Have you heard of Malala Yousafzai?
She’s a 15-year-old girl in Pakistan who recently made a name for herself by speaking out in defense of education for girls. Since the age of 11, she’s been writing and reporting on the BBC’s Urdu Service.
The Taliban have not taken kindly to her rising prominence, or her outspoken defiance of their teachings. So on October 9th, they shot young Malala in the head while she waited for her school bus. Miraculously the bullet did not penetrate her skull, traveling instead under the skin along the side of her head. She is now in England recovering and is making an amazing comeback.
Today is Election Day. Over the past months, the environment has been caustic, with extremist generalizations made in an attempt to tar and feather opponents.
It has become a dizzying frenzy of incendiary slogans and terrifying claims in an effort to win.
Take, for instance, the term, “War on Women.”
Some would call it the red cape in the bullfight, meant to distract us from a flagging economy, stagnant unemployment rate, and foreign affairs fiascos. Others see it as a rallying cry to protect the hard-earned rights of women from being trampled upon.
As a young woman living in the United States, it can be easy to forget how much I have, to focus on what I lack, and to lose perspective all together as I get caught up in the din of voices around me.
Voices that tell me a War on Women is:
Having to pay for my own birth control because I want to have sex while I attend a top Ivy League college. Or any college.
Being given a mandatory waiting period before having an abortion. And increased standards and rules for that procedure, in the name of making that decision as safe as possible.
Any restrictions on our access to contraceptives, limitations to abortion, or financial cost for what is our right, not a privilege.
These are assaults that we’re told are waged against us and oppress the women of this country.
Yet reality comes glaringly into focus when I read about a 15-year-old girl who displays a courage that is humbling and convicting. The world instantly becomes bigger than my little sphere and I see my problems and grievances in a different light.
The light of what most women face in the world:
Mandated to cover your body from head to toe because your very presence as a female is considered lust-inducing, sinful, and a reminder to men that they are not gods who walk this earth.
Forced to undergo the brutal process of female circumcision to ensure your virginity upon marriage and lack of pleasure, ever.
Deprived of the same education opportunities afforded boys, including college or pursuing any dream you might have because your gender makes you a second class citizen
Sold to men with rough hands and foul mouths who perform the unspeakable so that your family can eat for a month, at an age when most girls are still playing with dolls.
Your child ripped from your womb because you dared to defy your government’s One-Child Policy.
Killed in the womb because you’re a girl and not the boy your parents want in order to pass on the family name.
THAT is the real War on Women.
As a woman living in America, I have been given something invaluable, something that can be taken for granted in the drive for more: Choice, unbelievable amounts of choice.
The choice whether or not to go to college, to pursue a career and in a field that actually interests me. I have a choice about when I want to have sex and with whom. I have not one, but three choices if I become pregnant. I can choose to express myself through my wardrobe, through my writing, in public talks or at private dinner parties. I can marry for love, for money, for status – it is my choice.
I realize there are exceptions, women in America for whom the choice of sex is brutally taken from them, women who struggle in chauvinistic workplace, or come from homes that still view them as the lesser of the two genders. Which means that there is still work to be done.
But if you know how to read these words, and you have the resources by which to read them, then you are part of a privileged minority, the minority that has a Choice:
Will you fight the real War on Women or selfishly insist that others continue to pay for your decisions and build your dreams for you?
A War on Women is not you having to pay for your own choices. That’s called being responsible.
The real War on Women is what Malala Yousafzai and millions of other women around the world endure daily: beatings, slavery, extreme poverty, caste systems, and horrific regimes.
These women of every age and race do not merely survive under these circumstances, they manage to thrive with strength and courage.
They are a reminder to me that my grievances are small, that what I possess is abundantly overwhelming, and that I have been given an incredible gift: Choices.