Friday, July 07, 2006

Thankful to be an American

Women' rights have a long way to go in the United States. The history of women's rights in this country is even more embarassing--- I just bought a book "The Boundaries of Her Body: The Troubling History of Women's Rights in America" and it's bigger than my bible!! Yet, I still realize how lucky we are.

Because we didn't grow up in Africa. I mean, the country suffers from a major AIDS crisis and widespread poverty, not to mention terrible political and civil upset. Genocide has left many refugees behind, many of them women (millions of rape victims among them). But we are also lucky to be American because stuff like this happens in Africa. As if female genital mutilation and rape/abduction marriages aren't bad enough... now reports show that 1 in 4 girls living in Cameroon suffer a new form of mutilation.

Breast ironing:

~~~When hard, heated objects (or other substances like boiling water) are used to try to stunt breast growth. When girls begin to develop, often their mothers or older sisters begin the ironing process. Side-effects include "severe pain and abscesses, infections, breast cancer, and even the complete disappearance of one or both breasts." This savage practice has also endangered the next generation. Some victims of ironing cannot produce milk to feed their infants.

Apparently this practice is a very old tradition but it has just started to nab some press time. Women who were themselves victims, are in turn ironing their own daughter's breasts because they believe it's the best thing they can do to protect their daughters from rape.

"A survey of more than 5,000 girls and women aged between 10 and 82 from throughout Cameroon, published last month, estimated that 4 million women in the central African country have suffered the process."

Now, this is a racist thing to say, but I immediately assumed this would be associated with fundamentalist Islam. After all, you most often hear about their atrocities against women as far as genital mutilation (not to mention covering women with burqas). However, breast ironing is most common in the Christian parts of the country. Only 10 percent of women in Muslim provinces are affected. Certainly an eye-opener to me (and hopefully to everyone) that violence against women and disdain for outward signs of sexuality (especially female sexuality) does not discriminate when it comes to religion. It's a worldwide epidemic of fear, distrust and violence directed at females.

I know these questions go without saying but I'll state them anyway... why are women responsible for the sexual abuse they receive? Why are they mutilated for the benefit of men or for their "protection" -- and by mutilated I mean clitorises severed and breasts ironed off. What is next? If lips become a symbol of lust, will they cut those off? If speech becomes too independent, will they cut out a woman's tongue?

These atrocities are an EVERYONE-issue-- basic human rights violations. It was wrong to keep people in shackles because they are black, therefore our slaves. It was wrong to pin on a Star of David and dehumanize, degrade and eventually kill millions of Jews in the Holocaust. It is wrong throw a large sheet over a woman, or iron off her breasts.

Be aware that "women's issues" are really human issues. And be concerned because reactions to what is different, and what we fear are still very, very barbaric.

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