Happy International Women’s Day!

Monday, March 09, 2015

The other day a newborn baby girl was disposed of in the riverbed a few blocks away from our home and sadly did not survive. I heard the news on the same day I read the disturbing BBC article on the rape of India’s daughter, and a week after three girls in Kathmandu were severely injured after having acid thrown on them. I spent most of the day feeling angry and sick to my stomach. Bad news always has a way of affecting me on a physical level. I do whatever I can to avoid it. I take bad news personally. The lost life of the baby girl in the riverbed reminded me of Ravi. When women and girls get attacked or hurt I think of my own girls growing up in a world of injustice and inequality and I feel like change is a race against the clock.

Witnessing gender violence and discrimination is usually an everyday part of my job here. It’s also the hardest, most difficult part. I don’t know how many times I’ve awoken in the middle of the night to a terrible domestic dispute in our neighborhood or how many hours I've spent filing cases at the police station or how many times a woman has walked into our office after having been abused or seriously injured by a man. The fact that some of my children have lost their mothers to domestic violence is unforgivable to me. Sometimes the problem feels so overwhelming and sad I think about it until I can’t think about it anymore. I always find myself trying to understand the perpetrator.

How could they do that?
What in them could make them act in such a way?
Were they born bad or just terribly broken somehow?
How do we stop this?

Where I don’t find answers, I find solace in trying to take action and chipping away at the issue one woman, one man, one girl, one boy at a time. I find peace in the fact that more girls are enrolled into school than ever before in the history of time. I find comfort in knowing that projects and individuals around the world are putting all their mental energy and physical resources in to trying to change things. I look to our Women’s Center of mothers and sisters standing in solidarity with one another, at how much a difference a year of empowerment courses, and business classes, and literacy training, and vocational skills training has made in their lives. I look at my teachers working endlessly in their classrooms and after school doing home visits at our students' homes, quietly guiding and encouraging. I look to our counseling center where anyone can show up to report abuse or even just talk to someone who will listen. I look at the culture of equality we’ve created at Kopila Valley where we raise boys and girls as equals, where everyone is heard, and everyone’s voice matters, where love and teamwork and respect are valued. I find hope in the faces of my children and students, like Deepa who read a poem on stage this week and dedicated it to our partners, She’s the First. It seriously took my breath away.

This week just as I was reading all of that terrible news I also watched many of our students run and organize a "5k Race For Equality" hosted by our school for the community. Nearly 250 runners participated and showed up with their reason for running hand-written and pinned to their backs.

"I run for my village women’s rights”
“I run for my mother who married young and never got an education”
“I run for my sister who never went to school,”
“I run for girls who are trafficked”
“I run for a girl who works in a hotel.”

I could feel the energy all over the school from the start of the pep rally with Katy Perry blaring over the speakers, to the start of the race where hundreds of kids stampeded out of the gates, to the humbling realization that we were all running straight up a huge hill sweating and completely out of breath only two minutes in. The race in and of itself reminded me of change; how we all set out at the starting line on a sprint, thinking, “This is a piece of cake!” until you hit that big never-ending and incredibly difficult hill where all you can do is put one foot in front of the other, try to forget that your legs are burning, and do everything you can to keep going. Change is more than a hill, it’s a Himalayan mountain. It’s slow, it takes time, it takes putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes you fall. Sometimes you don’t feel like you're even moving at all. Sometimes you think you're at the top but you're not. Sometimes you get lost. And sometimes you just want to give up. But at some point you stop, look back and see where you came from.

Sure enough, one by one each and every one of us made it up that hill, ran the five kilometers around our village and crossed the finish line with smiles and high fives. And even though it was just a fun 5k race with Katy Perry blaring over the speakers and even though it didn’t make any of the violence I read in the newspaper this week feel any less wrong or any less painful, somehow it made me realize what we’re fighting for and why we’re fighting for it and it turned my stomach ache into a fire in my belly and it turned my heartache into hope in my heart.

Happy International Women’s Day everyone!!! Let's keep trudging forward.


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