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Reasons for Despair and Hope for Women

March 7, 2011

By Marianne Comfort, Institute Justice Team

As we mark today the 100th anniversary of the first International Women’s Day, it seems appropriate to assess the status of women around the world. Judging by some recent reading, briefings and website scans, it’s a pretty mixed picture.

I’m making my way through Half the Sky, a superb book about both the oppression and empowerment of women. Authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn  recount horrific tales of human trafficking into the sex trade in Asia, and of genital mutilation and of rape as a weapon of war in Africa. But they also share stories of women refusing to remain silent about their brutal violation, women starting schools as alternatives for girls at risk of such exploitation and women starting microfinancing projects that enable other women to improve their lives by starting small businesses.

I came upon more reasons for both despair and hope over the past couple of weeks. Among them:

• Nonprofits reporting their observations about human trafficking around the world to US State Department officials. At this meeting I heard concerns about diplomats bringing women and girls to this country as domestic slaves and employers exploiting immigrants here on work visas, as well as hope-filled initiatives such as training of flight attendants and other who might come in contact with victims and refer them to authorities.

• Stories shared by Mercy Beyond Borders in Sudan of women’s lives being transformed through literacy classes and of an effort to enroll more girls in high school.

• Mercy Sisters Carol Rittner and Deirdre Mullan’s new booklet, “Are Women Human? Violence against Women and Girls,” which was launched March 1, during the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations.

• Discouragement that the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has yet to be ratified by the U.S., mixed with hope for Senate hearings to be held this year.

• A fascinating article by a professor at Mercy-founded Mount Aloysius College that links the oppression of women with terrorism and war in ways I had never considered before. Not only does he note that women often bear the brunt of the effects of violence; he also makes connections between cultures of male domination and political violence and suggests that empowerment of women moderates violent tendencies and leads to a stabilization of societies.

The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, who have identified concern for women as one of their major social justice focuses, will continue to serve women through direct services and advocacy. You can read here about some current efforts, andsign up to receive more information about advocacy on issues affecting women and ways to contact lawmakers on timely legislation.

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