I am thankful to be born in a country where I have the right to vote, as guaranteed by the nineteenth amendment to the United States Constitution. I am protected by law against abuse and neglect. I received compulsory education. I have access to health care. I didn’t earn these benefits; they came by default by way of place. I am born in a place where I am free and equal in the eyes of the law.
Others are not so lucky. They are born in a place where they are not free or equal. They don’t have protection by their country’s founding documents. They are not protected by law from abuse or neglect. They don’t receive an education, at least not equal to their counterparts. They don’t have access to health care, at least not equal to their counterparts. They are not being punished by any action on their part. It is, be default, by way of place.
There is an ancient Chinese proverb that states “Women hold up half the sky.” Maybe in industrialized, democratic countries they do, but in developing dictatorships they are not allowed to. An African proverb affirms, “If you educate a boy, you educate an individual. If you educate a girl, you educate a community.” This is so telling, for in countries where girls are not educated, the nation is stagnant in its economy, violence is rampant, and society never enters the 20th century.
Because of place, a girl is mutilated in the guise of keeping her from promiscuity. She doesn’t have the right to say no to this brutal act. Because of place, a woman is molested by a soldier fighting a civil war. No one hears her cries as she is just another enemy to destroy.
Because of place, a girl isn’t educated. She doesn’t have the opportunity to bring her community into modernity. Because of place, a woman doesn’t get prenatal care, and dies trying to give birth to a baby, leaving her children motherless.
There are more slaves in the present slave trade than there ever was during the African slave trade. These are enslaved in the sex trade, being bought and sold as a piece of property to be used, abused, and left for dead.
Literacy is the path to empowerment. Thus, in countries where men hold and enforce power, girls are handicapped by their inability to perform these basic skills that we take for granted.
Women without access to maternal care are force to give birth unattended. Prolonged labor can result in fistulas, which weaken the muscles of the bladder and anus, causing the mother to not be able to control her urination or defecation.
Women who are not allowed to work deny their communities half the resources it could use to help the very ones who need it: families. If they work and control the family funds, the family is provided for, and the money is saved.
Of course, we in developed nations don’t always have freedoms and equality. It has only been near 100 years since we gained suffrage in America. But we are getting there, slowly but surely, to the point where half the sky is not only a quote but also a reality.
In developing nations in Africa and Asia, due to the government, or lack thereof, women and girls are still living in the harsh reality of abuse, neglect, death, and horror. But there are a few shining lights in the darkness of this hell.
Edna Adan built a maternity hospital in Somaliland. This place has the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world. Not only does her hospital provide maternal care where there is none, it also fights against genital mutilation.
Rebecca Lolosoli founded the Umoja Uaso village in Kenya, a safe refuge for women and their children to escape the abuse and neglect from the men in their lives. They raise chickens and sell native crafts to sustain themselves and provide an education for their children.
Somaly Mam rescues girls and women from brothels in Southeast Asia, and provides these victims a home, education, health care, and vocational training.
Urmi Basu provides education, health care, vocational opportunities, and legal aid to women and children trying to escape prostitution in the red light district of Kolkata, India.
There are many more, countless numbers of brave women who decided to, in one way or another, live out the old adage and lift the sky, for all of their fellow countrymen, and women. They defied the constraints they face, in their place, to enact a better place for the generations to come. Because of these brave women, maybe someday all women around the world will be able to join us, in this place, to “lift the sky.”