This post is by Shelle Warton as part of the series Culture and Human Rights (Part II).
Before moving to the United States my views and understanding on the rights of women in other countries, as well as mine, were very limited. Growing up in Guyana, we only focused on the now, the things we could see or feel. The trouble women faced around the world was omitted from our news coverage. Our minds were possessed by the image portrayed to us by America’s entertainment. Everyone wanted to escape to America. The fact that women and girls here and around the world experience discrimination and violence went unseen. Being one of the few who made it to America, I remained blind, unaware of my good fortune. It was in college that my life changed. It was in college that I learned of the inequality women faced around the world. Women studies opened my eyes to their plight and my mind to a new critical way of thinking. Now my mind is exploding with questions and overflowing with curiosity; I am now able to reexamine the struggles and oppression of my ancestors and connect it to the oppressive behavior that occurs in individuals around me today. Woman studies made me realize how much of my daily privileges I took for granted.
Women are always portrayed to be weaker than men and I often wonder, why? Why, whenever we decide to share our thoughts on a matter, it’s assumed that women do not know their place? When I was a child and started to behave in a loud manner my mother would always say, “A young woman should be seen and not heard.” Maybe her mother told her the same thing and so on. Maybe that’s the cause of the mute generation of women. Regardless of our culture, religion, color, age and country I am sure many women heard the same thing before. We have so much in common but we allow our cultures to separate us. There should be no space for culture in the fight for women’s rights. Culture will separate us and we need to be united as women. Or we will all remain silent in the face of injustice and blame it on our cultural differences. If we continue to remain silent we will die. Our mothers, daughters, nieces, and sisters before us all died, they kept their words and thoughts suppressed, just as they were told to and they still died. We are afraid to speak now in fear of dying but you should know that the final destination for everyone is death. Audre Lorde said, “By ignoring the past, we are encouraged to repeat its mistakes.” Are we living the mistakes of our mothers and if so what are we going to do to change it?
To be honest I blame the way most women are treated on the misinterpretation of the Bible. The Bible states, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel” (1st peter 3:7). As a result of this scripture, I fear men feel the need to bombard women with labels and gender roles. This gave men the ammunition they needed to take away the voice of women. It gave men the right to choose what is best for “their” women. But the Bible also states, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Yet, still men make excuses. It seems as though many men with the support of the government and church avoided this scripture. Can you imagine a world where equality was the root of all cooperativeness between men and women? A world where women could speak for themselves? Class and gender would not exist and everyone would live based on a culture of human rights.
Audre Lorde wrote an essay entitled “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Differences” and this struck a nerve. After years of accumulated oppression, one would think that women would stand up for each other; instead we use each other as a lather to reach the next destination. Not caring about what’s being done to other women in other countries and sometimes in our own homes. Audre Lorde said, “Refusing to recognize difference makes it impossible to see the different problems and pitfalls facing us as women. We have all fallen victim to societies expectations of women being of a submissive nature. We have conformed.
We allow this misconception of our gender by still being submissive today. The time lines are different now and we have more resources than our ancestors, yet we remain silent still. We should want more for ourselves. A self, grounded by our history and blueprinted by our ancestors. Yet, we allow class and shallow ideology of feminism or womanism, rich or poor, light skin or dark skin, and natural or unnatural, opinions to separate us and diminish our acts. Women should come together like a closed fist, united by the same goals and beliefs, with appreciation of their differences. Che Guevara said, “The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it fall.” Let us shake the barriers that are put in place to hold us back. With no leader, we will speak with one tongue, for one purpose and accept our differences and share in similarities then we can accomplish one goal. We are all victims of oppression and made it through unspoken burdens. Coming together as one might be difficult at first but I was told that, “anything worth having deserves work.” We can allow ourselves to become the voice of change and in the process find a higher self, while we achieve one common goal, true equality and rights for all women around the world.
Shelle Wharton was born in 1982 and her native Guyana. Later she moved to the United States where she attended The Borough of Manhattan community college. She received a degree in Business Administration. It was in her last semester of college when she became aware of the problems women were facing around the world. This was all due to her professor of ethnic studies, Dr. Zetta Elliott. Being the positive thinker that Mrs. Wharton was she soaked up her professor’s teachings like a sponge and made a vow to continue to spread the word about injustice women are facing around the world.