“America first!” The battle cry arose from the American heartland and echoed through the corridors of Washington DC. In April 2017, after just three months in office, the Trump administration announced that it would terminate all US funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the branch of the UN tasked with improving women’s reproductive health around the world. The UNFPA expands access to contraception and safe childbirth for the world’s poorest women, while simultaneously battling child marriage, female genital mutilation, and gender-based violence (much of it sexual violence). The Trump administration justified the funding cut-off by claiming (without evidence) that the UNFPA supports coercive abortion and involuntary sterilization in China. The UNFPA vigorously denies this.
Defunding the UNFPA accomplishes globally what defunding Planned Parenthood accomplishes domestically – the elimination of vital reproductive health services for the poorest, most vulnerable women – and this in a time when more women have fled their homes than ever before. One in 113 people in the world, most of them women and their children, is now a refugee! While proponents speak loftily of protecting the unborn, or even protecting women themselves, the shrewd observer notes that any genuine concern for unborn life has been twisted, implausibly and unrecognizably, into a rationale for imperiling the lives of poor women. Maternal and infant death rates in North Texas, now as high as those in Africa, silently attest to our politicians’ cynicism regarding matters of “life.”
In an era of inward-looking nationalism, I want to make a case for assisting women and girls in the developing world on the grounds of sheer compassion. This is a plea from the heart, based on the conviction that my welfare is inextricably linked to theirs, and that I cannot be happy as long as they suffer.
Seven years ago, I founded the Gendercide Awareness Project, a nonprofit based in Dallas. We sound the alarm regarding the loss of women and girls from the world due to social causes – due to severe discrimination and lack of basic human rights. Few people realize that 117 million women and girls are “missing” (dead) from the world population as a result of these causes. That’s fully 3.4% of the global female population that has been eliminated. Those figures come from the United Nations Population Fund, the very organization the US refuses to fund.
Our team confronts “America first” parochialism on an almost daily basis. Why, people ask us, do we focus on women and girls overseas when there are so many women and girls here at home who need our help?
Our short answer is that we do not view this as an either-or scenario. Both kinds of assistance are critical. Many organizations work domestically, so we work internationally. Specifically, we work to end gendercide where it occurs — overseas — by educating at-risk girls.
But here’s the long answer to that question.
We are fighting the oppression of women, and nothing here in the US compares with the oppression experienced by women in developing countries –- nothing.
In this country, we battle sex trafficking and domestic violence – that’s true. But at least these crimes are prosecuted, and the perpetrators are treated as criminals. No one, either in government or in law enforcement, condones these activities. Our society as a whole strongly disapproves of them. In too many developing countries, though, the police collude actively with the traffickers, and domestic violence is seen as proper punishment for women who are insubordinate. This is a much more hostile environment for women.
In cases of rape and assault, victim blaming overseas surpasses anything seen here in the States. Routinely, judges in rape cases blame the victim for the assault, allowing rapists to offend and re-offend with impunity.
In this country, no one forces a girl to marry an older man before she reaches puberty. No one forces her (rapes her) on her wedding night, and no one forces her to bear a child years before her body is ready. No one shrugs their shoulders when told that very young mothers like her are five times more likely to die in childbirth than women in their twenties.
Finally, in this country, young women generally have some control over their lives. In the developing world, far too many live-in circumstances indistinguishable from slavery. They have no control over the most basic choices –
What kind of work do I do?
For whom do I work?
Do I get paid for my work?
At what age do I marry?
Whom do I marry?
When do I have my first child?
And my next child after that?
How many children do I have altogether?
Those parameters define a woman’s life physically, economically, socially and psychologically. Every woman deserves the right to make decisions for her own well-being. But when it comes to self-determination –- the freedom to choose what is best for oneself rather than what is best for someone else, the inequality between men and women is titanic.
So, in answer to the question, why do we focus so much on women and girls in developing countries, we say,
Who would not extend a helping hand to someone in those circumstances?
How could we possibly turn our backs on women and girls overseas?
Our politicians have abandoned women in the developing world, leaving them to face unwanted pregnancy, violence, and risky childbirth on their own. Rather than extending a helping hand, the self-styled protectors have walked away from women and their sexual/reproductive vulnerability. Our leaders’ indifference means that non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) and grassroots organizations must now step in.
Readers, I plea with you – when making your philanthropic choices, please expand your circle of compassion to include women in the developing world. Yes, their plight is more difficult to see, and their cries are harder to hear. It requires an act of volition to search for news about them — and acts of imagination and intelligence to place yourself in their impossibly difficult shoes. But please make that effort because our gifts stand between these women and disaster.
If we fail to respond, we can expect the number of “missing” women to climb. A recent demographic study suggests that the absolute number of “missing” women may have risen to 126 million, and the percentage of females missing from the global female population may now stand at 3.7%. These numbers ought to be a wake-up call, but the world isn’t listening. Gendercide is real, and the current administration is fanning the flames.
Other articles you may be interested in:
- Gracefully Strong: Educational Program Builds Girls’ Strength & Confidence by Fort Worth Business Press
- The Adams Story: Young Girls With A Vision For A Better World by Tricia Medrano Bridges
- This Little Light Of Mine Or One Day In A Montessori Classroom by Nagia E. Moharram
- Take A Stand: A Life Depends On It by Michele Gooch