Thursday, June 24, 2010

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced

I just finished another book: I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced and it was really interesting. I am always grateful when books that tackle difficult subject matter still manage to be positive and upbeat while also being honest and bold. The book is about a 10 years old girl, Nujood Ali, from Yemen who was married off at the tender age of 10 to a man 20 years her senior whom she refered to as "the monster" who abused her in every way imaginable. After a few months of this hell she found the courage to go down to the courthouse to seek out a divorce. Her actions made a huge impact on Yemeni society and many of the societies in Islamic countries in the Middle East. After going to court she was granted her divorce and allowed to go back with her family. Her efforts have helped other little girls find the courage to also seek for divorces from abusive husbands. The end of the book discussed a little bit more in depth the problem with child marriages in Yemen and other countries nearby. Many aide groups have found it difficult because they have to be so careful with cultural sensitivities. The books said: "For example, Oxfam, the organization that is by far the most invested in this project, must weigh its words carefully when it organizes consciousness-raising workshops in the southern part of the country. Instead of discussing "the legal age of marriage," Oxfam prefers to talk about a "safe age," emphasizing the risks linked to child marriage: psychological trauma, death in child-birth, dropping out of school. The task remains a difficult one, however. "Several of our colleagues who work out in the field have already become the objects of fatwas issued by the local sheikhs, who accuse them of promoting Western decadence and not respecting Islam." It would seems that the path to a more enlightened future is a long and tortuous one." While Nujood did a wonderful, VERY brave thing, the road to ending child marriages is a long one and there will need to be much patience and cultural understanding as a solution is found.

It is a quick read, and a VERY good one. I recommend it to everyone. It will open your eyes to a whole other part of the world and a separate world within that world. It will also give you a respect and admiration for a little 10 year old girl who had the courage to demand a divorce. (Here is a picture of Nujood with her lawyer Shada Nasser)

Also, look at these two sites for more information on Nujood and on Child Brides:
NY TIMES: Nicholas D. Kristof
End Human Trafficking
Glamour Women of the Year

Thursday, June 03, 2010

An Ordinary Man

A few weeks ago I finished reading "An Ordinary Man" by Paul Rusesabagina which is his account of the 1994 Rwandan genocide (the movie Hotel Rwanda is based on his experience). It was an eye-opening book and made me ask a lot of questions about the responsibilities of the international community in domestic affairs. For those of you not familiar with the genocide here is a little background: Rwanda, like most of Africa was colonized by Europeans, specifically the Dutch who in order to sustain their power divided ordinary Rwandans into two groups: Hutus and Tutsis. This was done based solely on their physical appearance: Tutsis were defined as taller with thinner noses and Hutus were distinguished by being shorter with wider noses. The Tutsis were put into leadership positions leading to animosity and contention between the two groups. Even after decolonization, these "identities" and most particularly the HATE and sense of inequality endured until it all erupted in the 1994 Genocide where Hutu militias targeted all Tutsis and Tutsi sympathizers for execution. As well, Tutsi militias organized and began to conduct revenge killings. "In the weeks after April 6, 1994, 800,000 men, women, and children perished in the Rwandan genocide, perhaps as many as three quarters of the Tutsi population. At the same time, thousands of Hutu were murdered because they opposed the killing campaign and the forces directing it." (United Human Rights Council- RWANDA) This is definitely a simplified explanation of a very complex problem that existed for years until it finally erupted in the most horrible of ways.

Obviously, it would have been wonderful to avoid the whole awful, awful ordeal, but it is not so simple. A friend of mine took an international law class and lent me some of his class materials to look at to help me understand better the role that international forces can and should play in domestic disputes. My studies have taught me how VERY complicated it is, but also how very essential it is for the more established and stable countries to help how they can. There were a lot of mistakes and a lot of backs turned during the genocide and it is interesting to study them and try to understand how to avoid EVER letting such atrocities occur again. The website from above stated it this way: span style="font-style:italic;">"Although the Rwandans are fully responsible for the organization and execution of the genocide, governments and peoples elsewhere all share in the shame of the crime because they failed to prevent and stop this killing campaign. I am not trying to blame the West, the U.N., or the United States, but I wish I could understand what should have been done by those groups and why they were NOT done (Why NOTHING was done until it was too late for 800,000 people). As the world gets smaller and smaller it seems that our responsibilities to one another get bigger and bigger. We can no longer use the ignorance card because we now know what is going on throughout the world. When we sit idly by it is because we choose to. I hope that law school will help me understand international law better so that I can understand why things like the 1994 Rwandan Genocide could happen without the international community jumping in to stop it. I understand that there are laws that dictate what a country can or cannot do to aide another in a domestic dispute, but it might be time for a reassessment of those laws so as to ensure that another genocide or other human rights violations cannot occur without the international community being able to (AND having the obligation to) step in and do something to help.

