I’ve never called myself a feminist, though I’m certainly fierce about the rights of women and I cringe with outrage, disgust, and horror at the plight and reality for many women on this planet.
I have taken for granted the dedicated efforts of those women who brought about change in North America, in my lifetime and before, and I have reaped the benefits of that work without truly acknowledging their contributions, without being part of the conversation, and for that I feel regret.
But as with most things, it is never too late to join in; to stand up and be a voice, and to be an example to those coming behind.
I recently watched a PBS Special called “Makers: Women Who Make America” that “tells the remarkable story of the most sweeping revolution in American history.”
This documentary made me cheer, made me angry, and made me ashamed of my efforts. The fact that women could not run as registered entrants in the Boston Marathon until 1972, and that officials would try to physically remove female runner Kathrine Switzer from the race in 1967 because she was a woman, is ludicrous.
It makes me want to raise my arms and shout, “You’ve got to be kidding!”
The story is far more disturbing outside the freedoms of North America. Women suffer physical violence and often death because of their gender, and the stories at first glance seem very hopeless.
Enter Sally Armstrong.
You may very well be familiar with this Canadian and her work. She is an Amnesty International award-winner. She is a member of the Order of Canada. She was appointed to the International Women’s Commission at the UN.
She is a journalist. She is a human rights activist. She has just published a book, “Ascent of Women,” that exposes and documents women around the world fighting for equality and safety from sexual violence and it tells of women winning this battle.
It is a book of hope.
In 1992, Armstrong returned to Canada from Sarajevo with the story of the gang-raping of women in the Balkans. A prominent news agency took the story, gave it a few lines’ blurb several weeks later, and then forgot about it. 20,000 women aged eight-80 were gang-raped—many to their deaths—and this story of genocide was deemed not newsworthy.
Sally Armstrong decided to change this and began reporting on the stories that no one wanted to write about. Women who read these stories took action.
Armstrong’s book exposes not only the truth of what women of every age face in terms of sexual violence and oppression around the world, but reveals how these many female activists are risking their lives to tell their stories, are using the benefits of social media to get their story out, and are demanding to be part of real change.
Awareness is always the foundation of change. The laws to protect women are in place, but they are not being enforced and are doing nothing to keep girls safe.
The book tells of 160 girls in Kenya who are suing their government for not protecting them from rape. There are stories from Saudi Arabia in 2002, when young girls died when not allowed to flee from a burning school because they were not properly dressed; their heads not covered.
Fourteen girls died and more than 50 were injured in this madness and public awareness demanded the very repressive regime of Saudi Arabia to publicly lay blame.
I must not take my Canadian safety for granted; I must be outraged at our turning a blind eye to the statistics of aboriginal women gone missing, I can work beside men of equal skill and responsibility, and demand my pay cheques reflect that equality.
And I must listen to the unthinkable atrocities that still are commonplace in many parts of the world, including Canada. And I must become part of the voice that says “Enough.”
It is my moral obligation—no matter my sex, no matter my age, no matter my politics, no matter my religion, no matter my position in life.
These atrocities all too often have been shielded by religious fanaticism, been kept hidden because it’s not our fight, been accepted because the battle is centuries old. That’s not good enough. Not anymore.
I am reading Sally Armstrong’s “Ascent of Women” and the stories make me weep, make me ache, but I am going to be part of the conversation that leads to change.