When I first started Womenfound, if I ran a Google search for "women's organizations," I wouldn't get much of what I was looking for by way of aid organizations. Today if I type the same search term, Google will deliver pages and pages of relevant results for me. In fact today, in honor of International Women's Day, Google itself featured a Y-chromosome graphic with an embedded video wishing all a 'Happy International Women's Day.' So too did countless other organizations from multinational behemoths to small aid groups -- all seeming to acknowledge and offer a collective nod for #IWD. In a digital age, where a start-up can take off with a trendy hashtag , the idea of women supporting women has taken off with the intensity of a viral tweet. The idea, indeed the ideal, that women should help women has caught on.
In the US, women have started helpful ventures, both for-profit and non-profit, at a record pace. So much so that Network Solutions, a big tech company, started a blog called Women Grow Business to help women continue to navigate the business world and steer their start-ups to success. Kathy Korman Frey started 'The Hot Mammas Project,' where she aggregates success stories of women so that a sisterhood of 'mean girls,' turns into a sisterhood of supporters. Her objective is to demonstrate how much support can lend to success. Across the Middle East and North Africa organizations founded in the US or UK work collectively to empower women. Some include Women for Afghan Women, The White Ribbon Alliance, The Hand Foundation, Journey Home Foundation, Aid Afghanistan for Education, Women Thrive and Women for Women International. The message is the same -- women, we are women too and we are here for you. Here at home, our struggles are less of life and death and more of success or greater success. Not to be forgotten are the millions of women who still struggle in lands apart from ours, for the basic rights of self determination, corporal control over their bodies, awareness in reproduction and the right to be counted as fully human and not treated as chattel.
This month, to coincide with International Women's Day, a documentary film titled Honor Diaries was released to global accolade, featuring nine women form the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan. To be sure, each had their own stirring experience with the discrimination that comes with being a woman in many parts of this world. But what was strikingly common was the call on the part of each of the women, who themselves were activists in their own way, to become united with others in the same cause. The issues were wide spread across the panoply of abuses that comprise the systemic dehumanization and exploitation of women around the world. They included child marriage, female genital mutilation, honor killings and gender apartheid; but their plea was uniform -- raise your voice in solidarity with women around the world and help them rise up for change.
In truth, change does not usually come in one swoop -- at least not forward change for advancement in any cause. In patriarchal societies, the top-down order is guarded fiercely by an entrenched hierarchy that disincludes women and sustains the pressure that keeps them quiet and dutiful, by sheer force of bodily harm. The threat of abuse or grave injury maintains the traditions that even enlist women in the generations-long customs that keep their daughters submissive and obedient. One of the most disempowering customs of traditional patriarchal societies is the ritual of giving away a daughter. While often the so-called marriage is the product of back room dealing among them men, the process itself reduces the woman to nothing more than an object of pleasure for the groom. The traditions vary slightly from place to place, but for the most part the communal physical preparation of the woman, the dress down preparations before hand, the dress up preparations for the ceremony itself an finally the community attendance of the consummation and the blood soiled rag that is often submitted as proof a virginity freshly lost, all reduce the woman to her lowest common denominator as a gender. The ritual and its intended message serve to inhibit any voice that may be screeching from inside to stand up and be counted as a person and not as an unremarkable member of an exploited gender. This disempowerment is amplified in the case of child marriage -- a veritable scourge of the 21st century and a travesty that we still preside over them in a modern world. As women, indeed as people, we ought to have the power to demand this lowest modicum of human decency not to marry children to the highest bidder. Still, we use the excuse of culture and the cover of tradition to infuse depraved men to perpetuate a practice that we know in our hearts to be wrong.
This year, let's stop. Let us stop turning a blind eye to acts that we know are wrong, to manifestations of customs that have no place in our world and the carrying out of traditions in the name of cultures gone-by. Awareness must replace ignorance and education must replace the folklore that keeps an entire gender crushed.
"The right of women and girls is great unfinished business of the 21st Century," said Hillary Clinton less than a year ago. She is right. From South Africa to North America, from East Asia to the Middle East, women retweeted and reposted the message that we are not just a gender, we are people with passions, plans, dreams and ambitions. We demanded that we be counted fairly in civic life, in legal code and in school houses across the globe. For some, the struggle is for equal pay and the rights of privacy in the choices we make. For those women, an emancipated society that offers the choice to work, reproduce and speak out is the good-fortune that life has dealt. For others the struggle is to speak at all, to be knowledgeable about basic human rights and to be able to preserve the essential dignity of having control over the corporal self. For those, life is lived in traditional lands were education is hard to come by and rarely offered to girls, basic rights are to be fought for and often withheld, and a voice or choice are the elusive struggles of a lifetime. For them, those of us who are lucky enough to have a voice and a means by which to amplify it have a duty to speak. We have a duty to raise our collective voices and bring awareness to the plight of the many who live silent lives under the brutal stare of patriarchs who expect subservience over all else. Under the guise of tradition, millions of women live a lifetime of abuse and the threat of force perpetuated by communities that either know no better or are too afraid to speak up. Let us resolve this year to speak for them, until we can give them the strength to begin to speak for themselves.
I founded Womenfound with this purpose. What will you do this year?