This year, on International Women’s Day, I watched women in multiple countries stand up and say, “Equal pay! Equal rights! Give me insurance, give me freedom!” These are all things I believe in, too. Passionately so, because without the sacrifices of our female predecessors who revolted and demanded a better life, we would not have the privilege and freedom we do today. I would not have had the experiences of serving in two active war zones alongside the military to collect intelligence for policymakers in Washington.
Living in the United States is a blessing from God. We have freedom, we can walk outside our homes (depending on what city we reside) and not fear death at our doorstep. We are not persecuted for our gender or our religious beliefs. We can attend public or private schools, work hard, gain an education, and advance further from our original station in life. Most of us in this country have the freedom to do that.
These marches seem, on the outset, to be something that should be praised and supported. For the most part, I do support them. However, we as women are missing something huge. We are missing each other.
There is currently a civil war ravaging South Sudan that has displaced thousands of Sudanese into Uganda since July, 2016. The government soldiers are wreaking havoc on women and children, raping and shooting at random. Some have lost their entire families in the violence and have become refugees in Uganda.
Since 2014, ISIS has perpetrated genocide on the Yazidi population in northern Iraq. This genocide has led to the abduction of Yazidi women and massacres of at least 5,000 Yazidi civilians during what has been called a “forced conversion campaign.” ISIS abducts any female it believes to be “unclean” or an “infidel,” and their indoctrination deems it permissible to use her in any fashion desired, particularly to sire more jihadi children. The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars highlighted the abuse of local women by ISIS militants after they have captured an area. “They usually take the older women to a makeshift slave market and try to sell them. The younger girls are raped or married off to fighters.”
These fighters have sex with the young girls based on ‘temporary marriages,’ then pass them on to other fighters. Yazidi women were first physically inspected, including examinations to see if they were ‘virgins’ or if they were pregnant. Women who were already found to be pregnant were taken by the ISIS ‘gynecologist’ and forced abortions were performed on them. In the 2014 Dabiq magazine, ISIS explicitly claimed religious justification for enslaving these women.
The World Health Organization defines female genital mutilation (FGM) as a procedure that intentionally alters or causes injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. More than 200 million girls and women alive today have been cut in 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, where FGM is common. The WHO states that FGM is primarily motivated by beliefs and a cultural pressure to conform. Though no religious scripts prescribe the practice, practitioners often believe the practice has religious support. The practice is almost always carried out on minors, and the WHO has stated that it is a human-rights violation against girls and women.
Wikipedia defines honor killings as “acts of vengeance, usually death, committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonor upon family.” Precise statistics on how many women die every year in such honor killings are hard to come by, as many crimes are never reported. Victims of honor killings in the U.S. include:
- 16-year-old “Tina,” who was murdered by her Palestinian father and his wife in 1989 in St. Louis, Missouri because they were dissatisfied with her “Westernized lifestyle.”
- In 2008, in Georgia, 25-year-old Sandeela Kanwal was killed by her Pakistani father for refusing an arranged marriage.
- Amina and Sara Said, two teenage sisters from Texas, were allegedly killed by their Egyptian father.
- In 2009, in Arizona, Noor Almaleki, 20, was killed by her father, an Iraqi immigrant, because she had refused an arranged marriage and was living with her boyfriend.
In 2015, the Violence Policy Center published a study positing that, in 2013, more than 1,600 women were murdered by men in the United States. Can we, as free, privileged women in the United States, rise for those who can’t? We feminists claim to be empowering one another. Let’s show it. This week, hundreds of women in the tiny state of Montenegro protested cuts in state aid for mothers of three or more children, and in Romania, dozens of women lay on the ground and read out the names of women killed by their partners to highlight domestic violence.
Can we march to Washington, D.C. in similar fashion, and stay on the Capitol steps until Congress decides to act on any of the problems that women are truly facing both here and abroad? Can we raise money through walks or runs to shine a light on the international atrocities being perpetrated on our sisters around the globe? Can we raise enough funds to help these women escape sex slavery, provide shelter for young girls in the U.S. and elsewhere who are mortally afraid of their own family? These are marches and causes I will not only get behind, these are efforts I want to lead.
Erin O. currently works as a financial crimes consultant within a multinational tech company, providing consulting work to banks and other financial institutions. Prior to this, she served as both a fraud analyst and anti-money laundering officer within a large financial institution for five years. Erin ended her investigative career as a senior AML investigator within the “terrorist financing” group. Prior to joining the financial industry, Erin spent 10 years serving as an operations officer within the intelligence community. Erin served as an operations officer in several critical posts in the Middle East and the United States, and experienced extensive travel in Africa, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia.