I was talking to a friend last week who has done quite a bit of global travel, and much volunteer work helping in third world countries. It was International Women’s Day so our conversation turned to topics of women’s equality. As we discussed some of the gender-based injustices she has seen that are commonplace in other parts of the world, we both agreed that we are blessed to live where we do. The she asked me a question that challenged me and made me pause to think before responding, “When you compare what we in the US refer to as gender-based violence, e.g., date and acquaintance rape, sexual harassment in the workplace, or being objectified in the media, to what women worldwide are subjected to, e.g., honor killings, forced child brides, sex trafficking, genital mutilation, does it ever feel to you like we’ve got ‘first world problems’ that don’t deserve this much attention?”
Hmmm… how to respond? Yes, the life experience of women in war torn countries, in third world countries, in many parts of the world has a level of brutality and injustice that is unthinkable to us. But does that mean that our efforts to expose discrimination, to address injustice and to work toward equality are frivolous or self-indulgent? They are not. As the old adage says, ‘a rising tide raises all ships’. When we look for innovation, whether in technology, health care, or social justice, we often look to the best practices in countries that excel.
So no, I don’t think it’s a waste of resources to focus on issues of equality that affect our ‘first world’ lives. In fact, if you want to continue this discussion, check out the Women Not Objects website. They’ve got some great videos that illustrate the harm caused by the objectification of women in the advertisements we see every day. Every parent should watch these videos with their daughters… and their sons… to open a dialogue about how media influences not only what we purchase, but what we think.
But our activism can’t stop with what we see every day… it should extend across the globe to address those horrible injustices my friend has seen. Many of us don’t have the ability to do global volunteerism, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make a difference. For example, a local women’s service organization, Soroptimist International of Saratoga County has made lives better for women and girls locally and also globally through their support of projects.
Each year they contribute toward local projects like: