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Safe to Thrive: Politics & Women's Freedom

Safe to Thrive: Politics & Women's Freedom

Women and girls have a fundamental right to safety. This safety is a precursor to development and growth, in order for girls and women to be able to build more prosperous lives for themselves, their families, their communities and their country. This week's Girls' Leadership Forum post features girls from Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Mali about the impact of politics on women, and women's participation in the political system.

How is politics related to safety?

Rebecca Doherty

One week ago, millions of women and men in the U.S. and around the world marched in the streets. To date, a march has not gotten such momentum and worldwide participation. So why did so many people from around the globe march?

This march was unique due to the multiplicity of causes for which marchers advocated, as well as the timing of the march, poignantly, the day after the inauguration of America’s 45th President, Donald J. Trump. The hashtag #WhyIMarch flooded various social media outlets with inspiring stories and videos about the issues and people who drove them to march. One of the issues many marchers talked about was safety, and their concerns about safety under the new U.S. presidential administration. But how is politics related to safety?

When we talk about safety, it’s natural to think of physical threats. However, politics, which directly influences public policy and government programs, impacts and could threaten our daily lives, as well, including our personal freedom. As the feminist mantra goes, “the personal is political.” I came to understand this phrase in my first Introduction to Political Science class at Howard University, when my professor, Dr. Michael Nwanze, made the argument that politics affects every aspect of our everyday lives. The reflections of the girls in this week’s Girls’ Leadership Forum make this concept even more clear: politics indeed affects every aspect of our lives.

In this week’s posts on politics and safety, girls share their views on how women feel about their own safety, after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, which certainly impacted and will continue to impact everyone’s daily lives in America and the world.

Lalla Maiga, Mali

Lalla, originally from Mali, was born in Canada but currently lives in Ghana. She is 17.

I may not be an American or a citizen, but on November 8th, my whole family and the majority of the people I surround myself with did not hope for a Trump victory, and I certainly think dynamics all around us have especially changed, even for me, halfway across the globe.

As a woman in the 21st century, I feel like we have been blessed with the strides we have made in society, such as in Canada, where women won a record number of Parliament seats in 2015.  I personally think that Donald Trump has completely debased and reversed all these previous achievements. He has simply put male entitlement, sexism and double standards back on the front lines throughout his whole campaign. His becoming supposedly one of the most influential people on earth only goes to show how many people support these ideals and, in reality, have no respect for women. His victory only enhanced those who believe that women deserve to just be “grabbed by the pussy” and are “young and beautiful pieces of ass.” There is a magnitude more to us, and his election to the presidency has whitewashed all that had been done to move women forward in society.

Moving past the fact that he has manipulated an environment for misogyny, he has also enhanced the atmosphere for aggressive racism toward people of colour and immigrants. The number of racist incidents since the election has simply soared. Reports such as a Muslim woman at the University of California being robbed, a swastika being painted across a Philadelphia storefront, only two months before his access to power, have allowed minorities to feel the effects of his propagandistic campaign and bigotry. Trump is the man who proposed banning an entire religious group from entering the US and hinted at a re-implementation of stop-and-frisk, which only further serves to illustrate the degree of his targeting of minority residents. The whole basis of his campaign was against immigrants and was cheered on by every white racist in the country. As a person of colour, I can attest that Trump has validated racism through his words, which are one of the most powerful and influential tools.

The Donald Trump Presidency is an era yet to begin, but I feel deeply that his election is a setback in the progress society has made away from the oppression of minorities.  The clock has been turned back, leaving a majority facing dark and uncertain times.

Adeola Fayemiwo, Nigeria

Adeola is 15 and lives with her immediate family in Ibadan, Nigeria.

