Child Marriage: Enough is Enough

Child marriage remains one of the most horrific human rights violations that exists today. It is estimated that globally 14 million girls are married off before the age of 18, robbing them of their childhood and leaving them vulnerable to violence, poverty, domestic slavery, sexual assault and HIV/AIDS. Child marriage is a human rights violation that cuts across countries, cultures, religions and ethnicities.

The recent news coverage of the 8-year-old girl who was married off to a 40-year-old man in Yemen, poignantly highlights the desperate need to outlaw child marriage. After their wedding night, the 8-year-old girl – identified as “Rawan” – died from torn genitals and severe bleeding in the northwest city of Hardh. According to media accounts, the fatal injuries were incurred through sexual intercourse. Let me emphasize that it was NOT sexual intercourse. It was rape and it should be clearly understood as so.  Rawan’s tragic story is sadly not unique and millions of girls die every year from injuries incurred from sexual violence.

Image Courtesy of Gerry & Bonni on Flickr (Creative Commons)
Image Courtesy of Gerry & Bonni on Flickr (Creative Commons)

Furthermore, as a result of child marriage, these girls are at far greater risk of experiencing dangerous complications in pregnancy and childbirth. Yemen has a high maternal mortality rate of 370 deaths per 100,000 live births. Reproductive health studies show that young women face greater risks in pregnancy than older women, including life-threatening obstructed labour due to adolescents’ smaller pelvises. The shortage of prenatal and postnatal healthcare services, especially in Yemen’s rural areas, place girls’ and women’s lives at risk. An overwhelming majority of Yemeni women still deliver at home, often without the assistance of a skilled birth attendant capable of handling childbirth emergencies. Girls who marry young often have insufficient information on family planning or worse, none at all. As young wives they find it difficult to assert themselves against older husbands to negotiate family planning methods.

Human Rights Watch reports that 14% of girls in Yemen are married before age 15, with 82% married before age 18. Child marriage is in fact legal in Yemen; however, in light of the recent cases and international media attention, Yemen Parliamentarians are calling for new laws which ban child marriage, set the minimum age for marriage at 18 ,and implement strategic measures to effectively enact the law. Speaking in an interview with CNN, Hooria Mashhour, Yemen’s human rights minister stated,

Many child marriages take place every year in Yemen. It’s time to end this practice.”

In order to fully eliminate child marriage, awareness raising of the negative impacts of this human rights violation must be conducted. There are a magnitude of elements that contribute to child marriage including lack of awareness and understanding. One father who married off his young daughter spoke to Human Rights Watch and declared that if he knew then what he knows now he would never have married off his daughter.

In many cases, the reality of poverty plays a big role in the decision to marry off a daughter. Here are a few examples of how poverty impacts child marriage:

  • Marrying a girl child means one less family member to feed, clothe and educate.
  • The bride’s family receives a hefty dowdy/bride price for a young girl, or in those instances where the bride’s family pays the groom a dowry, they often have to pay less money if the bride is young and uneducated. Sometimes the daughters are actually sold to pay off debts.

Another huge determinant of child marriage is tradition. Child marriage is a traditional practice in many countries and cultures around the world, and breaking tradition can alienate families from the rest of the community. However in the words of Graca Machel, member of The Elders and a major contributor to the founding of Girls Not Brides,

Traditions are made by us – and we can decide to change them. We should be respectful but we must also have the courage to stop harmful practices that impoverish girls, women and their communities.”

One 11 year old Yemeni girl decided to break away from tradition and challenged her own parents when they arranged for her to be married to an older man. Nada al-Ahdal caught the attention of the world when she uploaded a three minute video on YouTube after she escaped from your family and took refuge at her uncle’s house.

The world needs more Nada al-Ahdal’s but can we really leave eight, nine, ten, and eleven-year-olds to defend themselves? Nada is one of the rare and lucky girls’ who successfully avoided child marriage but there are millions who are not so lucky. Hence, we need to make a change and advocate for child marriage to be fully outlawed and recognised as a human rights violation. Thousands of NGOs, human rights defenders, women and girls have been advocating to end child marriage for years and, although change will not come over night, we must keep on and remember the Rawan’s of the world.

Take Action:

Girls Not Brides

Every Woman Every Child

Other Useful Websites:

Human Rights Watch

UNFPA

Career or Family? Choose One.

