Let’s Get Men Talking about Gender Equality

Last week was International Women’s Day. The very name is enough, for some men, to get their head raging and their tweeting fingers typing. ‘A day for women?! But when is International Men’s Day?’ they quip, hopelessly unaware of their male privilege (and also ignorant of the facts – it’s on the 19th November in case you were wondering).

But, aside from the fact that there is actually a parallel day for men, the more pertinent point is that they are questioning the need for a day for women – a day to celebrate the achievements of women the world over, and a day to campaign for so many still-unsolved women’s issues.

Why did millions of people mark a special day last week for women?

Even in 2016, hundreds of thousands of women and girls are at risk of FGM (female genital mutilation), women and girls are forced into unwanted marriages, and honor violence is rampant. And not just in what some may see as the ‘third world’, some far-away existence removed from their everyday lives. These issues – these affronts to the basic human rights of women – are happening right here in America and other countries.

Honor Diaries – a documentary film that highlights female activists tackling these issues, and that was launched two years ago on International Women’s Day 2014 – has released never-before-seen footage, and is calling on us to get men talking.

In the same way that the HeForShe campaign is based on the idea that gender equality is an issue that affects all people—socially, economically and politically—, men must also face up to the abuses against women taking place and highlighted in Honor Diaries.

And in the same way that HeForShe seeks to actively involve men in the gender equality movement (which has traditionally been dominated by women), the same must be done in the fight against FGM, honor violence and forced marriage. Only by engaging men, and ensuring that they don’t feel left out of the picture, can we tackle such important, and widespread, global issues.

Women have achieved so much on so many issues. Women are only half of the global population, and it is imperative that men get involved in the conversation, and join the brave women campaigning for change.

 

Cover Photo Credit: Arne Hoel/World Bank, Flickr Creative Commons

Zero Tolerance for FGM

This post is written by: Paula Kweskin, Human Rights Attorney and Documentary Filmmaker

Imagine a surgery performed with dirty instruments, without anesthesia, and no doctor. No one dresses your wounds and there are no follow-up appointments. This is not a description of a medieval medical procedure; it is a practice which takes place every six minutes around the world. 140 million girls and women have been affected by female genital mutilation (FGM), the cutting and/or removal of a girl’s genitalia in order to preserve her “honor” or “purity.”

FGM violates several human rights principles, including rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

FGM is not prescribed by any particular religion, and yet it is often advocated by religious and community leaders who believe the removal of a girl’s clitoris is necessary to ensure she marries well, brings honor to her family or clan, preserves her virginity and limits her sexual drive.

FGM is a horrific practice; it should never be excused by culture, religion, or tradition. Though the procedure may take moments, a girl is scarred for the rest of her life. She will likely endure serious physical and emotional trauma, including problems menstruating and urinating, complications during childbirth, and a higher risk of sexually-transmitted diseases.

FGM is primarily practiced in African countries, though women throughout the Middle East and parts of Asia have also been exposed to the practice.

And, while shocking to many, more girls than ever are at risk of the practice in the United States.

A recent report by the Center for Disease Control revealed that at least 500,000 women and girls are at risk of FGM in the United States. This number is up three-fold from a previous study conducted fifteen years prior. Experts attribute this rise to the increase in immigrants to the USA who practice FGM.

As activists and human rights advocates, we must be shocked into action by the half a million women who have undergone – or are at risk of – a barbaric practice in the US, and the hundreds of millions who suffer from it globally.

On this day – the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM – please take a moment to educate yourselves and then share this video with your friends and family. It is a clip about the practice of FGM taken from my documentary film, Honor Diaries. Feel free to check out the full film on Amazon, iTunes, and Netflix.

Let’s educate ourselves and all work together to #endFGM this generation!​​

 

Cover Photo Credit: Fixers, Flickr Creative Commons

Misogynist Ideology of Nigerian Kidnapping

Written by Zainab Khan and Paula Kweskin

Eighteen-year-old Deborah Sanya went to school to take her final exams before graduation. She never expected what happened next: a mass kidnapping of her and over 200 of her fellow students. Deborah and her three friends are some of the lucky ones; they bravely ran when one of the kidnappers wasn’t looking, found refuge in a local village, and eventually made it home.

Four weeks later, there is no trace of her friends.

Islamic militants known, as Boko Haram, are believed to be behind the kidnapping of the girls from their school in Chibok. The literal translation of this radical, extremist terrorist group means “Western education is sinful” in the Hausa language.

