Blow the Whistle by Penni Mitchell
Submitted by Penni Mitchell on Tue, 07/12/2011 - 07:32
When a woman steps forward to publicly disclose that corporate interests are being placed before health and environmental protection, we call it whistle-blowing. When a woman steps forward to publicly disclose that male privilege is being placed before the protection of girls and women, we call it feminism.
The two are very much the same. In both cases, the personal risks for speaking out can be great—careers, personal safety and even lives are put on the line. And, in both cases, the fair enforcement of rules is all that is being asked.
A notable difference is that whistle-blowers tend to act solo, while feminist action usually involves a wider community. To the surprise of many, girls are increasingly taking personal risks that bring about political change. In a Kenyan village, a girl who had been raped, and bore a child as a result, stepped forward to ask villagers attending a community meeting if someone could explain to her why the man who raped her was free to go about his business as he pleased, while she was burdened with a child and no legal recourse.
As Fiona Sampson of the Equality Effect tells it, police officials in Kenya refused to investigate the victim’s complaint, even though laws against rape are on the books. In addition to girls and women being at greater risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS and unwanted pregnancies, their right to the protection of the law is often ignored if they are raped. In fact, it is a common occurrence for rape victims to be raped by police officers when they go to file a complaint.
The Kenyan girl, it turned out, was not alone, and soon 160 young rape victims were brought together with the help of the Equality Effect, a group of human rights experts from Kenya, Malawi, Ghana and Canada, to press for greater protection of the rights of girls and women in Kenya. The 160 Girls Project is working with a shelter where rape victims receive treatment and counselling and, as a result, now share a determination to fight for change. Today, the 160 Girls Project has initiated a legal challenge to force Kenya to enforce criminal laws to protect girls and women from sexual violence.
With no international bevy of feminist legal experts behind her, whistle-blower Malala Yousafzai took on the Taliban in her fight for Pakistani girls’ right to attend secular school. Shot in the head by Taliban members just 48 hours before the first International Day of the Girl was to be proclaimed by the United Nations on October 11, Yousafzai not only survived, but tens of thousands of outraged people around the world signed a petition calling for her nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel campaign started in Canada, where leaders of the Green, Liberal and Conservative parties, as well as the NDP and Bloc Québécois, supported Yousafzai’s nomination.
In her home country as well, Yousafzai’s cause has been taken up by thousands. Pakistan’s National Students Federation held vigils in support of her vision, a school has been named in Yousafzai’s honour and a million people in Pakistan have petitioned their government for free education. On November 10, the United Nations declared International Malala Day, which was celebrated in Pakistan and around the world.
It all starts with a single voice that won’t back down. Just like American university student Sandra Fluke, who stood up to misogynistic talk radio host Rush Limbaugh after standing her ground to argue that birth control should be part of her health plan. In response, Limbaugh attacked Fluke, calling her a slut and a prostitute who wanted the state to pay her to have sex.
Fluke should have to tape herself having sex, Limbaugh said on air, so he could watch. In the end, a widespread campaign by feminists convinced advertisers to pull millions of dollars from Limbaugh’s program. Thanks to others who moved Fluke’s message forward, the American right’s war against women’s reproductive rights lost some ground.
Yousafzai’s dream is not only to gain ground by defending girls’ education rights but to undermine the Taliban—no small feat for a 15-year-old. On Malala Day, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari announced a government initiative to provide free education to children, particularly girls, of poor families.
“Malala is a symbol of all that is good about us,” Zardari said, adding that Yousafzai “has transcended from an individual into an idea.” Perhaps that’s why, in November, American magazine Foreign Policy placed Yousafzai at the sixth spot in its Top 100 Global Thinkers list.
The sound of one whistle blowing—by a victim of rape, a proponent of better health protection or a survivor of a Taliban-directed assassination attempt—is where the call for change starts. When a single voice becomes an unstoppable chorus of change, we call it justice.
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