Many of us in the Western world see men and women as equals. Maybe in different roles or the same roles of life, but we see them as equals in personhood, respect, intelligence, and dignity.
Sadly, there are some parts of the world where that is not the case, and they prove it through brutality that many of us cannot fathom.
For many years, female genital mutilation has been a practiced ritual in some cultures, including in many Muslim areas of the world – mainly in the Middle East, though some fundamentalist Muslims practice it within their European or North America enclaves. Considered one part of “honor violence” against women – right alongside “honor killings” – the subjugation of women has been part and parcel of some cultures going back centuries, and honor violence has been one way to ensure it.
A barbaric practice that dates back to the early days of Islam, honor violence was rarely talked about until some of it came to the fore in headlines through Western civilization with stories of honor killings and female genital mutilation occurring in Europe and North America in recent years.
While many are willing to “apologize” for the violence and claim that it is much in the minority of practicing Muslims, one woman has been a bullhorn in bringing attention to the practice as more widespread than believed and more pervasive and dangerous on behalf of women and girls everywhere.
This is where Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s voice can be heard, and her face seen. She is the resistance to traditional Islam and a force for reform for the benefit of women and girls. She is a survivor of honor violence and she consistently speaks out against the practice and seeks to educate the Western world to help stand for human rights and the dignity of women and girls who are in the Muslim faith.
Ali was subjected to genital mutilation more than 40 years ago as a young girl in Somalia, then was taught to be submissive to men, though she was strong enough to question it. She later sought political asylum in Holland and went from janitor to a member of Dutch Parliament. As she rose in status in the European community, she began to speak out more and more about honor violence and fighting for the rights of equality among women and calling for reforms in Islam that would wipe out the practice of honor violence, and especially genital mutilation.
A bestselling author of several books, Ali eventually started the AHA Foundation, which advocates the end of honor violence against women and girls, including forced marriage, within the Western culture of the United States, and fight for the rights of women all around the world, especially in cultures where female subjugation is tradition or culturally acceptable.
The Foundation is based on four main pillars:
- Intervention: Supporting women and girls in the U.S. who are facing forced marriage or violence.
- Influence: Raising awareness of oppression and violence based on gender.
- Information: Providing training to providers to help them recognize honor violence and take appropriate steps to mitigate and counteract it.
- Investigation: Conduct data-gathering mission to build the case for the work and establish foundational baselines for the anomalies and risks of honor violence and forced marriages.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the women’s rights activist of this generation. For more information about her foundation and its work, check out www.theahafoundation.org.