Women's Studies pioneer Gerda Lerner once said, "Women's history is the primary tool for women's emancipation." Women must educate themselves in order to empower themselves. We need heroes who came before us to inspire us to take action today.
March 8 is the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day, a day to honor past achievements, raise awareness of inequalities yet to be overcome and educate ourselves about the importance and worth of women in society. While women's history and women's rights have made leaps and bounds over the centuries, there are still injustices, atrocities and violent acts against women everyday.
Here is a list of headlines -- not from the depths of our histories, but from our lifetime -- that must be addressed for women to receive full equality. And these are only 10:
For Afghan Wives, a Desperate, Fiery Way Out
The ostracism women face in Afghanistan, particularly young women, has led to a heartbreaking crisis. Many women, either through self-infliction or by the hands of family members, are set on fire. Parts of Afghanistan have a culture of suicide by burning. For those shunned by their family, or those looking to escape their life, this violent way out is seen as the only option Afghan women have.
Rape Kit Testing Backlog Thwarts Justice for Victims
Reports have recently come to light showing an estimated 180,000 unprocessed rape test-kits in America. For these women who undergo the lengthy and invasive rape test after sexual assault, the forensic evidence gathered is vital to their case. It can validate a woman's claim, identify an attacker or exonerate a suspect. But lack of resources has caused rape test-kits to stockpile in police evidence. Worse, in many states there is a statute of limitation for rape charges, so even if the evidence is eventually processed, it is no longer admissible in court.
Comfort Women Ask Japan for Formal Apology
During World War II, the Japanese government forcibly removed young girls from their homes and used them as sex-slaves for Japanese soldiers. Known as "comfort women," the girls were taken from Taiwan, Korea, China, the Philippines and other countries, and some estimate the number of victims at 500,000. For the past several decades, the surviving comfort women, with the help of women's rights groups, have been petitioning and filing lawsuits with the government of Japan for formal recognition and an apology for these acts.
Women at Risk for Sexual Abuse in U.S. Immigration Detention Centers
Women being held in U.S. custody, either awaiting trial or deportation, are at risk of sexual assault by male guards. The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission reports that women experience harassment, molestation, rape, unwanted pregnancies by male guards and a denial of physical exams. In last August, incidents at the T. Don Hutto facility demonstrated this is a growing epidemic in private contract facilities.
India Relies on "Two-Finger" Test to Verify Rape
In parts of India, an archaic form of testing is performed on women reporting rape. Perceived as collecting viable forensic evidence, a woman is subjugated to a physical exam in which the male physician inserts fingers into her vagina to test her elasticity and presence of a hymen. If the doctor feels she is "habituated to sex," that testimony can be used in court against her as a character flaw.
The Razor and the Damage Done: Female Genital Mutilation in Kurdish Iraq
Female circumcision, or genital mutilation, is still a widely practiced tradition in many African and Muslim towns. Seen as a necessary rite of passage and a mandate for marriage, the procedure ranges from superficial slicing of the clitoris to removal of the entire exterior genitalia. The American Academy of Pediatrics shocked the international health community when it issued a report condemning the practice, but also included a minor paragraph suggesting a tiny "pricking" procedure could be substituted for cultural demands. They since rescinded that statement. This story from The Guardian sheds light on the women involved and the slow change of opinion with each passing generation.
Indictment: Somali Gangs Ran Sex Ring in 3 States
Since 2008, officials monitored and investigated a sex-trafficking ring based in Minneapolis, Minn. that extended to Columbus, Ohio and Nashville, Tenn. Members of three Somalia gangs, including a female gang, trafficked underage girls -- some as young as 13 -- to clients willing to pay for sex with minors in the three states. In some cases, gang members traded sex with the girls for drugs, cell phones and other paraphernalia. Most of the girls were runaways or girlfriends of gang members forced into this life because they believed there was no other option for them.
Guinea Shaken By Wave Of Rapes During Crackdown
In the fall of 2009, tens of thousands of civilians gathered in Guinea's capital to protest the military leader's plans to run for president. During what all reports indicate was a peaceful assembly, troops opened fire on the demonstrators and massacred hundreds of defenseless people. What made this day, now known as Bloody Monday, startlingly different was the wave of seemingly coordinated attacks on women by the military guards, who -- in broad daylight -- raped, sodomized and executed women before the crowds.
Yemen Child Bride "Bleeds to Death"
For countries that still practice arranged marriages with no age restrictions, girls as young as nine are married to older men. Done because of poverty and culture, girls who have not yet reached puberty are sold off to adult men and expected to perform their duties as a wife. This lifestyle often leads to abuse, negligence and death. In the case of this arranged marriage, a 13-year-old girl suffered internal bleeding and died after sexual intercourse with her husband.
Protests Raise Hope for Women's Rights in Egypt
Throughout all this, there are women standing up and fighting for their rights. The unsung heroes of the Egyptian protests are the thousands of women who took to the streets and became famous for their courage. Whether demanding the inclusion of their voice, or saving journalist Lara Logan from further assault by a group of men, Egyptian women have captivated the hearts of the world in recent weeks. They come from a long line of strong women. Whether standing on the backs of the ancients (Cleopatra, Nefertiti, Hatshepsut) or the first wave of 20th century Egyptian feminists (Ester Fanous, Hoda Shaarawi, Doria Shafik), these are women who know their history and know their worth. They offer inspiration and hope to the world that change is still possible.
To get involved in these and other issues, there are several websites and organizations you can visit. Here is a start:
- International Women's Day
- Amnesty International
- Equality Now
- Global Fund for Women
- Human Rights Watch
- National Organization for Women
- Vision 2020
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