I watched Ben Affleck and Cindy McCain on Good Morning America today trying to bring attention to what is happening to the women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There are 68 Million people in the Congo, it is the 3rd largest country in Africa. Since 1998, over 5 million people have died from violence, poverty, and disease.1.3 million have been forced from their homes. Women have born the brunt of the burden, both paying in the lives of their children and as victims of militia rapes. As Cindy McCain said, “We could lose a generation of women and children.” It can be discouraging to hear those numbers and to understand the profound and long term impact of what happens when you decide that the systematic destruction of women is a battle plan.
But there is good news in Africa, like in Liberia. In fact, the story of women in Liberia is remarkable. When the country descended into civil war, Leymah Gbowee led her countrywomen in three years of non-violent protests and sit-ins, and then in something even more remarkable. Christian and Muslim women came together in 2002 to refuse sex to their husbands until the violence stopped. It worked. The president now is Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a woman, who by all accounts is healing that country.
In a great article for the Daily Beast, Leymah Gbowee says “Women brought sanity to Liberia,” and urges African women to create “peaceful havoc” in their own countries, to stop rape as a weapon as war. The women in Sierra Leone demanded free and fair elections. From the Congo, to Rwanda, and Burundi, women can, if they bind together, protect victims and families by exercising their powerful voices.
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There is also news that China may lift the one-child policy in favor of a two-child policy. Despite those considerations, women, depending on the province, are forced to undergo abortions, even into the 7th, 8th, and 9th months of pregnancy for attempting to have another child. You are probably as horrified as I was when I heard their stories; it’s disgusting. Lifting the one-child policy is the first step in restoring mothers’ control of their own bodies. And, as it turns out, when the Chinese government allowed a pilot two-child program, some families opted for one child anyway. You mean, women can make the decision that's right for their own families? How strange!
For Americans, we remain the only industrialized country in the world that does not offer maternity leave; we have the worst infant mortality rate among industrialized countries. However, those are fixable problems: we can demand a paid maternity leave if we decide we really want it. We can expand prenatal education, invest in teen pregnancy prevention programs, and expand access to health care, which should lower the infant mortality rate. Things aren’t hopeless, and we have the power to affect change if we decide we want it.
Just like our sisters all over the world.