By Sr. Marcelline Koch, OP (Springfield, IL USA)
“A nation is not conquered until the hearts of its women are on the ground.” I heard these words from Canadian indigenous women when I attended the 2016 U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. The women spoke for women throughout the world when they declared in the next sentence: “Our hearts are strong!”
8,000 women from around the world came to the United Nations in New York to speak for themselves and the women in their countries. Numerous sessions focused on the violence that is a part of women’s experience. 60.3 million women live in parts of the world where violence against women isn’t a crime. This violence is a disease; when it gets to the whole body, it is hard to cure.
While women in the U.S. suffer violence, our experience doesn’t match that of girls and women who struggle against female genital mutilation, child marriage, and conflict violence. Our efforts need to be in solidarity with all girls and women.
Though the areas of violence can be named separately, they are also interrelated. Under the umbrella of patriarchy, the violence of trafficking, prostitution, pornography, female genital mutilation, child marriage, and rape in war speaks to the perceived right and power over women’s bodies.
Violence against women is exacerbated during time of conflict. If the conflict ceases, women are excluded from the peacemaking efforts. It is often said that they need training, need to speak with one voice. Yet training in peacemaking isn’t required of the men at the table, nor are they expected to speak with one voice. Women care, cook, and run households. Why couldn’t they be at the peace table? Not only is it women’s right to be at table, they are helpful to the process.
If girls and women escape a war torn area, they are at great risk as refugees. Jordan, which has hosted refugees since 1948, has a population of 9.5 million, and 2.5 million are refugees. 80% of these refugees are women. Men cannot get work, and that often leads to domestic violence.
Seventeen years is the average length of displacement for refugees. The social effects of this displacement lead to child marriages (a cultural practice and a way to “protect” the girl), prostitution, and sexual exploitation. Underage marriages are not documented, wives have no rights, and children are born stateless.
Inheritance laws prohibit women from inheriting and owning land. Thus, widows whose husbands are killed in conflicts are left defenseless. Women make up 67% of the rural work force, but cannot inherit the land they cultivate.
For development to occur in the world, gender violence needs to be eliminated. And women are speaking and acting for that to happen. Women are resisting; and women are resilient. That gives us all great hope.