By Ashanti ”Accel” Henderson
Acid attacks, bride burnings, female infanticide, genital mutilation, honor killings, rape…the list of violent crimes against women and girls goes on and on. In many parts of the world, these forms of gender-based violence, which are often times a death sentence, are considered part of tradition. This tradition of misogyny, more graphically termed “gendercide,” has killed more women and girls than men killed “in all the wars of the twentieth century” (Kristof 14). Despite this ongoing female holocaust, the murder of hundreds of millions of people has been relegated to the periphery of international concerns as merely “women’s issues” until relatively recently.
This past October 11 marked the third annual United Nations observance of the International Day of the Girl Child (IDGC). Promulgated just a few years ago on December 19, 2011, UN Resolution 66/170 for IDGC targets teenage girls as the critical age group for female empowerment. This year’s theme was Empowering Adolescent Girls: Ending the Cycle of Violence. In developing countries, school dropout rates for girls are highest between their preteen and early teen years. Given that girls in particular cultures are even allowed to pursue an education in the first place, many girls later leave school, voluntarily or forcibly, to support their impoverished families and/or to be married. Young girls seeking work often end up as victims of sex-trafficking and contract life-threatening venereal diseases, such as AIDS. Young girls forced into child marriage usually experience a variation of domestic abuse from an older husband; death during childbirth or complications leading to injury or death after childbirth; and cyclical poverty due to the lack of influence over household expenditures.
To varying extents around the world, a woman’s worth as a human being is still measured by her status as a virgin. The loss of her virginity before marriage is her fall from grace and further devaluation in society. This archaic view of womanhood still held around the globe is represented in this neo-Confucian precept from China’s Song Dynasty: “For a woman to starve to death is a small matter, but for her to lose her chastity is a calamity” (Kristof 124). Since then, China has recognized that educating its women provides the best return on investment for its success as a world power. According to Nicholas Kristof, New York Times journalist and author of Half the Sky, China has led the way as a model for developing countries of how to integrate women as contributing citizens in order to improve socioeconomic mobility and decrease oppression of females, i.e., foot-binding and female infanticide (284). The title of Kristof’s book is taken from a more modern Chinese proverb —“Women hold up half the sky”— coined by Mao, under whom women historically made the most political gains as equal citizens in Chinese society up until that point.
The education of women serves as a catalyst not only for economic growth, but also for ending violence against females. Education is key to alleviating poverty because it allows women to participate in society, thus expanding their earning potential. This newfound female earning potential increases the regard for women as valuable members of society with economic leverage and, in turn, decreases violence against women. Also, once a woman is viewed as valuable to her family and society, her health improves. Her ability to contribute to the financial wellbeing of her household encourages her parents or spouse to view her life as being just as important as her brother’s or son’s, so they will think it is worth spending their limited money to keep her healthy and alive (Kristof).
The domino effect of education demonstrates the influence of female empowerment on attitudes about women as people. In developing and underdeveloped nations, not only men, but women need to be educated about the importance of women. It is the case in developing nations that many women have become complicit in their own oppression and abuse to some extent. While boys are often raised to believe that they are entitled to beat or rape women simply because they are males, girls are often conditioned by their communities to believe that they deserve such treatment. Often, it is other women who lure young girls to brothels as coerced sex workers. Often, the mother is the one who will spend money on medicine for her boy child but leave the recovery of her girl child to fate.
This upcoming November 25 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, another UN observance recognizing the severity of the problem of gender-based violence in our world. UN Resolution 54/134, passed almost exactly 10 years prior to the one declaring IDGC, signaled government recognition that the world must make the wellbeing of women a priority on the global agenda in order to succeed in the modern world. As part of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women (UNiTE) campaign, he has called upon people at all levels to support the empowerment of women for the betterment of the world.
The mission of Delta Phi Lambda Sorority, Inc. is to empower female leaders and promote Asian Awareness. As Asian American women, our conviction of the importance of education and our importance as women are things that mostly likely influenced our decision to join Delta Phi Lambda. This year alone, several chapters of Delta Phi Lambda have held events and started campaigns addressing women’s rights. In October, the Iota Chapter at Grand Valley State University hosted an “Empowering Women Together” workshop to discuss domestic violence and safety. Earlier this year, the Alpha Chapter at the University of Georgia led a counter-campaign against the infamous WomenAgainstFeminism Tumblr movement.
Living in America, Sisters have the privilege of education despite the obstacles we face as Asian American women, so it is time to pay it forward. Put an empowering spin on the “fall of woman” this autumn, and use it to give voices to women everywhere. Support the Secretary-General’s UNiTE campaign by creating a local community event or participating in Orange Day on the 25th of every month. Take to social media to encourage girls all over the globe to be ambitious and aim high. Plan a study abroad or mission trip to volunteer in areas of female education, health and economic empowerment. Start your own organization focused on education, public health or micro-finance. Or simply be a role model, whether it be in your community or on the silver screen.
How will you empower women and girls to lead the world?
- International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. (n.d.). United Nations News Center. Retrieved October 24, 2014, from http://www.un.org/en/events/endviolenceday/index.shtml
- International Day of the Girl Child. (n.d.). United Nations News Center. Retrieved October 24, 2014, from http://www.un.org/en/events/girlchild/index.shtml
- Kristof, N., & WuDunn, S. (2009). Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
- United Nations General Assembly. (2009). Resolution 66/170. International Day of the Girl Child. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/66/170
- UNiTE to End Violence against Women. (n.d.) United Nations News Center. Retrieved November 2, 2014, from http://www.un.org/en/women/endviolence/