Women Of CouragePosted: March 11, 2012
To read the biographies of this year’s recipients of the Women of Courage awards is nothing short of inspiring. These are women who have put their lives and futures on the line to improve the quality of life for others, most specifically women and girls in parts of the world where to be female is extraordinarily difficult, even life-threatening. These are women who would make our Bread and Roses mavens proud, infuse enough energy to conjure those slumbering spirits for another boisterous rally, another yelp for dignity and freedom.
Maryam Durani, a member of the Provencial Council, Kandahar, Afghanistan was one of ten women cited and honored last Thursday in a ceremony, hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Here’s a wee bit of her story:
Afghanistan as we all know is not an oasis of women’s liberation. But Ms. Durani has pitched herself against the traditional Afghani sensibility, standing as a role model and leader in a country of ancient tribal traditions and strict paternalistic mindsets. She is the director of the nonprofit Women’s Center for Culture and owns and operates a radio station, which focuses on informing women of their rights. And the inherent risks of demanding those rights.
She should know. A suicide bomber nearly ended her life, leaving her with serious injuries. The death threats haven’t stopped. Yet, she persists as do the women she serves because in a world where women, by virtue of their gender are considered the enemy, a threat by merely existing as autonomous human beings, there is only one response: fight back.
Here is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton introducting Ms. Durani during the Awards Ceremony last week:
Many of the women honored this year and in the past have put themselves on the frontline, encountering serious security threats to themselves and their families. They are not the first and sadly, they won’t be the last. The complete list of awardees can be found here.
In January 2011, many people were horrified when the body of Susana Chavez was discovered in a shallow grave. Chavez, a young poet activist, gave voice to the disappeared women in Juarez, Mexico, nearly 800 women at the time, only to be ‘disappeared’ herself. She was later found tortured, strangled, her body mutilated.
What was her offense?
She would not stop questioning, haranguing, annoying public officials for their inadequate investigations into the deaths of so many women. She was making trouble because she gave voice to those who had no voice, often no identity because their bodies had been disfigured, disposed of, forgotten.
Chavez refused to forget. She refused to be silent. Giving voice to the abuse of others seems to be a constant thread in all these stories.
In addition to the official US awards, PEN International remembered the murdered women writers of Mexico, eleven murders in 2011, five of whom were women. Since 2006, forty-five writers/journalists/bloggers have been murdered or disappeared because of their investigative/ activist work.
Susana Chavez is on the PEN International list. So is Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz, the mother of two and a veteran crime/political reporter. She was abducted by gunmen in front of her home, only to be later found decapitated. The message is clear: remain silent or this could be you.
Threats, torture, rape, imprisonment and murder is too often the fate of women who will not be silent, who refuse to get with programs that would restrain and silence them and their sisters. And yet, like Maryam Durani and others, they persist. They refuse to back down.
We have our own homegrown fight in the United States, those who would roll back a woman’s right to direct her reproductive life, choose her own destiny. Here the punishment is humiliation, censor, scorn, name-calling, legislative measures to equate a woman’s fully realized life with that of a zygote, even the willingness to probe a woman’s decision-making process [because authoritarians find women incapable of ‘right-minded’ action, otherwise known as ‘their way or the highway’].
In all these efforts, the purpose is to demean, limit, control, even eliminate women because the Daughters of Eve are traditionally viewed as a danger, a threat to the status quo. There’s a reason Lilith is rarely mentioned. She was wa-a-ay too uppity.
But here’s the thing: even for those of us not facing mortal danger, we can have an impact by the way we live our lives, support other women, raise our daughters and sons and in the way we give voice to those who have pushed back against female abuse in all its forms, here and around the world, past and present.
Because to quote Hillary Clinton’s famous line: Women’s Rights are indeed Human Rights. Our quest should be to fulfill Susana Chavez’s words: Ni Una Mas. Ni Una Mas.
Not One More.