in the regulation of womanly obedience. It surely makes the issues of the western feminist movement look small; I don’t say that to diminish the issues we face here at home, but it surely graces us with some perspective.
In countries like India, young girls are sold to sex traffickers. Rural girls are kidnapped, or lured under false promises of employment, where they are then sold into city brothels. They are savagely beaten, raped, forcefully addicted to methamphetamine, often experience tactical mental manipulation, or most commonly, a combination of all of these methods. Once they are manipulated into complete subservience, they are then forced to prostitute themselves.
Girls are required to see ten or more customers a day, everyday of the week — every cent of their income going to brothel owners. Some brothels host prepubescent girls, with many clientele specifically seeking this out. Their futures are bleak and hopeless in a country where little recognition is given to the issue.
Some foundations fight to aid these young girls and women. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn authored the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. This is where it all started for me, the book I picked up one day in high school to figure out what the hell I was going to write about.
I highly suggest adding Half the Sky to your reading list. It is an emotionally difficult experience to read, as it is entirely firsthand accounts of young girls and women and their experiences with sex trafficking, forced prostitution, rape and abuse. Since the 2009 release, their book has inspired a movement. They recently created a four-hour documentary to pair with the book, traveling all over the world from the U.S. to Cambodia to Afghanistan.
Women in Middle Eastern countries like Afghanistan and Iraq face a daunting task for revolution. In Afghanistan women aren’t really considered human beings at all, due to cultural, legal and social enforcement of radical Islam and Sharia law.
Some wild claims have been made that these women prefer their way of life and would not want it changed by westernized democracy. These are transparently false claims put out by brainwashed propagandists. As a comparison for reference, that would be like the world holding the Westboro Baptist Church as an accurate representation for all of Christianity.
Organizations like the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, (RAWA), is a group of radically brave women. They are an underground operation promoting awareness that women, indeed, want change in their country. They fight against their oppression. Check out Veiled Courage: Inside the Afghan Women’s Resistance, by Cheryl Benard on Amazon. This is a heart wrenching documentation of the covert operations of the women inside RAWA.
Imagine it, for most women in westernized countries — it is simply unimaginable. No right to education; young girls like the famous Malala, shot in the head for protesting the right to learn. No right to employment. Enforced head-to-toe body coverings. Enforced male chaperones. Arranged marriage. Public beatings for the crime of making eye contact with any man who is not a husband or relative. Stoning. Acid burning for any “shame” brought upon by a woman. Yeah, sign me up for that!
The hijab (headscarf), the burqa (full body), and any sort of covering of the female body is not female empowerment. It is not giving a woman power over her own body, it is oppression of the body, it is shaming of the body.
During the late 1980’s, the Turkish government outlawed wearing the hijab, but in 2013 this ban was lifted. This has caused a rift between younger more progressive women, and their generational predecessors. Young women who do not see the necessity of the hijab and see precisely what it does stand for, are now openly shamed and publicly criticized by men and women who support the hijab. These women are even physically attacked for going out in public without one. Because if a woman is not wearing her hijab, she is clearly a harlot, seeking sexual attention and the epitome of impurity. This has led to a united front against any type of dress code oppression. Movements like the “Don’t Mess with My Outfit” March have united large groups of women to fight for their freedom of body.
Of all the types of oppression and abuse that women experience, by far, the most violent and gruesome is that of female genital mutilation, or FGM. There are several types of FGM and have been classified by four criteria. I will warn that it is not an easy subject to venture into. Especially when reading or listening to first hand experiences of women that have been subjected to this medieval tradition. I will not go into full detail about the four types of FGM but I will provide an informational link here and, as always, encourage education.
The purpose of FGM is to take away any sexual pleasure or desire a woman would experience during sexual intercourse. It is also seen as a means to keep “purity” intact. This is usually done by cutting parts of the exterior genitalia such as the clitoris or labia. In more severe types of FGM, the exterior labia (majora) is sewn to enclose the vagina. You don’t have to be a vagina scientist to understand the serious implications of this type of mutilation. Trouble with urination and menstrual flow, severe and chronic pain, obvious complications during intercourse and childbirth, and of course the more immediate ramifications of the procedure itself; infection and shock leading to death. These heinous procedures are performed on young girls, children, usually between the ages of four to 14. In many cases, without any sort of anesthetic. A child, fully conscious and having to experience this, the thought just makes me want to throw chairs and rampage.
This FGM crisis is closer to home than you’d think.
The United States has seen a rise in cases of FGM correlating with an influx of immigrants from countries whom widely practice this “cultural custom”. America, the land for religious freedom, is the ideal place to settle for immigrants and refugees of war-torn countries. And assuredly their cultural and religious beliefs will be protected here.
Well, this is what I say to that. No type of violence should be condoned by any religion, any culture, any custom, and should certainly not be protected by vague legislation and blatant abuse of the United States Constitution.
There are 24 states in the U.S. that do not have any specific legislation to protect these children from FGM, one of them being the state in which I live. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a victim of FGM herself, is an advocate for these young girls. She actively speaks out against such crimes, specifically in the name of Islam. If you are interested in getting involved in advocacy I highly recommend visiting the website, the AHA foundation.
The biggest step toward protection for these young girls within the U.S. is to push for legislation. American pediatricians are finding numerous cases of FGM and reporting it to authorities. In most of these cases, these crimes are protected by the shenanigans knows as “religious freedom”. In the words of the brilliant Sam Harris, “if it was a religious belief to cut out the eyeballs of every third born child, people would be rampaging in the streets to put a stop to it”.
But because we are discussing something that no one wants to talk about, that is the genitalia of young girls, people will stick their heads in the sand and look the other way. If you live in one of the 24 states without such protections, contacting your state representatives and presenting your concerns about the subject is the best step for progress. I contacted the AHA group with interest in how I can go about this. I was provided with great information on how to find my own state representatives and the steps for contacting them. If you need further help with this, there are letter samples from the AHA website. Also, for a list of the 24 states please visit the AHA website, and some of the states have quick links to find your own state representatives and drafted letters to use. It might shock you to find your state on the list: California, Texas and Colorado to name a few.
It is time to see change, make change, and be a part of that change. Look outside of yourself, at this absurd world we live in. Especially if you’ve been given the luck of being born in an existence where you are not faced with inhumane suffering. Where our voices can be heard, our voices can make a difference, direct that voice to such a justified cause. I have the constitutionally protected right to use my voice, and I choose to use it for those who do not have the luxury.