Category Archives: child bride

ARAB REFORM MUST START AT HOME

Women on the streets of Cairo - Jan 30, 2011

Scroll through all the photographs and footage of the mass protest movements in Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt and you will not be hard-pressed to find some women in the crowds. Perhaps fewer here and more there, but they are present and making their voices heard. Nawal El Saadawi, an Egyptian human rights activist and former political prisoner told NPR “women and girls are beside the boys, are in the streets. We are calling for justice, freedom and equality, and real democracy, and a new constitution where there is no discrimination between men and women, no discrimination between Muslim and Christians, to change the system and to have real democracy.”

women tunisa protest (NPR - Jan '11)

While these countries, indeed the greater region, is looking toward “freedom” with an emphasis on “reform”, they would do well to look inward, as individuals and as a society, to see what they need to reform at home – not just what their governments need to reform from the top down.

At this point, we all accept the truth that widespread corruption, unrewarding social and economic conditions coupled with repression and lack of political freedom has become a volatile combination that gives Arab regimes everywhere reason to worry about popular uprisings. We associate the protests with throngs of Arab male youth. But these bleak circumstances apply just as well to young Arab women, some of whom have made it onto the streets with clenched fists and gone home with tired vocal chords; many of whom aspire to greater things than being married off before they’re ready, being expected to bear more children than they can take care of, and living a sequestered life of domestic service, as rewarding as that may be to those who choose that path. The trouble is, reform must start at home. And at home, in most of these countries, life continues unchallenged under autocratic rule: the rule of the patriarch. Choice for women is still scarce and the freedom that comes with the right to choose is still illusive.

yemen child_bride

Take a look at Yemen and you’ll see some of the most repressive cultural practices against women. More than half of Yemenese girls are married off before the age of 18. A law introduced last year to declare “child briding” illegal was brought down with Islamist protests.  There is no culture of education for women/girls, and fathers admittedly think it’s a waste of time to educate their daughters. They see them as simply a labor force, to be used while they are in possession, and to be paid for once they are married off. The logic is that once married, the girls are now a labor force for the groom’s family and the patriarch should pay for the purchase. This tradition leads to the abuse of women and girls over the duration of a lifetime. Reform has to start at home.

Rural mother and child in Egypt

Take a look at Egypt and you will find that more than a quarter of its children live below the level of poverty (less than $1US/day) and in rural areas that number is far higher, according to the UN perhaps as high as 45%. This may explain why families feel the need to sell their daughters to servitude, in order to be able to feed the rest of the family. Education in rural areas is a non-starter, often even for young boys, much less the girls. Basic health care and hygiene are unavailable to an estimated 5 to 6.6 million children in Egypt, according to IRIN. The women who are largely tasked with caring for and raising these children fare no better. They were likely brided at an early age, had children in an uncontrolled way and have little resources and no education by which to support them. The men dictate the rules of the family and the women have no say in the husband they spend their lives with, the age at which they bear children or the number of children they bear.

A prominent voice on the Egyptian uprising recently told of a twitter message where a young Egyptian woman said at a demonstration she attended in support of women judges in Egypt, a man who opposed the appointments of women to the State Council, an influential court which governs matters of administrative law in Egypt, yelled at the women “a woman menstruates so she shouldn’t be a judge”. A male lawyer yelled “Go home and cook for your husbands.”  Does that sound reform minded to you?

Tunisian women out for a stroll

Tunis, on the other hand, enforced relatively equal treatment of its women. A civil rights code created in 1956 legalized the near equal status of women to men in the eyes of the local law.  In Tunis, under Ben-Ali, women were banned from wearing head scarves in schools or government offices. Ben Ali and his predecessor made sure Tunisia was governed ruthlessly, but secularly. Tunisian women are described as “unique in the Arab world” for enjoying greater freedoms than their Arab neighbors.

NPR’s Eleanor Beardsley reports Tunisian women have the same rights to divorce as men, and polygamy is illegal. “Women here have had access to birth control since 1962 and have had access to abortion since 1965 — eight years before Roe v. Wade gave American women the same right.” Now that’s reform minded.

