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Thursday, July 18, 2013

News About Women

Last week I was captivated by news about women, some encouraging other disturbing.

On Friday, Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl activist who had been shot in October by Taliban gunmen and miraculously survived, celebrated her sixteenth birthday at the UN.  Secretary General Ban Ki-moon designated July 12 as Malala Day; a day intended to represent the goal of education for all children. In an inspiring speech that was immediately scorned by many Pakistanis, Malala declared her day to be “the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights.” 

Viewing her speech on television I hoped that I was watching a future world leader, who would continuously encourage young women and men to speak out and demand their rights and liberties in spite of the danger they’d face doing so in the countries they live.

The other good news of the week appeared in Nicholas Kristoff’s New York Times’ Op-Ed column on Sunday, where he informed his readers about the Danja Fistula Center, which opened last year, with the help of the Worldwide Fistula Fund. The center was built to help young girls in Africa who suffer from the physically and socially debilitating condition known as obstetric fistula, resulting from injury during childbirth. Some of these girls who suffer from the disease were married off at 12 or 13 years of age, giving birth when their young bodies were not prepared for pregnancy. Fortunately for these girls, there is now a hospital in Danja, Niger, that cures them.

The bad news came from Cairo, where women demonstrators, who took to the streets before and after the ouster of Egypt’s Islamist President Mohamed Morsi on July 3rd, have been sexually assaulted, some of them raped. Reportedly, close to 200 women have been attacked in those demontrations. Yet the military, the police, and the transitional government there have remained silent.

Some of these women were violated twice. After they had been assaulted the first time, when following men who appeared to be their rescuers, instead of leading the women to safety as the men insinuated, the men guided them to isolated areas, then sexually assaulted them.

The commonality between Malala’s attack – one among many attacks of Pakistani female activists, the practice in Africa and other Global South countries of marrying off young girls and the sexual assaults of Egyptian women, is the acceptance of such practices in societies that are male-dominated politically, culturally and religiously.

The Danja Fistula Center was built by physicians and ordinary people who care about the plight of others. It was a small but encouraging step in a patriarchal society, the likes of which exist in a world where conflict and war, abuse of power and inequalities - among other calamities - form an inescapable reality.

Malal’s words were heard worldwide. Will her brave voice continue to confront that reality? Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment-Assault is an organization that intervened in the assaults on women in Tahrir Square, Cairo. Will their actions get the attention of those in power? Could they direct the world’s attention on women in India and elsewhere, where they suffer the same misfortune?

Hopefully, with these expressions we are witnessing the courage that allows women to challenge disparities that unfortunately still exist today.


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