This April, roughly 275 schoolgirls were kidnapped from their secondary school by Nigerian Islamic extremist group Boko Haram (which translates to something like ”Western education is a sin”). Reports indicate that the girls have been forcibly converted to Islam and may have been given as “brides” to the militants in mass marriage ceremonies. Other reports indicate that the girls may have been sold as sex slaves for $12 a piece. Few have managed to escape. At least 150 remain captive with no real effort being put forth by the Nigerian government for their rescue. They are apparently being held to show the militants’ disdain for the education of girls and as ransom for imprisoned Boko Haram members.
This May, Farzana Parveen was walking with her husband Muhammad Iqbal down a crowded city street in Lahore, Pakistan. The pregnant 25-year-old was being brought to court by her family for marrying the man she loved instead of the man her father had chosen for her. As Farzana and Muhammad passed through the gates of the high court, her family approached them, firing shots in the air and demanding that her husband hand her over. Amid a crowd of onlookers, her father, brothers, and other male relatives stoned her to death. People walking by on the busy city street did not heed Farzana’s desperate cries for help. Reports indicate that police stood by and watched as she (and her unborn child) was murdered in the street. Farzana is one of at least 1,000 women who will die at the hands of male relatives this year in Pakistan.
This month, 50,000 unborn baby girls will be murdered in India. Their fragile lives will be violently ended simply because they are girls. Countless more will be murdered moments after birth or left to die in the street or in garbage cans. This is gendercide. Its victims are myriad and unnamed.
Today in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a young girl and her sisters will be kidnapped from their village by gangsters. These armed criminals will use them for months as sex slaves, violently raping and beating them. When their captors tire of them (provided the girls have survived their ordeal), they will be released with tremendous physical and psychological wounds. They have a statistically significant chance of contracting HIV. They will be seen as damaged goods for the rest of their lives.
These horrifying images serve as postcards from the frontlines of the very real and frighteningly global surge of violence against women. I am writing about them because I am weary of the political rhetoric that seeks to portray American women like myself as victims under siege in what some are dubbing the “War on Women.” From what I can discern from this flood of vitriolic language, the “War on Women” is a narrative revolving primarily around perceived threats to women’s ability to access abortion and contraception. It’s a reaction to sloppy, ill-conceived, ignorant language concerning rape by a few conservative politicians in the last presidential election. It’s a term meant to be divisive, to activate female voters, and to demonize the pro-life movement.
I am writing as a passionately pro-life, passionately Catholic woman whose firmly held belief in the inherent dignity, unique gifts, and God-createdness of women causes her to claim the word “feminist.” I am writing to my pro-choice sisters who claim this word. We have fundamental disagreements about what it means to be a woman … about what it means to have dignity and justice as a woman. These disagreements are important and deserve to be debated thoroughly and civilly in the public square. I am writing to extend my hand in solidarity to feminists with whom I profoundly disagree.
Please, my sisters, let’s put aside this ridiculous political rhetoric meant to entice us into thinking of ourselves as victims. Let’s stop allowing ourselves to be used as pawns in a divisive political system that seeks to keep us fearful of the specter of some nebulous thing called “white male privilege.” Because all over the world — right this second — there are girls and women being victimized. Actually and brutally victimized. These women need us. They need our voices. They need us to tell their stories. To organize on their behalf. To raise money. To raise hell. To storm heaven. To stop fighting against each other and start fighting for each other. We are strong. We are powerful. We hold up half the sky in this country. And if we can unite, we can make a difference for women like Feng, Farzana, and the millions of unnamed women who cry out every day for justice. They are our sisters.
So, I ask you, my sisters, to join me in a “War FOR Women.” For my part, I will look to the Blessed Mother of God, whom the early Church proclaimed as Champion General in the battle between Good and Evil. I will wrap my hands around my rosary, my weapon against the enemy and my school of justice and love. I ask you to claim the banner of what you profess as holy and worthy. I ask you to wrap your hands around what helps you to be brave and teaches you to be good. Let’s start today. Right now. Let’s start by telling the stories of women who cannot tell their own stories. Let’s start by organizing women in our campus feminist groups, parish Bible studies, book clubs, mothers groups, homeschooling co-ops, and pro-life ministries to raise money, raise awareness, pray, collect supplies, write politicians and our local newspapers and our religious leaders, and anything else we can think of to help our sisters in need. The next time we hear a friend or colleague gripe about the so-called ”War on Women,” let’s take the opportunity to remind them that there are women in the world who are truly under siege and who risk violence and death for the serious crime of being born a woman.
Let’s fight the “War FOR Women.” If we fight it together, I know — with God’s help — we will be victorious.