But we will be watching closely to see what transpires in the aftermath of Tunisia’s revolution, and how women continue to fare, particularly if Islamists rule the land without a commitment to separate mosque and state.

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Peace, Prosperity, Equality and Misery…

Women rejoice: 

The Afghan Constitution of 2004 is arguably one of the most progressive legal documents in terms of women’s rights in the region, according to afghan-web.com. It guarantees women’s equality before the law (Article 22), women’s education (Articles 43 and 44), the right to work (Article 48), the right to health care (Article 52), support for women without a breadwinner (Article 53), the physical and mental wellbeing of mothers and the elimination of customary practices that are contrary to Islamic prescriptions (Article 54), and women’s representation in both houses of parliament (Articles 83 and 84). In addition, Article 7 stipulates that the state respects the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  

 The problem is that none of these laws are implemented.  

21 year old repeatedly beaten by Afghan husband

For centuries, according to Afghan Web, an Afghan news resource based in the US, women have been denied these rights either by official government decree or by their own husbands, fathers, and brothers. Women in Afghanistan still endure some of the most restrictive societal laws on earth and are forced behind closed doors and pulled veils to keep them removed from life. The government does little to uphold laws enacted to protect women and their rights. Many live in fear. Few escape. Some manage to get to foreign run NGO shelters. Nevertheless, they live in fear, often having had to forego the right to raise or ever see their children, in exchange for living in safety. (see: rawa.org)  

Still we, pat ourselves on the collective back for ridding Afghanistan of the Taliban, and pretend that this alone has emancipated the women of Afghanistan and given them equality. Not so. Not even close. Change takes more hard work than bombs falling from the sky and a few people pushed into hiding where they harden their stance and spread their venom more intently at a closer range. It takes the painstaking work of people on the ground, creating awareness, changing belief systems, altering attitudes and questioning loyalties to a tradition that is abusive.  

Zarin Hamid who serves as a Peace Fellow for the Advocacy Project in Kabul, Afghanistan writes in her blog from the Afghan capital Kabul that “despite this degree of presence on the international and national scene, women are shut out of the decision-making and policy creation that goes on in other areas”. Women’s achievements, she observes, still pale in comparison to the abuse and violence they endure. She writes that “many face violence, discrimination, and intimidation… due to endemic cultural practices and to the conflict that contributes severely to the terrible plight of women in Afghanistan.  [Women] continue to face tenuous circumstances and in many parts of the country continue to bear the brunt of the upheavals and brutality of the conflict.” (see: http://advocacynet.org/wordpress-mu/zhamid/)  

Afghan women at the Parwan Center - Afghanistan

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, many would conjecture that life for Afghan women has improved. Under the Taliban women were forbidden from going to school, working, or even seeing a male physician – which often meant not being able to see a physician at all. The simple act of child-birth had become a perilous tightrope of life and death for many young Afghan women and girls who were married forcibly and bore children before they were ready. The recently adopted Afghan constitution states that “the citizens of Afghanistan – whether male or female – have equal rights and duties under the law”. Under Hamid Karzai’s post invasion government women have been allowed to return to work and school. They are no longer forced by law to wear the all covering burqa, and have even been appointed to prominent positions in the government. Despite all this, however, many challenges remain. The repression of women is still prevalent in rural areas where families continue to restrict their own mothers, daughters, wives and sisters from participation in public life. They are forced into marriages and denied a basic education. Numerous schools for girls have been burned down and little girls have even been poisoned to death for daring to go to school (see our earlier posts). http://www.afghan-web.com/  

Health:

As long as Afghanistan remains a patriarchal society dominated by the notions harbored by men, the availability of health care for women is only as good as the willingness of men to engage in the concept that women need separate and independent health care for their physical well being.

