We Are The Women

For the past week, the front section of The New York Times‘ Dec. 28 issue has been sitting on my kitchen counter in Ohio, growing increasingly crinkled from use and sprinkled with circles, arrows and the occasional exclamation point.

The recent wave of anti-choice legislation in my state and across the country has made me keenly aware of attacks on women in America. Perhaps that is why I was so drawn to the Times’ stunning chronicle of women’s lives. I still can be astonished by how regularly the target of masculine rage is women.

From Somalia: A rape victim, draped in long folds of soft gray fabric, stood alone in a room, her face buried in her hands. She is one of thousands of women and girls being gang-raped and abused by militants who seize them as the spoils of a “holy war.”

From Cairo: An administrative judge ruled that the Egyptian military violated female demonstrators’ human rights by forcing them to undergo “virginity tests” meant to humiliate them.

From Israel: An 8-year-old girl whose parents are Orthodox Jews was terrified of walking to school, after ultra-Orthodox men spat on her and called her a prostitute because her modest dress failed to meet their more rigid dress code. The incident ignited outrage in Israel and around the world.

From Baghdad: Photographer Andrea Bruce captured the shy smile of 24-year-old Duaa Saad, an engineer caring for her mother and six sisters in the wake of her father’s death. She is risking her life because she is a woman learning to drive in Iraq.

From Islamabad: Two young women held photos of the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, four years after she was murdered at a political rally in Rawalpindi. They look mournful — and defiant.

I hesitate to draw the comparisons. In America, women can drive cars and vote, and they wear whatever they want in public. Rape — by civilians or men in uniform — is a felony. As a group, we do not fear for our lives.

However, 2011 in America was a rough year for women’s reproductive freedom. The Guttmacher Institute reports that in the first three months alone of 2011, legislators in 49 states introduced 916 measures related to reproductive issues. More than half the measures — 56 percent — seek to restrict, sometimes eliminate, abortion access.

Why, after all that 2010 campaigning on jobs, jobs, jobs, do so many Republicans want to wage this war on our women?

When politicians restrict women’s legal right to abortion, they threaten multiple aspects of a woman’s life, from her physical and emotional health to the economic stability of her family. Only a fool believes this assault on women will prevent abortions. Only a self-serving zealot celebrates putting so many women’s lives at risk.

I am writing this from my office in Ohio, where the so-called heartbeat bill, which would ban virtually all abortions, stalled last month at the eleventh hour. The bill, which is almost certainly unconstitutional, has divided Ohio Right to Life and left it in shambles. Bill sponsors vow to revive the legislation this year.

Yet I am hopeful for the future of women, in many places, for many reasons.

In Ohio, young women are swarming pro-choice gatherings in numbers I have not seen for two decades. They are the energy we needed.

In Somalia, an outspoken widow, named Fartuun Adan, is leading a group to help rape victims and speaking out for those who are too afraid to come forward.

In Israel, thousands of citizens protested the attack on that little girl, and a group of ultra-Orthodox clergy publicly denounced the men who terrorized her.

In Baghdad, 22-year-old Isra Saadi is playing the tuba. This is an amazing thing. “No women have ever played it here before,” she told the Times. “All of the women and men criticized me. But I have loved it ever since I first saw it. I hope that I have shown there is no difference between men and women.”

In Egypt, after a young protester was stripped to her bra and beaten by militia, thousands of women flooded the streets of Cairo. “Drag me, strip me, my brothers’ blood will cover me!” they chanted. “The girls of Egypt are here.”

We are the girls of Egypt.

We are the daughters of America.

We are the survivors in Somalia.

We are the protesters in Israel.

We are the women of the world.

We are undefeatable.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (con.schultz@yahoo.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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