It’s been a big year for women’s rights. Women have bravely spoken out against abuse like never before and are standing proudly—marching, mobilizing and banding together—in support of other women and a more gender-equal world. This means that #TimesUp for those who have abused their power to demean, violate and silence women.
A powerful movement is forming, in which women will no longer accept unequal pay, abuse, and degradation. It is inspiring, revolutionary and transformative. But so far it has been led by those who have been able to use their fame and geographic privilege to pursue this fight. What about those women who struggle to have their rights even acknowledged? The women who have survived war but have seen their family ripped apart? Who cannot afford to send their children to school? What about the women that we work with every day?
The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the most mineral rich nations on earth. The technology that has transformed the modern world depends on what is dug out of the ground in that country. But the Congo is not Wakanda. Quite the opposite. The Democratic Republic of Congo is the product of colonialism. And the legacy of colonialism has not been freedom and prosperity—it has been civil war, corruption and economic collapse. When the colonists left, slavery didn’t end—it just got a new name: poverty. And we see the consequences for women in every country we work in.
In the world we operate in, simply being a woman can be life-threatening. In Iraq, women and girls as young as 12 have escaped the abuse and violence of ISIS, only to face stigma and rejection from their own communities. #TimesUp rings a little hollow when you are being punished for being kidnapped and raped. In northern Uganda, women have fled a brutal conflict in neighboring South Sudan, only to find that the sexual violence that has characterized that war has followed them to what should be a safe haven.
The women we know don’t Tweet or blog. They may not have even been given the opportunity to learn to read and write. But their stories matter. Their struggle matters. And if we are really going to build a movement that will change the world, we need to be inclusive of women everywhere. The shaming of Harvey Weinstein may change Hollywood but for women living in the shadow of war, it is going to take local activism and local solutions.
But we have hope because this is what we do. In Uganda and Afghanistan, we have become registered law firms. We employ local lawyers to fight for women’s rights and bring men who have abused with impunity to justice. Our local staff and volunteers go from house to house and community and community, teaching women about their rights and what they can do to claim them. We know women in every country have aspirations and we help them realize them. We give young mothers skills training, business acumen and loans, so they can unleash their entrepreneurial spirit and break free from the chains of poverty.
Our local staff are heroes. They are the activists you have never heard of. But they are changing the world as profoundly as the women of Hollywood. They are proving that women are never powerless to effect change and to realize their dreams—even in ‘sh*thole countries’.
We, who are fortunate enough to watch the revolution from the comfort of the couch, take our rights for granted. But with rights come responsibilities. The next wave of #MeToo is global. Its inspiring message must reach the activists whose names do not appear on your Instagram feed. They are the true spirit of transformation.
You can find more pieces by Emma Goldman at War Child USA