I will not take my wife to a male doctor even if she dies,” said Pir Gul from Paktika Province, southeastern Afghanistan, explaining that such a thing went against tradition. http://www.afghan-web.com/health/women_paktika.html. His wife’s life hung in the balance during a difficult child birth. Mid-wives are these womens’ saviors, and with little training, child birth is perilous in Afghanistan where 70-80% of girls are forced into early marriage. With no birth control and no education, and a culture that tolerates plenty of abuse, a life expectancy of 44 years among Afghan women seems like a miracle.  

Mohammad Tawasoli, an Imam at a mosque in Wardak Province, central Afghanistan, tells the local community to maintain a two-year gap between pregnancies and to to avoid child marriage in order to enable mother and child remain healthy. “Islam does not allow the killing of the fetus”, he explains, “but it also does not want mothers to face health risks because of… constant pregnancies,” Tawasoli preaches. The Imam will have more influence on the community that science ever could. “Islam does not oppose delayed pregnancies if this helps the health and well-being of mothers,” he told IRIN in Kabul, adding that those who think otherwise believe in superstition rather than true Islamic principles.Afghan-Web suggests “religious scholars such as Tawasoli wield strong influence among people in rural communities where high rates of illiteracy and lack of awareness about health issues contribute to the deaths of thousands of mothers and children every year.” 

Burqa-clad Afghan women and child (AP Photo/John McConnico)

 
Family 

“I was put into chains for a whole month by my father. I ran away twice but was returned home by the police. Everybody says I am the guilty one, that my father has the right to beat me,” says Fahima, a poor Afghan girl who embodies the life of the countless girls who often resort to suicide as their only way out.  

According to Amnesty International women in Afghanistan continue to suffer widespread abuse that remains largely unaddressed. In a report released in 2008, the London-based rights group says few Afghan women are safe from the threat of violence. In the report entitled Afghanistan: Women Under Attack, Amnesty International finds Afghan women are at daily risk of abduction, rape, and forced marriage, as well as being traded as chattel to settle disputes and debts. (see our post: http://womenfound.org/2010/03/16/12/) .

School:  

Girls often face abuse for going to school

Afghan education authorities say they are facing a difficult task of convincing parents to send their daughters to school as attacks on female students have increased in recent months. (see: http://law.rightpundits.com/?p=1509). 

Three girls sustained severe burns in the southern town of Kandahar this year when unknown men sprayed acid on up to 15 girls. One of the girls might permanently lose her sight. In a land where an educated woman is a demanding woman, education for girls and women is frowned upon.  

Life: 

Registered cases of physical violence against women and girls in Afghanistan have increased by about 40 percent since March 2007.  

UN agencies caution that the dramatic increase in the number of reported cases of violence against women does not necessarily mean that gender-based violence has increased. “There is an increased awareness among the law enforcement authorities, so it is not [necessarily] an increasing trend of violence  but that there are more people coming forward to report the violence” said Ramesh Penumaka, representative of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in Afghanistan. The expectation is that nobody would or should talk about gender based violence when it happens within the confines of the private home. Women and their rights be damned, we have an image to protect, goes the logic. When the woman dies it’s called protecting the family “Honor”.  

However, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) estimates that gender based violence has reached “shocking and worrying” levels in Afghanistan and efforts must be redoubled to tackle it. “Our findings clearly indicate that despite over six years of international rhetoric about Afghan women’s emancipation and development, a real and tangible change has not touched the lives of millions of women in this country,” said Suraya Subhrang, a commissioner on the rights of women at AIHRC. See a story of abuse: http://www.afghan-web.com/woman/domestic_violence.html   

Death:  

Sarah, 20, set herself ablaze in a desperate bid to end her life after four years of marriage to a drug addict in Sheendand District in western Afghanistan. Her family extinguished the fire and took her to the hospital. “I was sad when I opened my eyes in the hospital,” the severely burnt woman told IRIN. Sarah’s husband is a jobless drug addict who often beat her for alleged “insubordination”.    