Songi - My local translator
Song-i – My local translator

Last weekend, I interviewed eleven Korean women at Chosun University in Gwangju, South Korea. My Korean language teacher, Song-i, accompanied me as my translator.

I asked the same two questions to the eleven women I spoke with:

What is the biggest challenge or issue for women in South Korea today?

What is the biggest inequality among men and women in the country?

The responses I received varied; however, the top response to both questions was inequality in career opportunities.

In a previous Girls’ Globe article, I included data from the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2012. According to the report, education attainment and healthcare are ranked highly and equally for men and women in South Korea. There is a universal healthcare system in South Korea allowing for relatively equal access to healthcare. In countries where education and healthcare are equitable, usually the other indicators of gender equity, employment and political power, also improve. In South Korea, however, employment and political power remain unequal. After combining all four indicators, South Korea ranked a meager 108 out of 135 countries in gender equity. The results of my survey seem to capture the dilemma of gender inequality in employment in South Korea accurately.

JobInequalityPregnancyResults

Six out of eleven interviewed women thought the biggest inequality among men and women is in job opportunity and career advancement, and five out of eleven women said that this topic also represented the biggest challenge or issue for women in South Korea. All of the women who spoke about job opportunities said that the challenge was related to the fact that women are expected to stop working when they get married and/or start having children, and, in fact, most women do stop working completely to raise their children. Of the women who do go back to work, most have diminished opportunities for promotions because of the time they spent out of work.

One woman I spoke with is studying to become a doctor, and said that if she chooses a career in medicine she will have more GGFamilyCareerConflict family/career conflicts than a man would have in the same profession. She said the challenge is not the same for men.

Other responses to the question regarding the biggest challenge South Korean women face included: the threat of sexual criminals, viewing illegal abortions as a viable option instead of deciding to be more “responsible”, making sure their children get a good education, and increasing their social status. Some of the women I spoke with believe that current laws are inadequate in addressing sexual crimes in South Korea, and that sexual crimes have increased since people have become more open about sexuality in the country.

Other responses to the question regarding the biggest inequality among men and women included finding space for leisure time and political inequality. A few women I spoke with think that public facilities such as parks and gyms are geared toward men.

Two women responded that there is no inequality among men and women in South Korea, and one of those women suggested that the two year military service requirement for men evens out any employment inequalities faced by women in the country.

My translator, Song-i believes that the biggest inequality is also career opportunity. She said,

Compared to decades ago, many women get higher (job) positions than men. Many women are working and they do have a career and they have money, but after getting married it becomes a problem. Once they get pregnant they need to give up their career. Their company or job never offers benefits for that. That’s the problem. They need to give up several years for giving birth and taking care of their babies and their families. Men never do that in Korea. There are a few, but almost none. I think both parents should take responsibility for their children. It should be fair because they both have their career, but why do women alone give up their career?

GGAbortionThoughts

The Confucian roots in South Korea are deeply imbedded. Although the Korean society has changed drastically in the past 30 years, these roots still have a strong hold, especially in terms of family values. Confucian society clearly defined roles for men and women, and a woman’s role was in the home.  These values are still in motion today. In August, the South Korean government sponsored a speed-dating event for singles in Seoul as a way to encourage marriage and increase the birth rate. A recent Girls’ Globe article discusses the challenges and stigma that single mothers face in the country.

I think the responses I received from my survey also relate to these deeply imbedded values. The responses regarding abortions, sexual criminals, and sexual openness are a result of the conservative social views held in the country.

The interviews I carried out with these women clearly show that they are concerned about employment inequality. If a women has career aspirations, she usually also faces pressure from her parents and society to make sure family comes first. Women in the United States and other countries face a similar conflict, but it is considered much more of a social faux pas to be unmarried and career oriented if you are a women in Korea. There is an cultural difference.

In a previous post, I documented some of the measures South Korea is taking to close the gender gap. Improvements are happening slowly, but the resiliency of women in South Korea is apparent. The gender gap has improved since 2009 and should increase with continued awareness and global pressure.

GGSongi2

 

#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen Calls for Solidarity of ALL Women

The Twittersphere has recently undergone a feminist backlash against former “male feminist” and Pasadena City College professor Hugo Schwyzer after his hour-long Twitter meltdown approximately one week ago. While Schwyzer’s uncensored tweets have inevitably ruined his reputation as a male advocate for women’s empowerment, his bluntness has more importantly initiated a renewed conversation centered on the feminist movement and its tendencies to alienate women of color.

