Women in the News

I have been in a rage of late. I feel it as I read the newspaper, as I read stories about women from around the world: women in Saudi Arabia who cannot drive their children to school, girls being used as sex slaves, young teenagers in Dubai who rot in jail because they got pregnant, three beautiful vibrant girls who had their whole life ahead of them but were drowned because they were believed to have shamed their families. Shame on you. Everywhere I turn, I hear or read these stories and feel an anger building along with the desire to do something, to let women who are oppressed, abused and without a voice know that we hear them.

I have listened to why women shouldn't be educated, why they shouldn't play sports and why they shouldn't drive or vote. Even in challenging these ideas one can be accused of not respecting religion or culture. I am sickened by it, sick of hearing that it is OK for a woman not to have basic human rights, for a woman to be denied the opportunity for education, health care, the opportunity to pursue her dreams and ambitions. I was so angry after reading about that horrific crime in Ontario that I had to paint. Painting is an emotional release for me.

So on Sunday, I painted a woman from Afghanistan, a photo a friend had shown me. Her face had been mutilated by her husband for suspected adultery. I painted her face back together, I added colour to her hijab, and sharpened her features. I strengthened her eyes, I made her body strong and hard, hard enough to defend herself. I painted a woman who couldn't be hurt. My daughters watched me paint this woman and asked what happened to her nose. I told them I was painting it back, "that 's good, mommy", my twelve year old Kate said, visibly relieved.

As I read these stories, I feel grateful that at least now I know that we are respecting these women enough to want to hear their stories, to take our anger and inspire people to do something. To raise money, to educate, to share what we know. Last year, my girlfriend here in Canada brought many friends together and raised thousands of dollars to help rape victims in Afghanistan bring their persecutors to justice. I am starting in a small way by supporting Right to Play's projects in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Five years ago, when Right To Play first worked in Pakistan, they had to build a fence around the girls play area. Attitudes in the community where they live and work have progressed far enough that they are done with the fence. Mothers who were at first reluctant to let their daughters play now have stood up and asked for more opportunities for their girls. We know that girls who play sports are more likely to stay in school and have higher self esteem.

Change may happen slowly, but I believe becoming more aware of what is happening to so many women around the world is an important first step.