In the early 1970s, I worked hard to pass an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) that would grant women equal protection under the law. The movement didn’t succeed and today, many of my sex feel such a law is unnecessary. Happily a few have begun to rethink the question and to reevaluate their previously negative attitude toward the feminist movement. I’m heartened by this renewed interest in women’s rights at home and hope it will translate into help for their sisters around the globe. So much needs to be done. I refer not only to the violence perpetrated against women during times of war but the institutionalized violence that is imbedded in many cultures, our own included, and often embraced by the women who are its victims. Why, for example, do so many in the Middle East feel female circumcision is acceptable? Why do mothers allow their prepubescent girls to become child brides or be sold into slavery? How does one address these abuses when so often they are not only enforced by the families of these young persons, but their government turns a blind eye because of it?
Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani 17 year-old who recently won the Noble Peace Prize may be loved around the world, but she remains under a death threat in her native country. Her achievements may provide hope to girls who are little more than prisoners of their culture, but I fear the effect could be the opposite. Yousafzais’ freedom might tighten the noose around those who have been left behind.
Sadly, cultural change is difficult to affect from the outside. Stephanie Sinclair, a Pulitzer prize photojournalist has been exposing the plight of women and girls in Afghanistan for years. There females are so powerless, the only way to express their rebellion is to emolliate themselves rather than continue life on its present terms. In response to so much despair, Sinclair has founded the nonprofit organization, “Too Young to Wed.” Its mission is to rescue girls — some as young a 8 — from marriages to men decades older. For some, marriage at an early age is tantamount to a death sentence. Those who don’t die from injuries they suffer on their wedding night are condemned to an early death from early childbirth. (“Girls Interrupted,” by Kevin Conley, Town&Country, October 2014, pg. 78.)
Sinclair is attempting to open our eyes to the plight of these helpless children and what we see should make us angry. That’s why I’m urging my readers to raise their voices against the many abuses girls and women face around the world and to help them stand for themselves. A donation to Sinclair’s project or to the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) or to any organization with a mission to emancipate women is a vital first step in a long, long journey for justice.