As two female Georgetown students from the United States, we often forget to reflect on the fundamental opportunities we have by virtue of our birthplace. We were born in a country that, while not perfect, places high value on women’s empowerment.
Every day we enjoy three full meals, whether from Leo’s, Booey’s or Tuscany and never lack access to clean water. We go to class side-by-side with our male peers, never questioning the chance we’ve been given not only to receive a university education, but also a primary and secondary education. We go to our jobs and internships, never considering that we might not have the opportunity to work outside the house in other societies. Every day we travel freely from the library to Henle Village and from Safeway to Burleith without fearing for our personal safety with the reassuring presence of SafeRides or DPS.
Too rarely do we stop to consider just how good we really have it in comparison to the oppressive conditions under which women survive in other societies.
Consider the life of a female refugee in the Darfur region of Sudan, an area ravaged by a government-sponsored genocide. She has virtually no access to Sudan’s already-faulty education system.
While international relief efforts have been deployed to the region, her access to food and water remains limited and sporadic. In order to gather firewood or clean water necessary for cooking for her family, she must constantly risk rape and violence at the hands of armed groups on her travels outside of the safety of the camp. She has little to no opportunity for occupational advancement but is rather expected to raise a family, and thus is forever tied to the home. Medical attention is rudimentary when available, often lacking necessary supplies and training.
Or what about a woman trafficked into the international sex trade? Daily she is forced to perform sexual acts for the financial benefit of her captors. She is not able to move about freely and risks physical and emotional abuse at the hands of those who control her. It is probable that she has contracted a sexually transmitted disease like HIV, for which she will receive little to no medical treatment. Drugs may be used by her captors to keep her attached to them by addiction. When her body is “used up,” she becomes a shunned member of society, often reduced to being a mere beggar.
A woman in North Korea faces a similarly hopeless situation. A government-regimented labor system requires her to work outside the home for eight hours every day in addition to her duties as a housewife and mother. Many North Korean women are trafficked to China as sex workers where they face the conditions previously described. At home, poverty and persistent food shortages make everyday life a struggle in the Hermit Kingdom.
Think about the women who make a difference in your everyday Georgetown life: the president of your club, the person who sits in the front row of class and always contributes something meaningful to the discussion, your barista at The Midnight Mug. Billions of women around the world are denied these opportunities to reach their full potentials. Women’s empowerment is a key component of social justice, human rights and international development. It is a cross-cutting issue that affects men and women around the globe.
Students should be encouraged to get involved in the international human rights movement. There are numerous groups on campus working for human rights and women’s empowerment in oppressive and impoverished nations. We can be a voice for those whose voices are stifled. Show your support for the Darfuri refugee, the trafficked sex worker and the North Korean woman.
Bridget O’Loughlin is a senior in the School of Foreign Service. Sarah Ryan is a senior in the College. Both are members of STAND.