“I wanted to die and never come back to this life,” she told IRIN from her bed in the Herat city hospital. (see: http://www.afghan-web.com/woman/self-immolation.html)  

“Domestic violence against women not only has serious physical and mental effects on women but also causes other grave problems such as self-immolation, suicide, escape from home, forced prostitution and addiction to narcotics,” according to a study by the AIHRC in 2007 [http://www.aihrc.org.af/Evaluation_Rep_Gen_Sit_Wom.htm].

Afghan-web.com estimates that in one month period nearly 50 self-immolation cases were recorded by Herat city hospital alone. Only 7 were saved. “Ninety percent of the women who commit self-immolation die at hospital due to deep burns and fatal injuries,” said Arif Jalai, a dermatologist at the Herat hospital.  

More than six years after the ousting of the Taliban regime in 2001 many women still suffer domestic and social violence, discrimination and lack of access to unbiased say women’s rights activists. The Russian invasion was scary, the Taliban was a nightmare, and now the War on Terror has been disappointingly similar to what came before it. Violence and tribal fueds still control the streets, corruption still runs rampant in government, joblessness and hunger abound and women remain unprotected and frightened in a landscape that is both physically and emotionally brutal to them.

evolution of 1985 photograph by Steve McCurry: Cover of National Geographic

The Afghan Girl:  

In a follow-up story by Cathy Newman on a Photograph by Steve McCurry which was featured on the cover of National Geographic in 1985, a woman named Sharbat embodies the difficult life of an Afghan woman lucky enough to survive the string of armed conflicts that have plagued Afghanistan.

Here are excerpts from the story. See the entire article at http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2002/04/afghan-girl/index-text/1

“There is not one family that has not eaten the bitterness of war,” a young Afghan merchant said in the 1985 National Geographic story that appeared with Sharbat’s photograph on the cover. She was a child when her country was caught in the jaws of the Soviet invasion. A carpet of destruction smothered countless villages like hers. She was perhaps six when Soviet bombing killed her parents. By day the sky bled terror. At night the dead were buried. And always, the sound of planes, stabbing her with dread.

“We left Afghanistan because of the fighting,” said her brother, Kashar Khan, filling in the narrative of her life. He is a straight line of a man with a raptor face and piercing eyes. “The Russians were everywhere. They were killing people. We had no choice.” Shepherded by their grandmother, he and his four sisters walked to Pakistan. For a week they moved through mountains covered in snow, begging for blankets to keep warm.  “You never knew when the planes would come,” he recalled. “We hid in caves.”  

It is the ongoing tragedy of Afghanistan. Invasion. Resistance. Invasion. Will it ever end? “Each change of government brings hope,” said Yusufzai. “Each time, the Afghan people have found themselves betrayed by their leaders and by outsiders professing to be their friends and saviors.” 

Full post: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2002/04/afghan-girl/index-text/1

Update: TIME Magazine cover: http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,20100809,00.html

The Woman Condition

I read a story recently about a woman who survived an acid attack. She was doing the dishes when her infant cried out. She left the dishes to pick up the infant and her mother-in-law didn’t think that was right, so she pummelled her.

The woman woke up days later in a hospital while being treated for an acid attack. Apparently, the mother-in-law, joined by the husband, beat her unconscious and then sprayed her with acid (Nitric or sulphuric). When she woke up she realized her chin was fused to her neck. (see: http://acidsurvivorspakistan.org/). She and her child were now safe in a hospital run by the Acid Survivors Foundation. That’s how commonplace the attack is… it merits its own foundation!

Now call me crazy, but if I were doing the dishes and my kid called, I’d drop the dishes and go see my child. If anyone touched me I’d call the cops. I believe that’s assault and battery to say the least. Ah, but yes, I’m an emancipated woman in the States. She was a young bride in Pakistan.

These days I’m riveted to a book about Greg Mortenson’s adventure to build schools in Pakistan (Three Cups of Tea, Mortenson, Greg & Relin, David Oliver, Penguin Books, 2006). In it, Mortenson describes the “central feature” of every marriage ceremony he’s seen to be the “anguish” of the bride at being separated from her family forever.