While Feministe blogger Jill Filipovic sympathized with Schwyzer, blogger Mikki Kendall fiercly tweeted in response:

“I feel a moment coming on. Because this has been a banner damned month for white feminists. #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen”.

The #SolidaryIsForWhiteWomen hashtag has since been used as a means of “tweeting catharsis” for many. Frustration over double standards held against women of color have been cited by many impassioned tweeters. Many of whom have recalled past and present instances of feminism’s inability to recognize and acknowledge its ignorance and exclusivity of people of color.

Image 4 Image 3 Image 2 Image 1

According to The Washington Post’s “She the People” news platform, the battle of gender versus race has been rampant throughout the feminist movement since its beginnings from “the early days of the suffrage movement through the civil rights movement and, most recently, in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, which pitted Hillary Clinton against Barack Obama.”

#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen has allowed me to contemplate what labeling myself as a “feminist” actually entails. More importantly, the hashtag conversation has made me think of what others perceive to be my values as a self-proclaimed “feminist”.

I have realized two things about the complexity of labeling myself as a feminist:

  1. I am part of a movement that inextricably intersects with other social movements.

  2. I am part of a movement that must be inclusive of all in its discussion in order for its goals to succeed.

As a feminist, I recognize that the empowerment of women cannot be achieved on the same grounds for all. I realize the complexity of how gender impacts lived experiences, but also, that it cannot be seen as separate from race.  The separation of the two is, however, the way history has delineated it for us and how society today perceives it as a result. The history of oppression and discrimination of black women is much different from that of white women, yet both are forms of discrimination nonetheless. In order for all women to succeed, different histories must be acknowledged to comprehend the status of how each is perceived in the present. From this understanding, we will then realize that the path towards “empowerment” is different for all women depending on our personal circumstances. The unique path to a woman’s empowerment is dependent on the solidarity of ALL women.

“Women’s issues” are not merely issues that solely affect women. For example, while domestic violence affects 1 in 4 women in her lifetime, I acknowledge the inarguable reality that domestic violence occurs to men as well. I am a hypocrite if I fail to acknowledge the broader implications of “women’s issues”. Why? Because the feminist movement itself evolved from society’s failure to recognize the broader inclusion of women; therefore, I must do what society has not done for me. Feminism must focus not only on personal gains for women, but on the broader positive impacts for society as a whole.

#SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen has made its message loud and clear: Empowerment for women isn’t as simple as it may seem because we all come from varying circumstances and histories that forcefully restrict us differently. While a one-size-fits-all solution is never clear, the first step is realizing the complexity of feminism in spite of a past and present that wrongly views it simply.

Can Online Videos Change the World?

Women and girls around the world are increasingly raising their voices online in an effort to enhance women’s rights.  This is a compilation of a few of our favorite recent videos. If you know of other inspirational videos, we would love for you to post them in the comments section below.

On Women in Movies and Television

On Child Marriage

On Gender Inequality in Toys

On Music

On Domestic Abuse

On Street Harassment

On Feminism

On Reproductive Health 

On Women in Sports

On Real Beauty

On Breastfeeding

Thicke's Blurred Lines

When I heard the tune of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” featuring T.I. and Pharrell, I thought it was incredibly catchy. That baseline, that beat.

It was when I listened to the lyrics, saw the sexism and gender imbalance in the video and read the outcry online, that I reacted. This is not just a summer tune. This song, and especially the music video, reinforces the picture of women as sex objects and the status of men as superior beings, which so often is repeated over and over again in the media.

The original video, featuring three models parading around with nothing on but nude colored panties (while Thicke and Pharrell are fully clothed), has been banned by YouTube (but can still be viewed in its full nudity on Vimeo). In the video, Thicke whispers in the ears of the naked women:

I hate these blurred lines,

I know you want it

Blogger Lisa Huynh of the blog Feminist in LA writes, “Call me a cynic, but that phrase does not exactly encompass the notion of consent in sexual activity.” The lyrics pretty much say that a man knows better than a woman if she wants to have sex with him, which could, in fact, encourage rape.

What’s most disturbing is the imbalance in the video, where the men are portrayed as having full control, and the women as vulnerable, whimsical and naked.

