It is often common to hear individuals reflect upon how thankful they are for certain materialistic things in which they take for granted, including money, housing, and clothing. However, how often does one stop to appreciate their safety from exploitation or harm, their education, or their ability to participate in the economic world? Although I cannot speak for others, viewing the documentary, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, made me realize how little I think about these issues, and how big of a problem that is in and of itself.
While following heartbreaking stories regarding rape in Sierra Leon, sex trafficking in Cambodia, education in Vietnam, maternal mortality in Somaliland, intergenerational prostitution in India, and economic empowerment in Kenya, I was needless to say–left speechless. I could not fathom the idea that young girls, who should be blind to the world’s evils and filled only with innocence, have experienced oppression and vice to an extent unimaginable. Being a twenty-year old young woman myself, I feel personally connected to every story I heard, wishing I could remove all of these bright children from these dark, haunting, and unacceptable circumstances. I believe that the combination of this anger and despair was the main purpose and overall message of this documentary. This is due to the fact that in order to create change, the world needs to understand the severity of the obstacles women face in this world. Once this comprehension is reached, we can take the appropriate and necessary steps towards resolving and ending the ongoing discrimination, oppression, and victimization of women in the global community.
Despite the fact that I cannot compare myself to any of these brave women or girls, one story truly impacted me in a way in which I will always remember. In Vietnam, there is a young girl by the name of Nhi, who works harder than most people ever will in a lifetime. She spends her days selling tickets to earn her family their only source of stable income, preparing household meals, caring for her younger brother, and attending school. As if this were not enough, Nhi was denied the right to see a tutor by her father who beats her, so she therefore saves the little money she has to fund her own education. The emotions Nhi portrayed in this documentary were commitment, bravery, and relentlessness. Regardless of the astronomical daily struggles she faces, she never gives up and keeps her eyes on her ultimate goal of a fulfilling education. The action’s Nhi takes is much larger than the typical definition of hard work. She is truly a hero, enduring constant hurdles and possess an abundance of tenacity. It is much more difficult to unveil Nhi’s exact thoughts and perceptions, however, I can do my best to determine these solely from observation. I believe it is safe to say that she longs for her parent’s approval; emotionally distanced from the harsh man she calls her father. Due to the fact that he also scared off her mother, she must be frightened by his abusive side with a sense of helpless abandonment. Being that she leads a life lacking many options, she believes that the best way to create change and gain power is through her enduring commitment to education. Nhi is strong both inside and out, and I hope that she has the opportunity to one day reach her academic potential.
What is so important about Nhi’s heroic and harsh story is that she is only one of many. Although the narrator and direction alters, the conclusion is all the same: young girls are being deprived of an education all around the world. In Vietnam, it is said that men do not like educated women for a wife; instead they prefer illiterate or obedient women. By fifth grade, twenty-five out of thirty students are boys, leaving the girls at home completing housework. Most mothers encourage this system, as they benefit from the helping hands at home. Although it is clear that this system is largely offensive and oppressive towards young girls, this is not why I was greatly impacted. On the other hand, it was due to the guilt and shame this story casted over my body, reminding me of the days I’ve leaped for joy at the sight of snow filling the streets, holding hot towels over my head claiming that I was sick, pretending to drive to school when I was going elsewhere, turning off my alarm to sleep in, and other efforts simply to avoid a class or school day. In America, these acts are normal, and often comical, amongst students at any level. After seeing the daily battle Nhi faces in order to receive an education, I have vowed to remind myself of her struggles whenever I am simply “not feeling up to” attending a class. There are young girls around the world who are not fortunate enough to receive an education up to fifth grade, therefore I will always remember Nhi, and be forever grateful of the higher education that I am receiving. Hopefully proper recognition of this issue and joint commitment to resolve it can change the lives of countless bright young women.
As a psychology major, with a concentration in human services and a focus on adolescence and development, I have had internship experience at a center in which helped many young women after being physically or sexually abused. Because of this, the stories of rape and trafficking were ones in which particularly resonated with me. I was able to see these issues first hand, grasping the idea that this health issue is one in which always remains. As stated in this documentary, affected women are not victims, but they are part of the solution. Sadly, in both Sierra Leon and Cambodia, this empowering rehabilitation is not widely accepted. Young women and girls, who have been raped or trafficked, are often shunned from their families and considered the problem themselves. They are sold by their own parents to brothel owners, are kicked out of their homes, and are never given the right of justice. This is completely intolerable and must immediately be stopped. An important lesson I’ve learned from my studies and internship exposure, is how fragile these women are after abuse. Simply because they survived the physical brutality, does not mean that they emotionally overcame the suffering they experienced. These memories can create permanent scars, both inside and out. There are several health outcomes in which can result from sexual abuse, including post traumatic stress disorder, suicidality, anxiety, depression, aggressiveness, habit disorders, and much more. Women affected need the support of others, someone to remind them that they are not the problem, but the fighting solution.
Nancy B Irwin is a licensed clinical psychologist with over ten years of experience. She has specialized in sexual abuse, however, has a unique model in which I believe would make a positive contribution to this issue. Although therapy sessions have the connotations of being emotionally stressful and serious, Nancy’s past of stand-up comedy allows her to apply a twist to her practice. Her main goals are to heal the sexually abused in a fun and uplifting atmosphere. I believe that the spread of Dr. Irwin’s philosophy could greatly help rebuild the emotional scars remaining from careless and heartless acts. The young women and girls affected by rape and sex trafficking in Sierra Leon and Cambodia are missing these qualities of emotional support and juvenile amusement. I wish for nothing less than the empowerment and safety of young girls and women; this is only obtainable with proper education and worldwide collaboration. It is time for us to do our part, as these brave women are truly “holding up half the sky” and more.
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. Video Documentary.