The group is fueled by the ideology that Western influences have corrupted their society and a pure Islamic state can restore the country of Nigeria. The group wants to impose Sharia, or Islamic law, in Africa’s most populous and economically developing country.

Boko Haram is one of the most dangerous manifestations of the global resurgence of radical Islam. It utilizes brutal, violent, inhumane tactics to force a skewed, political ideology upon innocent people.

Since 2002, it has claimed thousands of lives through attacks on Christians, school children, and government targets.

The group’s leader Abubakar Shekau, warned in a video obtained in March that all students should leave universities and girls are to drop out of school to get married.

“In Islam, it is allowed to take infidel women as slaves,” Shekau said. “In due course, we will start taking women away.”

And this is precisely what was done.

Civilian victims targeted by these insurgents are frequently women and girls. The concept of “Western education” being deemed as dangerous is nothing new because the education of women and girls is an affront to the twisted ideologies of these terrorists.

Malala Yousufzai, the poster child for girls’ education globally, was shot on October 9th, 2012 by the Taliban en route to school. She, like her sisters, in Nigeria,‘dared’ to demand an education and to lift herself out of poverty.

 

For these terrorists, there is nothing more intimidating.

Educated women and girls are the agents of change in their communities and an indicator of progress and enlightenment. As such, they are the first targets for extremist groups.

Reports have indicated some of the abducted girls have been sold as brides to soldiers for $12, and some were forcefully converted to Islam.

It is horrifying to imagine what these innocent girls are undergoing. They have been captured and sold into sexual slavery in a practice reminiscent of the Middle Ages.

The Nigerian people are now on the battleground of two ideologies: one which views their women and girls as seeds of peace and harbingers of a better future; and the other, an extreme ideology of hate and oppression which views women as chattel to be sold and used, abused and discarded at will.

After the girls were taken in Chibok, Nigeria, their school was burned to the ground. The flames consumed their books, papers, and end of year exams. Their actions were clear: education, especially of girls, should be destroyed.

How will our voices respond?

Learn more about the oppression women face in honor-based societies. Watch Honor Diaries, a film featuring Zainab Khan and eight other courageous women’s rights advocates in a dialogue about gender inequality in Muslim majority countries.

Cover Photo Credit: Michael Fleshman, Flickr Creative Commons

Speak Out Against Cutting

Written by: Jaha Dukureh

 

Photo Credit: Jaha Dukureh
Photo Credit: Jaha Dukureh

My name is Jaha Dukureh.

I am 24 years old.

I am a survivor of female genital mutilation (FGM).

I now live in Atlanta, Georgia, but when I was a baby in Gambia, my parents asked a family friend to perform the ritual on me. That day, I was robbed of a part of my femininity.  Since I have started speaking out against FGM, I have met many other girls who have been cut. Not all their stories are like mine.

Many of these girls are American.

They are girls who were born and live in the United States where nearly 200,000 girls are at risk of FGM. Yes, it is illegal, which is why many girls are subject to what is called vacation cutting. They are sent back to their parents’ home countries, where relatives arrange the ritual. Many of these girls are unaware of what is about to happen to them.

They are scarred and traumatised – physically and emotionally.

Girls are told the cutting ritual is a transition into womanhood. However, for the rest of their lives, they will struggle with pain and complications during their periods, sexual intercourse and childbirth. No girl should be subject to this pain.

When I first spoke out publicly against FGM, my family and friends were shocked and ashamed. They pressured me to stop. I almost gave into them. I was only one person – what could I accomplish?  I knew that no girl should be forced to cut her body. Although every day it happens to 6,000 girls.

I had to speak out.

I started a petition calling for an end to FGM in the United States. I have found inspiration in other brave women who have spoken out against this abuse and are taking action to create change. These brave women motivated me to join a rising campaign called Honor Diaries  a film and a movement whose aim is to stop the violence that women experience in the name of honor and tradition.

The courageous women in this film speak on behalf of their own issues and the struggles of so many women and girls. Through their support, I realize I cannot give up this fight.

We live in a free country. Why should these girls have less freedom than we do?

Why don’t more of us stand up and say something? The girls who undergo vacation cutting are not far away. They live in your neighborhood. These girls are your friends, classmates and colleagues.

We cannot remain silent while they suffer. Please watch Honor Diaries – the stories you will hear are sad and horrific. The women are hopeful and courageous. They will inspire you to get involved. Together we can make the world a better place for their daughters, my daughters and for your own.

Sign my petition here: End FGM Now

Cover Photo Credit: Heal the Cuts