I learned today that March is Women’s History Month and it is a celebration of women’s contributions to society. Before Women’s History Month, there was Women’s History Week, the birth child of the school district of Sonoma, California which participated in Women’s History Week, an event designed around the week of March 8 (International Women’s Day). From 1978 to 1979, the idea to secure a National Women’s History Week lay incubated until February 1980 when it was born, thanks to President Jimmy Carter who issued a presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8, 1980, as National Women’s History Week.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the law which was passed making March Women’s History Month in the United States. This year’s theme is “Nevertheless, She Persisted: Honoring Women Who Fight All Forms of Discrimination against Women.” What a great theme. Like warriors facing bitter battles with ferocious armies, women face societies, communities, institutions and governments that would deny them their rights. Nevertheless, like phoenix rising from the ashes, women all around world are rising up, joining together and fighting for what they believe in. Their voices are raised in unison, refusing to be silenced, in spite of the draw backs they face. Silence is not golden. Using one’s voice to be heard is golden.
Throughout history, women have had dreams, hopes, plans and visions which they had to fight hard to realize. No amount of discouragement, obstacles, nay-saying, discrimination or opposition could quell those dreams, hopes, plans, visions which had taken shape. Women clung to their faith that one day they would be able to vote, own businesses, own homes, land, get an education, work in jobs and play in sports that were predominantly male oriented. They had to have the courage and the faith to step out, speak up and conquer a world that had long denied them and still does in some cultures, equality, recognition for their accomplishments and basic human rights.
However, despite the strides women have made in their fight for human rights, they still face mountains like human trafficking, modern slavery which target young girls, child marriage, FGM, access to safe water, realizing their self worth and potential in societies which favor boys over girls, pay equity, access to safe water and quality education. Just this month, the organization, Freedom United is calling for action for the following campaigns:
Malokhat is being targeted because of her determination to expose human rights violations and forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry.
The fight to end modern slavery today in order to help girls like Phoebe, forced into the commercial sex trade at just 15 years old. Women and girls make up 71% of all modern slavery victims.
These girls should be in school getting quality education so that they would have a bright future. Sex should not something that they engage in until they are adults and married. Sex came from God was never meant to be exploited or forced on anyone. It was meant to be a physical and emotional expression of a husband’s and wife’s love for each other.
Momentum is growing to repeal laws that enable convicted rapists to marry their victims to avoid punishment. As well as the horrors endured by victims, this law means many women and girls where these laws exist are then forced into marriage against their will.
Marriage was meant to be between a man and a woman not a man and a child. And any law which allows a rapist to marry his victim to escape justice, should be done away with. It is a disgrace to human decency and dignity and it violates the victim’s rights. Marriage is a holy institution and is meant to be entered into with the consent of both the man and the woman.
Three-quarters of girls in Niger are married before they are adults. Child marriage often amounts to slavery, for example, when girls have not given their free and full consent, are subjected to control, exploited and unable to leave, so outlawing it is an important step towards protecting Niger children.
Imagine you have a young daughter and that a Nigerian girl her age is being married off to an older man. At the age of twenty, Fati Yahaya has been married twice, divorced once, suffered a postpartum hemorrhage after giving birth to her first child. I didn’t have a child until I was 41 years old! It’s so hard to fathom a young girl going through two marriages, one divorce and suffering excessive blessing following the birth of her first child. I don’t know how many children she had afterwards or if she suffered any more hemorrhages. And I can’t imagine giving my consent to have my daughter marry at the age of consent which is 15 or even younger when she should be in school. I can’t imagine subjecting her to a life of “abuse and unrealized potential”.
The last place you should expect to find a child is in a brothel; yet for 17-year-old Phoebe from Kenya, this is her life.
Phoebe comes from a poor family. When she dropped out of school, she went in search of a better life – instead she has been forced to have group sex with tourists for no money.
Reports indicate that more than 50,000 children are involved in different forms of commercial sexual exploitation. It is most common along the Kenyan Coast where the majority of tourism activities take place – in fact sex offenders travel to Kenya for this very reason: to prey on these vulnerable victims.
It’s sad that Phoebe had to dropped out of school and instead of finding a better life, she found herself plunged into a world of sexual exploitation. A brothel is no place for anyone, especially children. Sex offenders who travel to prey on young girls should be prosecuted and the brothels should be put out of business. Basically, the Kenyan government needs to do something. They need to protect the vulnerable.
Women and girls leave their homes every day to find jobs as domestic workers in the cities of your country.
But when they show up for their first day of work, some find out they’ve been deceived. Locked inside the homes of strangers — no contact with their families, and often beaten and sexually abused — they are caught in the nightmare of modern slavery.
What a nightmare it must be for women and children to go to what they believe is a job which will help their families only to be faced with brutality and sexual abuse. They are cut off from their families and forced into a modern slavery. People are not property and slavery should not have any place in our society. There need to be tougher rules for domestic workers and anyone caught exploiting their rights should be imprisoned. It’s time to get tough on those who exploit others.
Women’s History month is not only a celebration of the difference women have made in their communities but it is also a reminder that we still have a long way to go and that raising awareness is key. When I shared these stories with my husband, he commented that there is a whole different world out there that we are not aware of. And he’s right. If it weren’t for organizations like Freedom United, Equality Now and many others we would have no idea of the realities that many women and girls are facing.