In the last chapter of the book, Rusesabagina writes, "What happened? Hitler's Final Solution was supposed to have been the last expression of this monstrous idea- the final time the world would tolerate a deliberate attempt to exterminate an entire race. But genocide remains the most pressing human rights question of the twenty-first century. Each outbreak has its differences on the surface. In Cambodia slaughter was done in the name of absurd political dogma; in Bosnia the killings erupted after the fragmenting of a multiethnic federation; the Kurds in Iraq were gassed when they demanded independence from a dictator, and today in Sudan innocent people are dying because they occupy oil-rich territory coveted by the ethnic majority... Look closely at each of the world's recent genocides, however, and the surface differences burn away. The core of genocide is always the same. They erupt under the cover of war. They are the brainchildren of insecure leaders eager for more power. Governments ease their people into them gradually. Other nations must be persuaded to look away. And all genocides rely heavily on the power of GROUP THINKING to embolden the everyday killers." (192-193) Just think of how many genocides there were int the 20th century! In an age of industrialization and such HUGE technological advancements society seems to continue to lag behind. This should NOT be happening now.

One more paragraph to quote:
"A sad truth of human nature is that it is hard to care for people when they are abstractions, hard to care when it is not you or somebody close to you. Unless the world community can stop finding ways to dither in the face of this monstrous threat to humanity those words Never Again will persist in being one of the most abused phrases in the English language and one of the greatest lies of our time." (195)

This last paragraph really struck me. This is one of the MANY reasons why the Gospel is so precious. It teaches us of the worth of EACH and EVERY human soul out there. It allows us to view the world not in terms of abstractions as Mr. Rusesagabina wrote, but as humans, individuals, our brothers and sisters who while geographically far from us are close to us in the family of God. It is a great blessing in my life to know of the worth of souls. I can always be better about seeing it in others and respecting it, but as I work towards being better I am able to love and care about people I do not know but who I know God knows and loves. For me, the most important thing we can do now is become educated on these issues and to understand what it is the international community can do and SHOULD do when we are again faced with a tragedy such as the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. And that brings me to my last point: We ARE CURRENTLY faced with a tragedy such as the Rwandan Genocide: Southern Sudan. The U.S. "talks" about doing something, but have yet to do it. Now is the time to make the necessary changes and to act, not tomorrow or 10 years down the line, but now.

Some additional sites/articles to check out: (Be warned that some of these include disturbing images)

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Half the Sky

I am currently reading the book "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide" by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. It is really incredible so far. It is also extremely sad and humbling to read about the terrible experiences of women in many developing nations who are sold into prostitution by desperate families, or who are kidnapped or tricked into the sex trade. It is all very affecting but what I love about the book is the positive tone and the hope given to such a vast and grave problem. When I think about these women I try not to just think of them as strangers living thousands of miles away in conditions wholly different than my own, but instead as Heavenly Father would, as spirits of INFINITE worth, created by God. I try to think of them as my sisters and it makes my heart YEARN to help them. To Reach out to them, to do SOMETHING. The book shares the personal experiences of the women in sexual bondage and the horrible conditions and experiences that are the daily expectation and norm. It has already opened my eyes to many things that I had not considered about human trafficking: About how hard it is to rescue girls from that lifestyle because often they are addicted to the drugs that they are forced to take to make them compliant and easy to handle. Also, how cultural traditions make it difficult for girls trying to get away from life in the brothel to succeed in other fields besides the few traditionally given them. It is a tough and complex problem with no simple solution. The book addresses this however, and merely invites us to consider the ONE girl that could be helped by our efforts. I think that is where the focus has to be: on the individual. This does not mean that the government and society are off the hook, just that it is more complicated to make lasting changes with a broad effort as opposed to doing what CAN be done now for the one.

A few months ago I went with two of my friends to a lecture on Human Trafficking given by an American who had been involved in U.S. military efforts to stop trafficking. It was, again, eye opening and very sad: Desperate people selling their girlfriends into slavery to get money to help their dying mothers, mobsters from former Soviet block nations running brothels in western European countries with kidnapped girls, and the immense difficulty of finding and punishing those responsible. Again, however, it was stressed that this situation must not be look at as hopeless. There IS hope and there are things that can be done. He talked about how the U.S. military is raising awareness that many of the prostitutes that servicemen might visit (which is a problem in and of itself...) can very possibly be trafficked women who are being held against their wills. Something that really struck me about the lecture, which was not addressed and just something that I noticed, had to do with the video we were shown about the experience of one Eastern European girl who was sold by her boyfriend to some traffickers. The video was narrated by the actress Angelina Jolie who obviously took the issue very seriously and was pleading for help for these women. HOWEVER, I could not ignore the fact that Angelina Jolie, who is a sex symbol and produces movies with pornographic content, was not addressing the fact that the sex trade is so lucrative because of the HUGE demand. The world is SOAKED in sexual filth and sex has lost all of its sacredness as a means of creating and bringing life into the world. (Here is an example of one of Angelina Jolie's more TAME photos) It is now all about excitement, passion, and arousal, pushing the envelope more and more. Prostitution, while it is the "oldest profession"- a saying that kills me because it makes something very serious seem like an old tradition where boys will be boys and girls will be exploited... but that's for another post, has become an acceptable and adventurous outlet for men. When the world takes sex and puts it back into marriage, instead of flaunting it these problems might disappear all together. Women like Angelina Jolie, while I applaud her efforts in publicizing the problem, make it worse by using their sexuality to sell, thereby adding fuel to the already blazing sexual inferno that has set fire to and engulfed societies throughout the world.

So, let's focus on the one. Let's realize that there IS a problem and let's FACE it. Let's also FIGHT against Pornography and the sexual exploitation of women and children. Even just praying for those who are victims will help.