Raping women as an act of war is a popular strategy in certain parts of the world, such as Sudan. It lets the male soldiers get their jollies, and it destroys not just lives but whole communities. If you additionally violate the woman with an implement such as a stick, you can cause fistulas, or holes — not just in her vagina, but in any nearby organs. Rape by stick is not precision surgery.
Fistulas mean that urine and feces can leak out uncontrollably for the rest of the woman’s life. Lots of women wind up killing themselves, particularly since not many people want to share a roof with a permanently incontinent person.
Fistulas don’t always happen as a result of savage sexual violence. You can get them if you don’t have access to medical care during a pregnancy or childbirth.
I’m getting this information from Half the Sky, a 2009 book that is likely to become the next title that I force down everyone’s throat, whether or not they have any interest in reading it. That’s not very professional librarian behavior, but I’m not employed as a librarian so I can’t say as I care. The authors are husband-and-wife team Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. I’ve never heard of her, but I’ve read his columns in the New York Times. He rubs me the wrong way in his columns — he comes across as so damn pious, and I am a petty person who feels threatened when other people are obviously living a morally superior lifestyle. But the book was a superb read. About half of it is horrible, drawing attention to the brutal violence done to women across the world. The other half is inspiring.
Reading this book was part of my haphazard approach to studying for the Foreign Service test, which I’ll be taking on February 6th. But it also turned out to be part of the larger conversation I’m having (chiefly with myself) about what to do when I grow up.
I’ve had two job interviews lately, a welcome change after seven months of nothing. The first interview was for a part-time social work job with no benefits and lousy pay at the homeless shelter where I’m volunteering. That interview was two weeks ago, so I’m assuming that no job offer will be forthcoming. The second interview was for a temporary admin assistant job with no benefits and lousy pay at the local university. That was earlier today.
Either one of these positions would provide some financial relief, but neither pays a living wage. They are not permanent solutions. And even if they did pay adequate money, I don’t know that they’d provide a permanent solution for personal happiness.
Reading about human rights violations makes me want to do something radical. Human rights actually come in second on my list of priorities — the ecological health of the planet comes in first — but either way, I feel like I should be doing something more meaningful. I feel like I should be shielding baby seals from clubbing or helping teenagers escape from sexual slavery.
Kristoff and WuDunn observed that most Western aid tends to be concentrated in cities, while the most pressing needs are in rural settings. Practically the only foreigners in the villages of the neediest countries are missionaries. I don’t quite see that as a viable career path for myself. I could conceivably align myself with certain faith programs, but I wouldn’t be able to handle the evangelizing part.
Also, the women discussed in Half the Sky all live in really hot countries. I am fairly certain that baby seals live in cold climates, so that trajectory seems promising, but I’m hoping there are human rights violations in cold countries. Well, that’s not quite what I meant to say.
In my last post I had promised to talk more about reading, along with its importance to me, and the various forces that conspire to prevent me from reading as much as I want. Instead I’ve gone and talked about intense violence. That was unkind of me. It’s on the agenda for next week’s post.