by Bobbie Szabo
Before studying abroad, my knowledge of a woman’s existence was not necessarily centered on my own experiences, but certainly centered on the experiences of other American women. These views were not only of middle-class white women, but they were still fairly narrow, fairly unworldly views. The problems I combated as a feminist in Ohio were things like the wage gap, rape culture, stereotypes, slut shaming, and sexual assault. As I have been studying abroad, though, I have encountered issues like sex trafficking, female genital mutilation, honor killings, and ethnic cleansing. Not to make a competition out of whose problems are worse, but simply hearing of the experiences of women around the world does not even begin to accurately portray the truth of women’s worldly existence.
About two weeks ago, I was in Greece, a country I had idolized in my mind as some sort of historical utopia in which culture was diverse and people were friendly. Though my vision was not completely incorrect, it was far from accurate. People were incredibly friendly, but they often had ulterior motives. I watched men come up to my male friends and offer them women standing in alleyways in scantily clad clothing. These women looked enticing, like they wanted my friends to say yes, but in many cases, those women were trafficked. They unwillingly prostituted themselves for fear that they would be killed. Greece is a main hub for sex trafficking, and I witnessed proof: sales of women in the streets in front of police officers. The government and police force is so corrupt that officials are often the people benefiting from the trafficking of women.
In Turkey, Kurdish women are brutalized and discriminated against heavily because they are not considered Turkish. They are raped, killed, and labeled as terrorists due to a political party mainly run by men. Women in Turkey tend to live oppressed lives, but Kurdish women especially are targeted for violence. In Italy and Spain, Romani women are treated as second-class citizens. Italian and Spanish people see Romani people as thieves, murderers, and sorcerers. They are mistrusted, and many people will not buy the products of Romani or acknowledge Romani as humans. They are pejoratively labeled as ‘gypsies’, and any movements to gain rights for the Romani people are quickly crushed. One ‘Roma Photography’ store I saw in Spain was vandalized to the point where I could barely read the signs any longer; it had clearly been out of business for years due to robberies and general disrespect.
I have done extensive research on female genital mutilation, or female genital cutting with respect to the cultural importance of the act, for my Multiculturalism and Women’s Rights class. We are visiting Senegal in a little less than two weeks, and we will be touring a non-governmental organization started by Molly Melcher called Tostan which helped to reduce the occurrence of FGM in Senegal by multiple percentage points. Tostan succeeded where other NGOs failed because of its use of local languages and culture to educate native people about human rights and basic health necessities. Local women decided for themselves that they would stop practicing FGM for the sake of their daughters, though they had previously practiced FGM also for the sake of their daughters. These people changed their country beginning at a local level.
I suppose this is where I should get to the point of this post. Women face problems all around the world. Some are more violent and more oppressive than others, but all of them can be fixed. I beg you to investigate what is happening outside of your hometown and home-country. Discover the experiences of women and people around the world. Find out what you can do to help. Being an empowered individual who stands up to catcallers and dresses up as Rosie the Riveter for Halloween is awesome—it really is—but being aware of the challenges women face globally and knowing what you can do about it is another kind of empowerment altogether.
Bobbie is a Kent State University Student currently studying abroad with Semester at Sea. Bobbie is working on her Bachelors of Integrative Studies with concentrations in Women’s Studies, LGBT Studies, Classics, and English. Bobbie is an active member of PRIDE! Kent, KSU Club for Feminists and Students Against Sexual Assault.