Saturday, April 9, 2016

So how do we rid ourselves from it? by Trista Hendren

Painting by Arna Baartz

I realized yesterday that I have expected feminism to fix the entire world and now I am laughing at myself. My expectation likely stems from the early years of my life where I thought Christianity, or my faith in Jesus, would fix the world—or at least everything that was wrong in mine. 

Feminism as a movement doesn’t have much money—and most feminists I know don't personally either. We still don’t have enough in the way of numbers or energy to do this realistically on our own. But I still believe we can rally. I still believe we can do it. We have to.

Nawal El Saadawi wrote:

“To rid ourselves of this system is the only way to become free. Freedom for women will never be achieved unless they unite into an organized political force powerful enough and conscious enough and dynamic enough to truly represent half of society.”[1]

So how do we rid ourselves from it? While I consider myself a radical feminist, I do not think it is logical or realistic to expect half the world to divorce themselves from their religion—or even patriarchy itself—all at once. As someone who has been divorced twice, I know that divorce takes time. There are years of feelings and realizations that come ahead of the decision—and then, of course, the paperwork and bureaucracy that follows before it is “final.”

But it never really is done. You are always linked to someone you were married to and shared a life with whether by children or a strange attachment and familiarity that never quite goes away.

So it is with religion, but to a deeper extent. Religion is like an invisible chain that locks your feet, hands and heart up directly to both your parents and the grandparents behind you who share it.

The hymns and the prayers and the traditions are forever imprinted on your soul, no matter how you might try to escape them.

So I understand. 

But I also experience extreme frustration at the pace of change.

It breaks my heart to see young girls prostituted. It gashes my soul to know how many of my sisters have been beaten and raped. It breaks my spirit to know how many of us would rather turn away than address the problem.

Andrea Dworkin wrote:

“We live in a world where men kill women and the motives are not personal at all. As any woman in this room who has ever been beaten or raped knows, it is one of the most impersonal experiences you will ever have. You are a married woman. You live with a man. You think that he knows you and you know him. But when he begins to hurt you, he does it because you’re a woman—not because you’re whoever you are.”[2]

Women are beaten, raped and murdered with surprising regularity. No one seems to blink. Our societies at large still hold on to the fear and hatred of woman as Goddess.

Amy Logan wrote in The Seven Perfumes of Sacrifice[3], “Every time they butcher a woman for honor, they’re killing the Goddess.” I believe that is true with every rape and murder of a female, and to a somewhat lesser extent, every time a woman is hit, verbally abused or forced to live in poverty.

According to 2013-2014 figures from the UN and World Health Organization[4]:
One billion, two hundred and forty-six million women[5] have been battered during their lifetime. WHO states that: “Most of this violence is intimate partner violence. Worldwide, almost one-third (30%) of all women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner, in some regions this is much higher. Furthermore, globally as many as 38% of all murders of women are committed by intimate partners.[6]

One hundred and forty million girls and women have been the victims of female genital mutilation. Three million girls in Africa alone are at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation every single year.[7] In the midst of finishing this introduction, The Guardian reported that this number was under-reported by seventy-million.[8]

Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children. More than 1 in 3—approximately 250 million—were married before 15.[9] This number does not appear to be included in WHO's rape statistics, although it certainly should be.

At least 700 million women and girls have been the victims of rape or other forced sexual acts in their lifetimes.[10]

As someone who spends a lot of time devoted to feminist issues—and in the company of women—I believe most of these numbers are very low compared to the reality, especially as related to sexual violence. I may have missed it somewhere, but I don’t recall seeing the word “incest” mentioned even one time in any report by WHO or the UN. As Mia Fontaine noted in her viral incest article in The Atlantic, “Child sexual abuse impacts more Americans annually than cancer, AIDS, gun violence, LGBT inequality, and the mortgage crisis combined.”[11] I shudder to think of what the international figures look like.