“Usually at a wedding, there’s a solemn point when you’ll see the bride and her mother clinging to each other, crying. The groom’s father piles up sacks of flour and bags of sugar, and promises of goats and rams, while the bride’s father folds his arms and turns his back, demanding more. When he considers the price fair, he turns around and nods. Then all hell breaks loose. I’ve seen men in the family literally trying to pry the bride and her mother apart with all their strength, while the women scream and wail.”

Page: 141

Mortenson goes on the explain that if the bride is from an isolated village and the grooms family from far away, the girl may never see her family again. In the story about the acid attack survivor in Pakistan, the woman says there is no bitterness. In spite of her injuries, and her suffering, she says that she has forgiven her husband and in-laws. “They are like my own mother and sisters,” she says.

Women and girls as young as 10, 11 and 12 continue to be married off in Muslim middle east and central Asia. And they continue to turn up battered and bruised, or even dead as was publicised the case of in Yemen recently. But the tradition continues. The practice of dowries only legitimizes the treatment of these young women and girls as ‘property’ by the acquiring family (the groom’s), and fuels the greed that motivates the selling family (that of the bride) to pawn off their daughters at a younger and younger age.

Over and over again I read that young girls in poor countries are either shipped off to work in appalling conditions at too young an age, or are handed off to marry under horrifying conditions at too young an age. If they are wed to a family from further away than their legs can carry them, they become isolated and completely dependent, emotionally as well as physically and economically, on the groom’s family. Once the girl has been heavily paid for and she is hauled away from anyone who would protect her, what is to keep her safe from harm? Most of these young brides come from large families where the ties between siblings are great. The older girls usually care for the younger siblings as a parent would. They are attached to each other and become each other’s best friends and protectors. Once the bride is wrenched away, she is psychologically bruised by the separation already and is likely to form the kind of “kidnapper’s affinity” that we in the states term as a psychological defense mechanism and treat with therapy once the hostage is free. In the case of marriage in these countries the girl is never free – unless she dies or lands in hospital run by a foundation with a mission to protect her. That explains why a woman beaten and peppered with acid may forgive the perpetrator of the attack.

With the tradition of the dowry paid and the girl taken away, It seems girls are a commodity while boys are a prize in many underdeveloped corners of the world where poverty is chronic and education is rare. There are entire swaths of Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Indonesia and the African continent and beyond that are completely illiterate. Further, with an unforgiving landscape, they are often isolated and with little or no technology around them they have limited knowledge of the rest of the world. The most common agents of change in these societies seems to be women who recognize first that the cycle of abuse termed “tradition” is inhumane. But it is difficult to demand change when you know nothing other than what your tradition has shown you – and when you have little right to speak your mind.

Nonetheless, women are increasingly attempting to bring about incremental change. Some have spearheaded schools and worked convincingly with local clerics to allow, indeed endorse learning as a tenet of Islam – not to be relinquished from girls. In other countries women are increasingly attending universities and holding off marriage into their twenties. But poverty is still the greatest threat to safety and to education. Just as food is a luxury to the poverty-stricken masses in the underbelly of the world where few people ever look, so are schools and the time to attend them.

In their stead comes Tradition. A tradition that makes the poverty bearable with folkloric tales of harder times passed and heroes sacrificed, but also enables the refusal to find a solution. For as long as it is culturally acceptable, indeed “traditional” to marry off a child at the age of 10 because the family is poor and needs the money, or the family is poor and needs one less mouth to feed, then there will never be a demand for that child to stay at home and learn to read or write so she can, if nothing else, teach the same to her children. If the tradition of education catches on then perhaps the children of a few generations down the line can realistically contemplate a life outside of gripping poverty. But for as long as money is paid for the illiterate child taken, she will helplessly have to endure abuse until she dies a slow and horrific death. How can this message not be a simple enough one for us to spread to every corner of earth?

