As we celebrate International Women’s Day and the extraordinary achievements of women all over the world, we must not forget that a vast majority of women and young girls worldwide struggle for education, equal treatment under the law and basic human rights.
It is not like this for women in the United States. We have achieved incredible standards for women in education, the workforce, health and equality. As a society based on fundamental democratic principles, we also continue our progress by achieving even greater standards in education, health and fundamental justice.
As a conservative American woman, I feel extremely blessed. The values I hold dear are exemplified everyday as I take my young daughter to school in the morning and watch her excitement at reading a new book before bedtime. I feel proud that my older daughter is heading off to college, planning to study criminal justice and excited to make a difference in this world.
I’m proud of my sons for respecting the women in their life and holding them in reverence. I realize what a blessing it is to live in a nation that defends women and young girls through the legal system from domestic violence, brutality, inequality and also provide an equal opportunity for our nation’s daughters to achieve their dreams.
Many women around the world will never know this blessing. They live in poverty, lack education, live under governments that view them as property and their stories, unfortunately, often go untold. And the number of uneducated women around the world is daunting. The United Nations estimates that women make up more than two-thirds of the world’s 796 million illiterate people. That was evident in the war zones and countries I’ve covered in my career.
I spent a good portion of my childhood in Saudi Arabia, where women could not drive, did not have equal rights to men and had to be extremely careful not to offend any religious police secretly monitoring behavior in public areas. There was no equality.
When I traveled abroad to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Guatemala and Mexico just to name a few, I would always find time to speak with other women and their daughters. I would often walk away heartbroken or amazed at their resilience and strength.
They were the truth tellers and many times would be grateful to have someone to trust who they hoped would share their stories.
We are a “secret society.” I didn’t need to speak the language, though it helped having an interpreter in many cases. The women’s hopes and dreams were not foreign to me because they are the same hopes and dreams all women have, one way or another.
Women want to be treated fairly. They wanted to educate their children, provide them a good home and give them a life better than the one they had lived.
In Afghanistan, many of the women I came across in the villages and in the capital of Kabul, wanted a better life for themselves and for their daughters.
For them, unlike American women, it was a very remote dream. They were very aware of this and lived within the bonds that were set for them. Many times the only time they traveled outside their homes was for water or to visit a family member.
For some of the worst cases, their struggle is a silent one. Others ended tragically in self-immolation, the act of setting themselves on fire to escape abuse and forced marriage. In other cases, the abuse and loneliness would take them over like a plague that silenced their spirit.
And in some remote cases they would fight back and find a way to survive. Some become global leaders like Malala Yousafzai, who survived an assassination attempt for just wanting to go to school. She is now a leader in educating young women around the world.
My work covering the U.S. Mexico border and illegal immigration also revealed the desperate struggles for women in our own western hemisphere. The poverty, financial hardship and life under corrupt regimes leads them to the only place on the planet that fundamentally exemplifies justice and freedom: America.
Women and children who illegally migrate to the U.S. are often confronted by some of the worst abuses imaginable. Many illegal migrants are also subjected to rape, kidnapping, sexual slavery and pedophilia. The caravans are also being used as pawns by corrupt governments fighting their own political battles in nations like Honduras and El Salvador.
Just look at the most recent statistics– roughly 40,000 family unit members entered the U.S. illegally in February, which is almost a 340 percent increase, year-to-date, over last year’s numbers.
Unaccompanied children are also up 50 percent over this time last year, and exceeded 7,000 in February.
Their stories, as finally reported by The New York Times, are filled with horror and heartache. Certainly something needs to be done about our immigration system, but allowing the criminal and drug trafficking organizations to be the conduit for poor people isn’t it.
As an American woman, I’m blessed to live in such an incredible nation. I also realize we can’t be selective about the stories we tell just to fit a narrative that suits us politically but be brave to ensure that we continue to break down barriers to move our nation forward.
If we truly care about the struggle for women on International Women’s Day, we can’t hide from the truth but embrace it and work together to find solutions.