When I first marched for the right to be safe from harm back in the early 80’s I recall the contentious divisions between men and women on the topic of women’s empowerment. But today, this is a topic which calls to most hearts equally.
I began my life as the daughter of a mentally ill and cruel man who began abusing me when I was only five years old. My father tormented me until I was able to leave home at age eighteen and unfortunately, those years of being victimized set me up for further abuse at the hands of the men I would eventually date. It would be years before I obtained the help I needed to heal. But when I eventually found that help, it was very much like being reborn.
Many of us have been abused as children and as adults. And each of us faces a choice. That choice is to either ignore our wounds or take the steps necessary to heal. When we choose to heal, we show enormous courage because the very act of healing requires that we relive our abuse. That is a pain some cannot bear. But we need not bear that pain alone. There is so much help available to us today. And if we get the help we need, we can live productive and joyful lives.
Still the threat of abuse continues to hang over the heads of every woman of every age and that threat can wear down our resolve. And it is the weight of that threat to our safety and our well-being which brings us together today. For what may be too much to bear alone is something we have the power to face and to conquer together.
We are rising up not only for the abuses which have touched our individual lives but for the abuse of women and girls which afflicts this entire globe. Our hearts still grieve the recent rape, mutilation and murders of two young women in South Africa and India. And as we learn more about the random and sadistic nature of the crimes committed against them, we come to understand that the abuse inflicted upon women on a global level is not just violence, it is in fact hate crime.
These young women were attacked and killed simply because they were women. We have long known that rape is an act of domination and we have long known that any woman can be raped for no reason at all. Yet, the fact that a young woman lost her life simply because she rode on a bus with her boyfriend, as happened in India, makes it abundantly clear to the world that rape is a hate crime against women.
If these young women and so many like them are not to die in vain, we must rise up to demonstrate our solidarity with all women who are abused in any manner. Together we must refuse to participate in the status quo until there is no longer a rape culture. Together we must rise up in the name of all that is right and holy. Together we must shift this patriarchal world culture toward equality and empowerment for women and girls.
Jean-Paul Sartre is quoted as saying “Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.” No matter what has been done to us, we have the power to rise above it and to claim our birthright to freedom!
We use to refer to ourselves as victims and eventually we learned to see ourselves as survivors. But are we willing just to survive? No, now is the time for us to rise up as Change Agents because it is no longer enough that we become angry or outraged. It is no longer enough that we just heal our personal hurts. It is time for us to rise up together and create real, lasting change so that little girls who are alive today can count on being safe now as well as when they grow up. It is time for us to create change which will make all women safe – which will empower all women to the dignity and freedom which is their birthright.
True change agents see a future no one else does, and that vision won’t let them rest. Change agents have something about them that galvanizes and motivates other people. Let each of us take personal responsibility to become the change agents this world so desperately needs.
Whether you decide to work online, locally or abroad, find that one thing which you can commit to in service of making this world safer and more free for all women and girls. And do it with someone else so that we are in fact one billion rising!