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: Code Blue  Franklin Community Center, Helping Hands School, Junior Achievement NE,  Camp Abilities Saratoga, Rebuilding Together Saratoga, Saratoga Center for the Family, Saratoga EOC, and,Women’s Voices, Women’s Visions. 
But they also support transformational programs worldwide, like;

  • Cinterandes, providing mobile medical support to rural regions in Ecuador where women and girls would not have access to  surgical care without the mobile unit.
  • Building a birthing center in a poor area in Africa. Before this Soroptimist project women gave birth on dirt floors, resulting in heightened child and maternal fatality rates.
  • To Love A Child’s work assisting women and children in war torn Haiti with basic needs, like potable water and toilets to improve sanitation, and
  • Drilling for Hope- by providing accessible clean water in third world countries they not only increase health, but also afford girls the opportunity to go to school.

So, my friend;

  •  Yes there is prejudice, discrimination, oppression and violence committed against women worldwide… and we should all consider this our problem and need to act to end it.
  • No, the magnitude of the need globally does not decrease my desire to address the inequities I see here in the US (in fact, it strengthens that resolve as every stride we take advances hope for women everywhere), and
  • Thank you, for giving me the opportunity to think about these issues and realize that:
    • the work that Wellspring does every day to end relationship and sexual abuse locally, is a small but important piece of a bigger picture, and 
    •  that the fundraisers Soroptimist does (remember to save the date for our Secret Gardens Tour on July 10th) gives people locally a way to help women and girls in our  community… but also to have a real impact across the globe, and 
    •  that efforts to decrease violence against women, to  reduce discrimination, and to promote equality don’t only help women…they raise up whole communities and the men, women and children in them.

So whether you chose to watch one of the many brief videos at Women Not Objects and discuss it with your friends or kids, or whether you learn more about where our political candidates stand on issues of equality, or whether, like my friend, your altruism extends to using your vacation to provide humanitarian relief in far off places, know that you  can make a difference.