People often ask me who I’m fighting for. I’m not fighting for the mother-in-law that beats the bride. I’m not fighting for the suicidal jihadi. And I’m not fighting for the women who perpetuate the cycle of abuse by enabling it or mindlessly following a religion that they say condones it. I am fighting for the women who instinctively know the tradition is wrong, but can’t find a voice to say it, a way out of it, or a safe place to speak it.

There are hundreds of NGO’s and small non-profits that help women escape brutality. And although abuse around this world is massive in scope, there are small efforts that aggregated together are making a difference. A search on the internet will turn up pages of statistics on increasing numbers of girls in underdeveloped countries attaining an education, marrying later, and questioning aspects of their tradition. Now that the jump-start has been ignited, it is incumbent on us all – as the fortunate women who live in lawful societies – to add to the voices of change and enable the droplets of multiple efforts to evolve into a sea change for generations after us to calibrate.

PB&J here – loss of childhood there…

This morning I was making a PB&J for my daughter (recycled my son’s from yesterday) and noticed that the oil had risen to the top and I had to stir the peanut butter to make it creamy. I wondered why I don’t buy skippy – no mixing there. It’s loaded with whatever magical chemical it takes to keep the peanut from separating from the butter. Then I got to the jelly. My sister-in-law had made us fresh strawberry jelly, but the jar was now empty. So I resorted to store-bought jelly – which has no trace of fruit – soft and spreadable with just the right color.

My occupational hazard is that I matriculate through my daily life with thoughts of impoverished, abused, beaten, downtrodden and miserable people who exist around the world under squalid conditions and dire circumstances that I dare say I wouldn’t survive. So here again, making lunch boxes sends me into a psycho-foray into the world of need. It occurs to me that here in the developed world even peanut butter and jelly comes in the most convenient form known to man. No need to mix or even struggle to spread; the jelly squirts perfectly from a bottle and the peanut butter may give you cancer but at least its spreadable. Everything is made so convenient that we have to think hard to remember that no other people on earth have it this easy.

I remember a few years ago a big corporation based in the States had developed a cleaning fluid that would clean by itself – no scrubbing. But sales were low in Italy so the company set out to do a survey. They found that Italian women shun the new “easy” cleaner. They said any cleaner that takes out the sweat of scrubbing can’t be legitimate. They opted for the scouring powder.

Last night I was putting my daughter to bed while she was twirling around in her new hip-hop dance phase. I couldn’t help but think that in a different place on earth this would be the toughest moment. I would be worried what the night held for my adorable, innocent daughter who at present has no concept of how harsh the world can be toward women and girls. In some places we would be preparing to marry her off soon – by force of culture or tradition – or greed or need. In any case, the pain of the mother who knows her child has to be wrenched away from her grasp only to meet the cruelty that lies ahead would be devastating. Yet millions – yes millions – of women and children endure this colossal pain generation after generation. I wish I could say I see change on the horizon – but I don’t.

Just yesterday hundreds of Yemenese women demonstrated outside parliament in support of a fiercely debated bill that would ban the marriage of girls under the age of 17. Child marriage is widespread in Yemen, particularly in rural areas, where girls as young as eight are married off by poor parents who see marriage as financial security for their children.

A study carried out in 2008 by the Gender Development Research and Studies Centre at Sanaa University found that 52 percent of Yemeni girls are married before turning 18. “It’s a crime against human rights when a child gets married,” said Roaa Alef, a teenage Yemeni activist, during the protest on Tuesday. “There is a lack of education among parents on what they are doing to their children when they marry them off. The girls drop out of school and then has no opportunities; they’re stuck.”

By Oliver Holmes, Contributor / March 23, 2010 – Christian Science Monitor

The practice is not limited to Yemen. It is widespread in almost every corner of the world where there is poverty or lack of education, or worse, where there is both. Poverty usually breeds a lower educational standard, because children have to go off to work and bring in money to sustain life. There’s no opportunity for education. Along with a lack of education comes a lack of understanding and an inability to accept anything outside generations-old norms that have governed, indeed dictated, life for many families. Girls are deemed less useful than boys in economic ability so they’re married off early: one less mouth to feed. Rights: well, they don’t exist for girls. Opportunities: they’re even more scarce than rights.

