“International Women’s Day” was recently celebrated. Although, I might live thousands of miles from all the US political controversies constantly making headlines; I have not been oblivious to the very polarizing political environment. While, this is not going to be a political blog, I promise. There has been some beautiful growth of awareness in different social areas, and an increased awareness of women’s rights has been one of them. Women’s rights has come a long way, but more and more realities and statistics such as the gender pay gap continue to remind us that this is one of several areas that the US still has room to improve.
The thing is, Women’s Rights is something that has been on the forefront of my mind, before Trump took over the media. Pretty much from the first time I started seeing patients here in Honduras, my eyes were opened. It was a constant force, the huge gender equality gap that is pervasive here; especially and most specifically amongst the under-privileged, lower-educated, lower-resourced population. And to be honest by saying “gender equality gap”, I am using the most politically correct phrase of what is really going on.
Little girls are taught from a young age, how to be desirable and what it takes to get the attention of boys. Young ladies are used by family members to make money by being sold into the sex slavery business. Child pornography is rampant. Single mom’s in some of the poorest neighborhoods in La Ceiba create their own "prostitution coops". Yep, the young children of the women “working” that night are taken care of by the other single moms in their neighborhood, and the favor is reciprocated for the children of the other women, when it is their turn to work. While, these are seemingly some of the jaw-dropping examples of female exploitation in the city; there are also hundreds of examples of the more subtle forms of female inequality and struggles.
Last year in one of the poor neighborhoods where we do monthly clinics, I had this patient. She was my last patient of the day. A young lady, soft-spoken pretty but visibly anxious girl, who looked at me timidly through long dark eyelashes as she tightly squeezed her hands together. She came for a consult with some very vague complaints, which soon evolved into the fact she was worried she was pregnant. Eventually, after gentle probing she began to explain in a scared, shaky, and barely audible voice an incredibly sorrowful story. The story of her having sex regularly with her dad’s friend who is staying with them “semi-permanently”. She is too scared that her dad will not believe her if she tries to tell him. And her mom was not in the picture in the slightest. It took all my self-control to not let the tears welling up in my eyes to cascade down my cheeks; as she continued to tell me how this happened and how long it had been going on. We talked a long time about her self-worth, protecting herself, her worth as a daughter of Christ. We spoke about how just because she is "legally of age" does not make it right what this man is doing, and that she doesn't have to give into his advances. We spoke on about how she does not need to tolerate this. That she needed to talk to her father. I affirmed the truths to her that she is a strong woman, and she was made for something much better than this. The more we talked, the straighter she started to sit up, and she held her chin up just a hair taller. She was not pregnant, nor did she have an STD this time, and I never saw her again. She walked away from clinic, and said she was going to talk to her dad.
I want to believe that this story has a happy ending. I want to tell myself that she is thriving and still in school, and she can go home and not worry about fending off a dirty perverted man sleeping on her family’s sofa. But unfortunately, I know that years of being told you are one thing and good for only one thing, is hard to break, it is hard to empower this young woman in one 30 minute conversation and prayer. And unfortunately, what happened with this young woman, is indicative of variations on the same theme, the same story happening all over the city behind closed doors.
And I will continue to pray, for her as my heart breaks over her situation, and for all the young women and little girls that are exploited and abused. Who from a young age are made to believe they are a piece of meat. Who have never heard the words, “that you can do whatever you put your mind”. And I cry out for those little girls who have never known the words. “you are created special and for something unique and beautiful.”
Last week at clinic, I had a young single mom of three kids who sits down in my exam room and says…”I want to talk woman to woman". She had been having unprotected sex with two different guys over the last 8 months. She was most recently back with one of the guys. Both of the men are not the fathers of any of her children. She is worried about having an STD. She is with the current man, because she said “He is good to me”.
I probe and ask… "what do you mean he is good to you?” She says …”well he doesn’t hit me.” And that is her standard. “He doesn’t hit me.” I lean forward and look at her and continue…”I am going to talk to you ‘woman to woman’ right now.”
We talked about her worth, how she doesn’t need to settle for this kind of man. We talk about the importance of protecting herself, how she needs to take care of herself because she is all her little kids have. She was tearing up at this point and nodding and this look broke across her face. The look of a subtle but important new awareness that someone for the first time told her, “you are so loved and worthy because of who you are, not what you can give to a man.” She is supposed to come back in a month to have her test results read. I really hope she comes back. I really hope that we can continue to have real “woman to woman” empowering conversations. I really hope that she takes that seed of strength and guards it and nourishes it with the water of courage and perseverance for herself and for her children.
In the meantime, I will continue to pray for her and for her children. But not only for her, but for who she represents. All the single moms, all the single mom’s who have been told their worth is found in a man. All the women young and old who have been made to believe the filthy lie that their worth is equivalent to the empty Coca-Cola bottle littering the side walk.
And the stories like these go on and on. And as you all know, Honduras is not unique in this. This is the sad reality for little girls and women all over the world. So yes, I will continue to fight for these women, empower these women, and pray for these women. This does not have to be their story, this does not have to be their end game. They can write a better ending. So I ask that you join with me and pray for these women who are abused, exploited, and wrecked at a young age. For the single moms that turn out of desperation for the first man that doesn’t hit them, or worse stay with the abusive and cheating man that does hit her but provides a roof under her head and some meager food to feed those hungry little mouths.
Because these women are strong, they are resilient. They are raising children all alone, they are providing for them in the best way possible. These little girls do have dreams of growing up and being something more, dreams of becoming a doctor, a teacher, an engineer, of making a better life for themselves. These young ladies want to go on and go to college or tech school to provide for themselves and the next generation. These women are the back bones of their families, they are the strong threads of their community, and they are the warriors fighting in the trenches for a better way!
*The stories and accounts told in this blog are NOT about the women and girls pictured in the above blog.