T.I. raps a few phrases I feel uncomfortable even quoting in this post, and continues:

Nothin’ like your last guy, he too square for you

He don’t smack that ass and pull your hair for you…

I’m a nice guy, but don’t get confused, you git’n it!

The lyrics during the rap do not only present women as inferior and sexual objects (as in the video), but also encourages violence against women. It is not news that hiphop lyrics may be degrading to women – this has become a part of the culture, which may be a reason as to why these kinds of lyrics continue to blast through people’s speakers. But this song is spinning on every radio station and in every club this summer, being praised as the song of the summer.

Songs like this are a problem.

They are a problem because violence against women is a problem. The WHO recently released new global statistics stating that 35 % of women in the world will experience gender-based violence in their lifetime. The report also encourages all sectors to ensure that tolerance of violence against women is eliminated.

Just because it’s wrapped in nice beats and sung by popular pop figures doesn’t make it OK. This song is disturbing, and it is disturbing because it is not just innocent fun, it is not just ironic. Violence against women is something that happens every single day, to millions of women and girls around the world. Violence against women is not a joke (as the title of Girls’ Globe blogger Emma’s post).

The power relations in this video portrays women as objects. When a person is objectified, whether by race, by gender, by sexual orientation, by ethnicity, or by any other trait, violence against that person becomes justifiable.

Thicke continues:

Ok, now he was close, tried to domesticate you

But you’re an animal, baby, it’s in your nature

Just let me liberate you

So, whose lines are blurred? To me, the line between this being a fun song for the dance floor has been completely blurred out by the fact that the song sounds like an encouragement to rape.

#THICKE I won’t be dancing to your tune this summer.

 

Know Your Enemy

In the continuous struggle against gender based oppression, the media likes to present a black and white version of a story. It is far simpler, not to mention more comforting, when we can label good and evil and pit set heroes against set villains. Yet reality is far more complicated than the two warring camps of the enlightened West and a horde of backward foreign cultures. Salim Hussaini, an Afghani man, highlighted this in an uncomfortable and important essay he wrote for Women Under Siege.

In his essay, he admits to his adherence to Afghanistan’s repressive culture against women. Hussaini describes watching his father abuse his mother, and coming to accept this as normal. He himself mimicked the behavior he witnessed, saying:

I began to beat my sisters and harass girls in the street. I restricted my sisters’ movements, how they looked, and who they spoke to. Afghan customs taught me that the honor of my family was more important than the physical and psychological well-being of my own siblings.

http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2009/04/recent_scenes_from_afghanistan.html (REUTERS/Ahmad Masood)
Featured image. Photo Credit: Boston Globe
(REUTERS/Ahmad Masood)

Yet, when his younger sister Soraya entered into an abusive marriage, something in Hussaini snapped. The treatment his sister was forced to endure, and her own submission to it, forced Hussaini to realise that gender discrimination was an inextricable but inexcusable part of Afghani culture. Working to free his sister from her marriage, Salim encountered obstacle after obstacle: not only logistically, in terms of finding money and safety but also cultural, in the form of pressure from family and community. Yet Hussaini persisted, and is now a member of the small, but growing group of male voices working against gender discrimination in Afghanistan.

What his article shows is that the Hussainis of the world are, like us, products of their societies. Hussaini’s Afghanistan is a place where monsters are not born, they are bred, and women are raised to passively accept abuse. Indeed, the more submissive a woman is, the more she is praised. The biggest obstacle to gender equality is not, as many believe, a group of misogynistic men. Rather, it the far more insidious and powerful enemy of culture and poverty.

Often, the power of repressive regimes is rooted in a lack of education, a lack of opportunity and poverty, all of which allow traditional views to remain unchallenged. It is easy to place blame on Afghan men, and slot their society as inherently backwards or misogynistic. The reality is that many of the citizens living in these societies have an equally strong moral compass and love their  mothers and sisters equally, but have simply had a skewed education.

The fight for gender equality is a battle that has to be fought on many fronts, the least of which is men themselves. As Hussaini himself says, “Many men are blind and need to be healed.” The consistent heated rhetoric against men themselves is understandable, but misdirected.  For ourselves, we should be focusing on rooting out the core causes of gender inequality, indirect though they may be, and begin the far more difficult – and far more important – work of rectifying them.