I look at my own daughter and I see a world of possibilities. She can be whatever she wants. She does anything she feels like doing from climbing without worrying about who’s looking or what they’ll say, to singing and dancing around without worrying what someone will think. She doesn’t worry that some silly piece of fabric which has been adjusted onto her head so as not to arouse the boys may fall off, or that some defunct tradition may prevent her from reaching her dreams and aspirations. I look at her and can’t help but wish the same luxuries for all the little girls around the world.

But then my thoughts remind me of girls in Haiti who are afraid to pee for fear of being attacked, or 10 year olds in Yemen who die during child-birth, or little Afghan girls who succumb to early marriage or girls in India who are handed to people who promise money for the families and education for the girls but really take them off to forced labor and ongoing abuse.

So yes, peanut butter and jelly can me think of all that. Our conveniences are a world away to other people for whom the basics are still a struggle. Let’s count our blessings and then think of ways to help…

say no to: “Women and girls are bought and sold to settle debts and resolve disputes”

“Women and girls are bought and sold to settle debts and resolve disputes. They are raped as both a tactic and a prize of war. They are beaten as punishment for disobedience and as a warning to other women who might assert their rights. Women are still the majority of the world’s poor, the uneducated, the unhealthy, the unfed. In too many places, women are treated not as full and equal human beings with their own rights and aspirations, but as lesser creatures.”

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday March 12th, at the UN commission on the Status of Women Conference in NYC.

How sad that we are willing to cough up to “cultural practices” what is obviously abuse towards women, and the systematic squandering of the wealth of resources that women can bring to global communities.

Abundant studies have shown that women in developing countries who are given micro-loans are 70% more likely than their male counterparts to pay back the loan on a timely basis. Charitable organizations have found that money or know-how that is extended to women in developing countries is more likely to trickle down and enrich the community in which they live. And then there’s the statistic above which was sighted by Hillary Clinton. As true as it is that women are an engine for good and growth in their communities, it is equally true that they are subjugated, abused, mistreated and debilitated by their most intimate friends and family far more often.

I started Womenfound (womenfound.com), a start-up foundation for women, because I noticed that it is far easier for charities to raise money for needy children than for women. But who is it that takes care of those needy children? In my experience there is always a woman behind the child. It is either that the father took-off and left an un-educated, unskilled mother to care for multiple children in a developing country where there is no infrastructure to hold up a struggling single mother.  Or the father killed the mother and a grandmother or aunt stepped in with the same ensuing scenario. Or the mother and father died in some tragedy and a kindly neighbor took over. The children who are victims of these tragedies are left in heart-wrenching need of aid. But the woman standing behind the child is invisible.

Why do women remain value-less in many cultures, even though they’ve proven themselves, in every corner of the world, to be capable members of society? It is true that they are still treated as the property of men in many corners of the world. In the modern-day, as women ascend to positions of power and decision making in the developed world, there are a plethora of charities that target their aid to and for women.

In Afghanistan, for example, Madre has established an Afghan Women’s Survival Fund.

Women in Afghanistan are being systematically killed for exercising their most basic human rights. MADRE is responding. We have launched the Afghan Women’s Survival Fund to deliver urgent support to women whose lives are threatened by the Taliban or other ultra-conservatives. The Survival Fund supports an underground rescue network of women committed to providing shelter, communications and secret transport to women who have been targeted for attack.

See madre.org

As women of the developed world, where our basic rights as well as our safety and security are taken for granted, we should be helping those women for whom that sort of security is not only illusive, but unimaginable. Go to womenfound.com and shop to donate. Or go directly to madre.org and other charitable entities directed at women, and get involved in helping needy women around the globe. There are plenty so pick freely.