Yesterday on International Women's Day, I was being a woman. In the morning I had a Board meeting at one of my children's' schools, then I had to race to a different town to preside over a community meeting which I was Chairing about solutions for local homelessness. Then I rushed home for an interview with the local newspaper for some of the volunteer work I do in our town and then, had just enough time to eat something, write something, answer a few emails and then head off to pick up kids and tend to after school activities.
The next few hours were dedicated to bad-ass driving across town to get my kids from soccer to swim, and back to pick up from skateboarding, grab a to-go snack and head out again to fill up the car with kids coming back, sweaty and wet, from competitive sports, along with a few friends that needed rides. When I got home, I combined some fresh cooking with some left overs from the night before, and called it a nutritious, "be-grateful" dinner. Then it was off to homework assignments, tests to study for, and a little TV to watch the primary results come in - and have the inevitable family talk about values, politics, ideology and the surprising candidacy of Donald Trump.
By the time 10 pm rolled around, I still had plenty left to do, emails left to answer, documents left to edit, post still to make for #IWD2016 and, after all, sleep and prepare for the next full day.
Truth be told, there were a couple of dishes left in the sink, and I poured myself a glass of red wine after the kids retired to bed. Then I sat down to write my traditional International Women's Day post. Wait. The dishes, I thought. In a different place that alone would have given my husband - or dare I say my son - cause to beat me or berate me. A dinner of left overs, dishes in the sink, last minute homework, the mud of dirty cleats on the carpet , a crying child with soap in his eyes -any of those failings would have meant a night full of pain and anguish for a hard working matriarch whose only crime is her gender. It would have meant a morning of sore bones and a bruised face, perhaps shattered dignity after forced sex, and still a day ahead with chores and kids.
Studies show that 9 out 10 women who grow up in strict patriarchal societies believe that they deserve to be beaten or disciplined over a house unkempt or a dinner ill made. In at least two dozen countries around the world there are no domestic violence laws on the books. Yemen, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Niger, Mali, Haiti... none have codified rights for women who are abused inside the family. Egypt, Cameroon, Kenya, Latvia... none have laws that prevent the violation of women in society as a crime punishable by an enforceable law. Iran, Afghanistan, Jordan and Malaysia have laws that speak of crimes against women, but none are enforced, and rarely are they heeded. Most are written in a manner that disincentivizes women from coming forward and many are rigged against the violated gender by requiring too many invasive tests or corroborating witnesses to be realistically prosecuted. So, in effect, they are defunct laws, written only to placate observers.
Today, I was invited to a luncheon to discuss the topic of Muslim identity in America at Southern California Public Radio (#SCPR). An earlier post I had written here, on this #HuffPost blog, had caught the eye of some So Cal Public Radio producers and they invited me for a round table discussion. The over arching theme that emerged from the day was diversity. The diversity of women who were gathered was remarkable, and the manner in which each took comfort in their own identity with the confidence that it was okay to be who they are empowering. In my mind, I contrasted this with the lives of women I know in so many places where who they are, what they feel and how they identify is a non-starter. They are expected to do as they are told, feel as they instructed and identify as they've been taught over the course of a lifetime, in one dimensional tones of subservience.
Sitting amid emancipated women of all sorts, some who relied on religion to guide them and others on an inner compass rooted in the common good, I thought of the struggle women have to establish basic laws to codify their right to be who they choose. As it stands, child marriage continues to be a scourge that plagues roughly fifteen million girls each year. Female genital mutilation remains a condition endured by nearly one hundred and fifty million women around the world. Rape or sexual assault are experienced as prevalently as 90% in some societies, and never less than a statistical rate of 30%. On average, that means 6 out of every ten women, globally, have experienced sexual assault or rape. Very few laws protect women from these ills, especially in places where they are most prevalent.
Today I rely on my rights as a woman to choose my priorities. I count on my right to leave a dish for tomorrow, pour myself a glass of wine and write a blog post to give voice to fellow women. Patriarchy, left unchecked, would take all those rights away and put me in a bruised and battered spot with my back against the wall, like so many I write about in my work. So on this #IWD, and every other day, let's remember the plight of countless women we can't see whose rights to stay unmarried through puberty, or live unabused through marriage, or protect their most private parts from the slit of a cruel knife, are not yet codified. Today and each day forward we must remain vocal about the rights we still need to gain around the world. These aren't a matter of battling for frills, but a struggle for the basic rights that women should enjoy as people, not as a gender class.
#Neverforget how far we have come, or have far we still must go to spread fundamental human fairness and gender dignity to so many corners of the world. If only patriarchy could see the beauty and resilience in matriarchy.