By Lauren Moustakas
Program and Development Associate, G.L.O.B.A.L. Justice
This International Women’s Day we celebrate women everywhere, the work that has been done to advance women’s rights, and the work that is currently being done to benefit women and girls globally. On this day especially, I am grateful for the women who have gone before me and the women who have shaped and influenced the woman I have become.
As a young woman, and human being, I care deeply about the status of women and girls around the world. I feel a strong stir in my spirit when I reflect on the injustices that countless women and girls experience each and every day simply because of their gender: sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation, land grabbing, child marriage, prostitution, human trafficking, domestic as well as general violence, and many other horrific injustices. While not every woman experiences all of these injustices in her lifetime, injustice against women occur globally, cross-generationally, and are not unique to a specific woman or a unique culture. Injustices against women should concern each and every person, regardless of gender, because they are a reflection on how we value women as a collective society. More broadly it is a reflection on how we value human life and inherent human worth.
Looking back on my childhood, I am grateful to be able to say that I cannot recall a time where I felt I was limited in what I could accomplish or be because I was a girl. I was fortunate enough to have parents who instilled in me the confidence that I was valuable simply because I was human, that my inherent value and worth did not come from my gender, my accomplishments, or from other people. While others can influence my surroundings and the doors that are opened to me as a woman, my inherent worth is not something that can be granted or taken away. This is a foundational human rights ideal found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other revolutionary documents such as the Declaration of Independence.
As I have grown, I have learned through my experience and through the experiences of others that treating another person as if they have value simply because of their humanness is not universal. While a person’s inherent value cannot be dictated or granted by another, the way and reasons that they are valued by others can directly affect their lives. In the United States where women have greater human rights and freedom than much of the world, this can be experienced in even seemingly small ways such as going to a car dealership and being treated differently than a male companion, social emphasis placed on finding a husband instead of furthering education and careers, or feeling vulnerable to or experiencing objectification and violence while walking about in broad daylight. These are significantly small in comparison to the amount of violence and oppression women face around the world, but speak volumes regarding the way women are valued and how others have been conditioned to value women in the United States and throughout the world.
While a woman’s inherent value and human rights does not change with their surroundings and culture, the way that women are treated and experience life changes due to how their value as humans is measured by others, which is often as a commodity. This is clearly illustrated in places like Cambodia where often mothers are told when they give birth to girls that they are lucky because if they fall on hard times they can always sell their daughter’s body. Their value is defined by others as source of income. In China, a combination of a one child policy and a value for carrying on the family name has resulted in an astounding number of girls being aborted or abandoned as infants. In developing countries around the world, families who can only afford to send one child to school will typically choose to send their son rather than their daughter, because daughters are seen as a greater value to help at home or to be married for security or financial reasons.
The issue of value is also apparent in the sexual exploitation of women and girls globally through sex trafficking, prostitution, rape and pornography. In each of these modes of sexual exploitation women and girls are seen and used as a means to gratify the buyer and users desires, a commodity instead of a human being with inherent value. This issue runs deep and can be vividly seen in areas such as the current global human trafficking concern and even the way that advertisements and media portray women to sell or promote a product. If women and girls were seen and treated with their inherent value as human beings this exploitation and these industries would cease to exist.
While there is much yet to address, great work has been done to advance women’s rights and human rights globally. Recognition of International Woman’s Day gives us the opportunity to reflect on what has been done and what has yet to be accomplished. While the focus of the day is on women and girls, every person has a role in addressing root issues of women and human justice concerns. Each individual has the ability to influence their community and culture from one that sees women and girls as objects and commodities, to one that sees women and girls as humans with an inherent value and worth.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by G.L.O.B.A.L. Justice. We are a faith-based, nonpartisan organization that seeks to extend the conversation about justice with a posture of dignity and respect.