I woke up this morning to the horrific news that two girls in India were gang-raped and then hanged. All they had done was go out to the toilet at night. Earlier, I had heard of the Pakistani woman who was killed by her own family for marrying a man against their will. In Sudan, a woman is being charged with apostasy and could face death. She was raised Christian by her mother after her Muslim father left them. She married a Christian man. She was forced to give birth to her child in prison with her legs shackled. In Nigeria, a militant Islamist group kidnapped almost 200 school girls.
There are horror stories every single day involving attacks of men on women in every single country of the world. Attacks range from rape and murder, to sexual, physical, and mental abuse, to sexual harassment at work and on the street.
This morning’s awful news from India made me think about all the measures I’ve taken on this trip to keep safe. I wrote about many of them yesterday. The attacks mentioned above all happened in less developed countries. They just happen to be where the media attention is directed nowadays. I am an independent, strong-minded, strong-willed, well-educated woman cycling alone through “civilized” Europe. Yet I am constantly aware that there is nothing civilized about the attacks that happen on women in Europe everyday. And I am insanely relieved that my husband is joining me now for the rest of the journey, not only because I really miss him, but also because of the safety I feel in his male companionship.
Why are things this way? What has gone so wrong in the minds of enough men to make the world a generally unsafe place for women? Why do some men need to exert dominance over women, whether sexually, physically, or emotionally? What scares them so much about a woman that makes them feel that they must dominate and control them?
I take all the measures I wrote about, yet I know I am relatively safe in Europe. That is why I chose to do this trip here rather than in Africa, Asia, or even North America. Women in Europe have a certain amount of freedom and relative safety. But what can we do for girls and women all over the world who are not safe even going to school, the market, or the toilet? What can we do for women who do not have the freedom to dress as they wish, believe what they want, and speak freely about what they believe?
Education is key. Access to information is key. But so many governments around the world make sure that people have limited and controlled access to both.
I used to think that “women’s issues” did not affect me. I have been privileged and have managed to get through life making – to a certain degree anyway – my own choices. But as I grow older, I am becoming more aware that even I am affected. What scares me is not really how it all affects me as an individual, because as an individual I have the means to change my personal circumstances when I need to. But how many women in this world are truly helpless? That thought haunts me.
So much is changing for women in the 21st Century. Yet so much is still the same. I see the young women of Egypt and envy how exposed they are to information, knowledge, opinion, and life generally at a much younger age than I ever was. I can see how the younger generations, men and women, have huge potential to create change. One of their main challenges is, as is always the case time immemorial, facing down the older generations with their many stagnant beliefs and archaic systems.
I have some hope. Yet I also feel so helpless sometimes. One of the reasons I do this sort of thing and then share extensively about it is to show women all the potential they have to do whatever it is they dream of, despite the difficulties, challenges, obstacles, and fears. It’s my little drop in the ocean. The only one I know how to give.