I’ve been lucky. I grew up in a middle-class family, lived in a great school district and had plenty of positive female role models in my life. I was never told I mattered less than my male classmates and I never feared any of them would hurt me.
But as I got older, I did learn to be careful. I was taught the common rules that go along with being a woman: travel in groups, wear appropriate clothing and know a few self-defense moves. And why was I taught these things? Because I’m a woman and my gender forces me to be more conscious of my surroundings than my male counterparts.
Again, why? Why must I, a woman, have to constantly worry about being taken advantage of? Why can’t I go for a run through town at night or walk through downtown Bethlehem by myself? I am strong and confident, but I have been taught these things are not safe, that I will not be safe if I am alone.
My peers have taught me repeatedly I need to be careful, that I can’t always trust men. I’ve heard countless stories of women being raped, abducted or robbed simply because of perceived vulnerability related to their gender. Because they are viewed as weaker or less than. It’s not fair, but that doesn’t mean that I am going to ignore the warnings of my peers.
In other countries this fear of men is even greater. Women constantly have to worry about being raped and abducted. Recently, The New York Times published an article that discusses the use of rape as a weapon of war. The government forces and militia in South Sudan are using sexual violence to weaken and terrorize the female citizens.
The United Nations assessment team reported more than 1,300 cases of rape between April and September 2015 and they believe this number is far below the actual total.
It’s disgusting. Young girls are being taken as wives, and mothers are being forced to watch as men gang rape their daughters. And what can they do? In their country, retaliation means death. If they even look at their abuser they will be killed. So how are they supposed to get themselves out of this situation?
And if they do, who are they going to report the rape to? It’s mainly the Sudanese government officials who are inflicting this violence. These women have no one in their country to advocate for them, to support them. They are completely alone and helpless.
They are stuck in an impossible situation where they are being forced to endure physical and mental abuse almost daily with no hope in sight.
In other countries, the situation is not much different. In West Africa, the terror group Boko Haram is also terrorizing women. In 2014, the group abducted 276 female students from their school and married them off to soldiers. The girls were raped, imprisoned and sometimes even intentionally impregnated.
Boko Haram has been capturing young women and turning them into suicide bombers. It then forces the girls into a six-tiered daily education track that trains them on how to use bombs and attack citizens.
Boko Haram utilizes females because the girls are often searched less thoroughly at checkpoints and they are able to hide the bombs in their clothing or in baskets that would normally carry food. They also use the women because they view them as inferior and weak — as easy targets.
The soldiers deprive the girls of food and water as a part of their training and enforce the idea that those who obey the rules will one day be fed and treated well.
Every day, women all over the world are being forced to look over their shoulder, to walk in groups or to cover up so that they will be safe from any man who may be looking to take advantage of them. In places like South Sudan and West Africa, the situation is much worse.
The men in these countries are manipulating the women and using them as wives, mothers and suicide bombers to accomplish their end goals of terrorizing a country or building an army. Some men are simply using the women for sex while others are purposely impregnating the women so they can have more soldiers to join their army. Others still are using women to carry out suicide missions.
No woman should be treated like this. No human being should be treated like this. People should not have to be afraid of what others will do to them, of how others will manipulate their bodies. Women are not sexual toys, we are not reproductive machines and we are certainly not bombs.
Katie Morris, ’18, is an assistant news editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]