The UN also put out an in-depth 90-page report on Human Trafficking stating that it disproportionately victimizes women and girls, but concluded that “there is no sound estimate of the number of victims of trafficking in persons worldwide.”[12] The UN notes that “It should be kept in mind that official data reported to UNODC by national authorities represent only what has been detected. It is clear that the reported numbers are only the tip of the iceberg.”[13]

If you follow the money, it's easy to see this is a huge problem for women and girls everywhere. Multiple sources site profits of human trafficking at $32 billion every year. And the average price of a “slave” globally is said to be $90.[14] The original figure I saw stated that eleven million women and girls were coerced, abducted, sold or trafficked into forced labor, but I was not able to substantiate it via official sources. However, based on the profit margins, I'd estimate that figure to be significantly higher.

WHO noted that their figures on domestic violence don't include girls who are married before 15. Given the fact that 1 in 9 girls in the developing world are married before the age of 15,[15] this is troubling. No one who “marries” a little girl has her best interests at heart, and by definition each of these “marriages” involves rape. WHO also stated that figures for women older than 49 were “scarce and tended to be from high-income countries.”[16] That is quite a lot of females who are not represented in these figures at all.

WHO conceded that their report was limited:

“The estimates of prevalence and health burden were limited to physical and sexual intimate partner violence and did not include emotional/psychological abuse, even though qualitative research shows this to be an important element of intimate partner violence, which many women report as being particularly disabling and resulting in ill health.” [17]

There is no mention of financial abuse[18] at all in these reports, although it is believed to occur in 98% of domestic violence cases.[19] After spending days pouring through this data, I found no real answers. It seems we also bury the lives of women and girls deep within the monotonous statistics.

WHO states that, “Violence against women is a global public health problem of epidemic proportion, requiring urgent action.”[20]

So, why don't our policies anywhere in the world reflect this urgency? When are the UN and WHO going to do more than just write reports? Can you understand why I think we need a Girl God?

-Trista Hendren, Excerpt from Jesus, Muhammad and the Goddess

[1]El Saadawi, Nawal. The Hidden Face of Eve. Beacon Press, 1982.
[2]Dworkin, Andrea. “Terror, Torture and Resistance" in Canadian Woman Studies/Les Cahiers de la Femme, fall 1991, Volume 12, Number 1.     
[3]Logan, Amy. The Seven Perfumes of Sacrifice. Priya Press, 2012.
[4]World Health Organization, 2013.                
[5]This figure was extrapolated from statistics from the WHO report, initially reported by the “What She Said” Facebook page.        
[6]World Health Organisation. 2013.               
[7] World Health Organisation. 2013.
[8]Elgot, Jessica. “FGM: number of victims found to be 70 million higher than thought.” The Guardian. 2/5/16.
“The latest worldwide figures, compiled by Unicef, include nearly 70 million more girls and women than estimated in 2014 because of a raft of new data collected in Indonesia, one of the countries where FGM is most prevalent despite the practice being banned since 2006. Claudia Cappa, the report’s lead author, said data from Indonesia shows FGM was practised more widely than researchers thought. “In countries where data was not available, we had previously only had anecdotal evidence. We knew Indonesia has a growing population of women and girls, but I would say (these figures) are higher than expected,” she said. “It shows it is a global issue, when the focus has previously been on Africa.”
[9]Based on the conservative one in five figure for women and girls worldwide.
[11]Fontaine, Mia. “America has an Incest Problem.” The Atlantic, January 24, 2013.
[12]UNODC, Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2014.
(United Nations publication, Sales No. E.14.V.10). © United Nations, November 2014.
[13]UNODC, Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2014.
(United Nations publication, Sales No. E.14.V.10). © United Nations, November 2014.           
[15]International Center for Research on Women. “Child Marriage Facts and Figures.”
[16]World Health Organisation Global and Regional Estimates of Violence Against Women. p 18, 2013.
[17]World Health Organisation. p 39, 2013. 
[18]Financial abuse will be the topic of an upcoming Girl God Book, co-written with AJ Lee. Also see the comprehensive Australian report on financial abuse, “His Money or Our Money” by Elizabeth Branigan.         
[19]Shin, Laura. “'I'll Take Care Of The Bills': The Slippery Slope Into Financial Abuse”. Forbes, March 19, 2015.
[20]World Health Organisation. 2013.

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