Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Half the Sky

"We can’t feel pity. We must see the heart, the soul. Not to get caught up in the story. To just be and have compassion and be willing to love under any circumstance." -- Seane Corn

In reading the moving, shocking book, Half the Sky, I am overcome with sorrow for women of third world countries that do not have the same rights, protection and freedoms that we have in the United States.

What is most compelling about the book, is NOT the horrid statistics presented. (Women aged 15-45 are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents or war combined. A major study by the World Health Org (WHO) found that in most countries, between 30-60% of women had experienced physical or sexual violence by a husband or boyfriend. (But, then it's probably larger, because those types of abuses, including rape, are not reported because it is so stigmatizing.) )

What IS most compelling are the individual stories woven throughout the book, that the authors have witnessed and reported first hand. Not just in Africa or India, but Asia and throughout the world. The women's stories depict triumph over the evils they've endured, and their brave actions show how it does make a difference to help just one person, even when their story does not have a happy ending. The book's hope is to bring light on the need to educate women and not so much on changing legislation but in going into the small villages or areas where culture breeds continuous abuse.

Here's one woman's story:

"Srey Rath was a 15-year-old self-confident Cambodian girl when she was trafficked to a brothel, drugged and beaten, and forced to work 7 days a week, 15 hours a day sleeping with male customers. Condoms were banned, she was never paid, and she was fed just barely enough food to keep her alive. Sex trafficking is frequently forced prostitution, often of teenage girls like Srey Rath. But local organizations, with the help of foreigners, have figured out ways to intervene. Srey Rath embarked on a remarkably dramatic journey in the hopes of getting to freedom and foreign assistance..."

When I lived in Southeast Asia, I remained in areas that were safe and certainly did not venture to the red light districts to witness the sex slave trafficking. The most remote area I visited was the Kampong in the jungles of Malaysia. There just the elderly and women who were illiterate stayed in the huts on stilts that was their homes to raise babies, everyone else left the villages during the week to work or go to school. Malaysia, a Muslim country, has their share of issues with the rights of women -- some of which I became aware of and most of which I was comfortably sheltered from.

I am inspired to see how ordinary people are doing simple, yet extraordinary things. (There are so many detailed in the book -- a 23 year old woman from Minnesota who started a school in the Congo--students from Seattle raise money to build schools and fight slavery in Cambodia-- on and on.

There are things you can do now:

-www.globalgiving.org or www.kiva.org that link you directly to a person in need overseas.
-Sponsor a woman or girl through World Vision or Women for Women International.
-Help students at U of Penn pay for a primary school, www.givology.com
-www.can.care.org to write letters to policy makers

You can make a difference right where you are- no matter where you are because goodness knows there are problems to be faced right in our own backyards, however, it's good to see what the needs of the big, wide world are. The more we're exposed to them, the smaller our world is. That's what I hope to teach my kids: the impact of just one person does make a difference-- right here in Katy, Texas, over in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia or anywhere.


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