I wanted to give myself a week or so to digest and reflect upon my visit to Washington, D.C. First of all, I must share that walking around D.C. in May can be very tiring and HOT! Comfortable shoes are a must for sure. If you do not know already, I am very active with the American Jewish World Service. I have been impressed by and honored to work with Ruth Messinger, the President of AJWS, and so many other unbelievable new friends and colleagues. Currently, AJWS is fighting for equality of women and the LGBT community worldwide. Just to give you some background, the current bill (which is now in the House and the Senate, HB3571 and S2307) we were lobbying support for: The International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), is of vital importance for a number of reasons!
1) I believe we can all agree that violence against women and girls is unacceptable.
2) 1 in 3 women around the world is beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime.
3) Approximately 10 million girls worldwide become child brides every year.
4) Women constitute about 70% of the world's absolute poor - those living on less than a dollar a day.
5) Every year, some 14 million adolescent girls give birth.
I am sitting here and getting angry just typing these...just the thought of these numbers is mind-numbing. In a world in which we can speak to our loved ones by video/phone around the world, how do these numbers still exist? I could go on and on with more statistics...but do you get the point? These numbers are unacceptable and unbelievable. 2/3 of the world's 875 million illiterate adults are women - mostly because they are not allowed the opportunity to get educated. Why? Is it because the men in those communities are so afraid of an educated woman? Are these men afraid of women earning an income? Here is another staggering fact (as per the world bank): When women earn an income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent reinvestment for men. By keeping women from education...by allowing them to be considered second class citizens all over the world, we are negatively affecting our global economy. "If the value of the unpaid, invisible work done by women - approximately $11 trillion per year - were included, global output would be almost 50 percent greater." The truth is right there - by investing in equality and equal rights, we are investing in our own futures. How do we not get it? Why do we still allow this to happen worldwide?
I want to be clear. I have not personally met anyone who believes it is ok to treat women with violence. I have not personally met anyone who believes it is ok for young girls to get married. However, it happens...and not just "across the pond." As a matter of fact, the Atlanta airport is the busiest airport in the world for sex trafficking. That's right - the city I live in contains many, many, many of those who are guilty of these heinous acts. So, why should we concern ourselves with the international community when we have our own problems? I am often asked that question. Well, as bad as we have it in the United States, the developing world (countries of the Global South) has it so much worse. Why? Well, for starters - education. It all starts there. When people are given the opportunity to get an education, good things can and do happen. I am not saying that all of the world's problems will end if everyone had the opportunity to get educated - after all, we are humans.
What I am saying is this: Get off your backside and do something. Yes, I went to Washington, DC and lobbied on "the Hill." Yes, I met with members of the Congressional staff. And, you know what? They all believe that the United States can be an example - a beacon of hope in the world. We have a great responsibility in this country to be the leader and to lead by example. Anyone, ANYONE can contact your senators and representatives to set up meetings. You may meet with staff...or you may meet with your Senator or Congressman. Regardless...it is imperative that we do this. With all of the resources we have in the United States, we must take part in supporting those in the Global South who are not able to.
After all, if not us...who? If not now, when?
Rabbi Erin Boxt