I listen to the stories on National Public Radio on my way to work. I come from a family of strong courageous women, blessed by a grandmother who fought for equal rights for both women and people of color in her little town, long before laws were passed in the US. She served as a city leader, led the charge to integrate the schools, and fought for good education for all children, poor and rich alike. In a time when many children in her school came from poor rural homes, often without running water, she felt they needed to be taught, not just ignored because their clothes were dirty and torn, or their bodies smelled. At times other teachers did not even wish to give them textbooks, thinking it was just a waste of time and money. But my grandmother spent time both in class and after school, tutoring, advising, and giving recommendations for jobs and help with class assignments. She used her own money for textbooks. She deplored discrimination for any reason.
I come from that background, of respect for others, greeting politely, giving my time and energy to make the world in which I live a happy place for all. So-when I heard a recent story from NPR, concerning a high number of suicides among Afghan women, I felt both thankful for my life in the United States, yet saddened that women today in many parts of the world still are second-class citizens. Here’s what I heard at the beginning of the story: Seeking to escape cultural oppression and economic hardship, an alarming number of Afghan women are taking their own lives. The trend has prompted a bill aimed at ending such practices as forced marriages. The story continued to explain that because the lives of women, especially in rural areas, and especially for young women forced into arranged marriages at twelve and younger, the belief is that often the only choice in their lives is to end them. The law referred to is promised by Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan, but some say that it will be a law defied by many because of cultural traditions that ignore the laws of Islam protecting women.
So, what can I do to help-thousands of miles from Afghanistan, here in the safety of my own life? I can start with home; move out into the circle of my life, which includes young adult women and men. I can research the issues of dating violence here in the United States, and support those I come into contact with by teaching self-respect, the first defense against violence.
According to About.com: One in 10 teen girls and one in 11 teen boys admits to having experienced physical violence in a dating relationship in the past year. One in three teens stay they know someone who has been physically assaulted or hurt by a dating partner. Because I teach in a school that prides itself in asking for respect between all persons at the school, this seems outrageous. Yet, even here I have experienced opinions that appear to think that some violence is simply kids working things out, learning that they must be tougher in order to ‘win’. Even with teachers who are asking that children respect differences, some students still name-call, are reluctant to be friends with those that are deemed, ‘not so popular’.
It’s time for me to learn more, do more, and fight for the behavior I know to be right. I look to those who have acted before me, my grandmother, too, as models. For example, there are 83 million mothers - single, married and otherwise - who make big and small sacrifices to give their children every opportunity to succeed. I look at them, and others, to follow.