Wednesday, February 13, 2013

My piece of the puzzle

Countless wide, brown eyes silently blink back painful stories of their childhood. Their faces are young; most of these girls are under 15. Many still single digit ages. Their beautiful eyes hide untold horrors and though their faces are childlike, these girls have endured more than most can even imagine. Violence against women takes many forms: rape, female genital mutilation, denied access to an education, withholding of resources, gendercide, sex slavery, gender inequality, structural violence...the list goes on.  In nearly all corners of the world, the reality of being born female equals a life of pain and unimaginable hardship.

I've spent the last two hours watching a gripping documentary filmed by New York Times writers Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and the International Rescue Committee. It's more than a documentary however, Half the Sky started as a book that has ignited a global awareness campaign dedicated to curbing gender-based violence. The stories are heartbreaking and powerful, especially since you know there are so many more who never make it to the pages of a book. So many voices we still haven't heard. So many injustices that have never been prosecuted.

As I watch, I'm flooded with a variety of strong - and often conflicting - thoughts and emotions. Primarily, my mind races with how I can possibly help. How can I use my studies here and my experiences here to make a difference there? How can I find the right internship or the right opportunities to find myself in circles where I can help such women and girls? I want to be there so desperately it becomes an ache; an ache for suffering peoples I can only read and watch about for now. There is so much that needs doing, so many needs that have not yet been met, and I yearn to be somewhere, doing something, right now.
However, for the first time in my life, I feel simultaneously constrained. Not by my gender, or my education, or lack of opportunities....but by my race. My background. My skin color. Having studied international development, medical anthropology, global health and the politics of inequality, I have realized that real change can only come from the empowerment of local communities. Local men and women. I, and any international organization for that matter, cannot descend into a community with our technology and "expertise", announce societal ills, and slap on our proposed solutions. It must come from within. It must come from the empowerment of local voices and local vision. I struggle with knowing my place in the puzzle knowing that I'm white. I cannot relate to these victims; their life stories are so much deeper and painful than my own. I cannot understand the complexities of the deeply rooted socio-political and economic forces at play. I cannot see the world as they do. And yet I know I have things to share, services to offer, love to give. I just don't know my place.

During my time researching in Mexico, I uncovered countless unexpected stories of domestic violence. A question we added last minute revealed painful realities that overwhelmed me as I listened to my interviewees. Many times after heavy interviews, I would sit on a streetside curb and just breathe; controlling my thoughts so as not to cry. The stories are real, matter-of-fact, "normal", and powerfully tragic. The women who are raped by their husbands. The women who are unable to leave their homes or denied access to care. The man who explained why, since wife-beating is frowned upon in the U.S., he brought a container of Mexican soil with him and his family when he migrated: when he's angry at his wife, he pours a bit onto their kitchen floor and makes her stand on it so he can beat her "on Mexican dirt".

There's a problem here. I know my piece fits in somewhere.


Freckled Philologist said...

Just soaking it in and knowing that you will see more pieces fit together in this lifetime than you can imagine now. Ánimos.

Enrique Soto said...

Risa, esta entrada es de antología. Gracias por compartirlo.
Un abrazo.