I know I'm three days late -- November 25th was International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. After reading much comments about this Day, I was left to ask myself nothing but the question: "Is this a human rights issue or is it a women's issue?" I believe it is first the former before the latter. A close look at the story of the three Mirabal Sisters, through whom this world recognition day came about, provides some answers.
One can infer from their story that the women were treated as they were because of their gender, which I partially agree. The thought of having tenacious, intelligent women challenge one's leadership would drive any dictator, in this case, Rafael Trujilo, to order their murder.
Additionally, his unreciprocated romantic advances towards Minerva, one of the sisters, could've only intensified his antipathy toward them. But I believe the murder would've taken place irrespective of who it was. History demonstrates that all dictators tend to rid themselves of any threat, be it a person or thing. In fact, Trujilo's threats were also directed towards the husbands of the Mirabal Sisters, but of course, the women were undeterred by this.
As I pondered on this moment in history, I thought about the African woman and where she fit in all of this - in the context of "Elimination of Violence Against Women." For no particular reason, my thoughts landed on 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Wangari Maathai. Not to say her experience was close to that of the Sisters, but she did endure another form of violence: The humiliating divorce from a man who announced to the world that for a woman, Maathai was too strong-willed, which made it impossible for him to control her (As if a man's purpose in life was to control his woman). After Maathai called the judge who oversaw their divorce "either incompetent or corrupt" in an interview - because he agreed with her ex-husband's cruel statements - he charged her with contempt of court and sentenced her to six months in jail, of which she served a few days. This woman, has since contributed greatly to our environment with her Greenbelt Movement project and others. Maathai, in my humble opinion, deserves acknowledgement on this day.
Another person who deserves recognition is Betty Kavata, a Kenyan woman who lost her life in the hands of her husband. Here's how the story goes: In December 1998, Felix Nthiwa Munayo, a Kenyan police officer, returned home late and requested meat for his dinner. His wife, of course, couldn't provide any because there was none in the house. This exacted beatings, which resulted in Kavata becoming paralyzed and sustaining brain damage, leading to her death five months later - on her 28th birthday. The Kenyan government, after this incident, passed a family protection bill that criminalized such acts and others related to domestic violence. Betty Kavata may not have been able to defend herself like the other women mentioned, but she deserves acknowledgement on this day just the same.
According to a 2001 Amnesty International USA fact sheet, 6,000 women in North Africa undergo genital mutilation everyday. Every six minutes, in the United States, a woman is raped. The report also predicted that an excess of 15,000 women would be sold into sexual slavery in China that year. The list goes on and on.
Although the above cases and millions of others have women targets, they do not take away from the fact that we have a human rights issue at hand. "Human Rights," as universally defined, is the basic rights and freedoms entitled to ALL humans. When someone is attacked or threatened on the basis of their right to life and liberty, it's a human rights issue. When someone is attacked or threatened on the basis of their right to freedom of expression, legal egalitarianism, social, cultural and economic rights, it's a human rights issue.
I sign off today, though, with hope that things will change. I encourage everyone, male or female, to take the issue of human rights very seriously. The African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child" was not meant only for child-rearing, in my opinion. In light of this saying, I believe that it will take us, as a community or village, to extend a hand in solving these problems. Some of our efforts can be invested into supporting non-governmental organizations (NGO) that promote these causes - whether it is volunteering or giving monetarily.
Below is a list of organizations I believe will be worth looking into (these are only suggestions):
United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)