Personally, it’s heartbreaking that Trump won the elections. As a girl from Nigeria, it has shown me that the world’s “most free” country isn’t as free as it is in books. For me, coming from a country where a woman has never been president or even vice-president, Hillary would have made history.  She would have proven to me that even the world’s superpower can have a female president, so why can’t it be done back home? The United States election also shows us that Americans have no right to judge our elections. They complain about corruption and rigging of our elections, yet they have a dual system for their elections that enables someone to win who has had no prior knowledge of any political post or understanding of how the system works. America is supposed to be the land of dreams and by Hillary losing, many dreams of little girls and young women, not only in the U.S., but all over the world, have been shattered. I don’t know how a country would have a businessman as a president. Running a business and running a country aren’t the same things, and it doesn’t take a university degree to understand that. Is no one scared that some deals he makes as a president might be put in place to favour his assets, rather than America as a whole? During Trump’s campaign speeches, he made references to the states where he has personal interests quite a few times. I also don’t know how a country would have a president that speaks in a philippic tradition towards numerous races in a country that is built on immigration and a multiracial society.

Trump’s winning also makes me question the basis of democracy. Isn’t democracy a system of government that enables the majority to get its say and the minority be heard? If so, then why would Hillary win the popular vote, yet lose the electoral college? What’s the point of making people vote, if the electoral college system is more important than the individual votes? Looking at statistics, more young people voted for Hillary than for Trump. Are these elections trying to say that the voice of the future doesn’t matter? How are all those young people who voted for the first time expected to feel? I know if it were me, I’d be discouraged. Also, how coincidental is it that Trump won by very few votes in the key states with the most electoral votes? He also claims that for every new government regulation that is added, two old regulations will be abolished. I believe that regulations, rules and policies are put in place to ensure law and order in a country, so, then I must ask, what’s he trying to achieve?

All I can do is pray for America.

Yalemwork Teferra, Ethiopia

Yalemwork Teferra is a senior at Sidwell Friends School. She was born in Washington, DC, and both her parents are from Ethiopia. Yalemwork is incredibly proud of her Ethiopian-American identity and considers herself so lucky and blessed to be associated with a country and continent with such beauty and richness.

On November 9th, 2016, I woke up in a nation that didn’t want me. I had fallen asleep the night before on the couch with my mother, positive that I would be waking up to history being made….again. I had witnessed the election of the first black president of the United States, and, the next morning, I was going to witness the election of the first female president of the United States. To me, there was no better time to be an American than that moment. I woke up happy and confident, ready to enter my day with my chin held high and to lead a Black Student Union (BSU) meeting on what the election results would mean for the black community.  Particularly, I wanted to discuss how we would rebuild trust between Hillary Clinton and the black community.  So, to say I was shocked, is an understatement. I turned on my phone, and it was blowing up with notifications. Hundreds of confused texts and messages from my friends and family from the night before and that morning.  My news article notifications were filled with, “Donald Trump, president-elect of the United States…. We can’t believe it, either.” I was numb. I had taken a shower the night before, but I decided to take one again that morning because I could barely move, and I could barely breathe. I hadn’t realized the depth of my bubble until that morning, and I had never been more grateful to be living in it.

The first image that came to mind was a privilege walk I had done in my gender studies class this semester.  I was behind everyone else, even farther away from the other black women with whom I had just been on the same row a few steps before. I am a first-generation American, a black woman, and I couldn’t stop thinking of how I felt that day, knowing that my “race” for success in America would be longer and harder than that of most of my peers. But, I wasn’t discouraged when I realized my obstacles… if anything, I was inspired. I knew that everyone in that room, and so many people in this country were my allies in that race, and that, even if I had it a bit harder than everyone else, my hopes and dreams were still attainable. I knew I had to work twice as hard to get half as much, but I was willing to put in that work, and I was willing to finish up the progress so many amazing activists before me had started. Little did I know a counter-revolution had been ignited, and I was its enemy. I felt completely different about that walk that morning. I felt that there was no use in even trying, because the race I had to run was so long and so hard now that it wasn’t even worth attempting. I had to wake up that morning with so many weights on my shoulders that I did not even know which feelings to prioritize.

As selfish and naive as it may sound, I really thought the struggles that so many activists before me had to face were over. I knew this idea of a “post-racial” society was false, but I just thought the work we were doing was wrapping up.  I thought that the blood, sweat and tears of amazing people like Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and so many others were going to be worth it, because we were the generation that would truly end discrimination and bridge inequalities. I never thought I would be part of the history book I was using as a reference guide to not make the same mistakes this country has made before. Seeing history repeat itself in present day instilled so much fear and loathing in me that I could barely bring myself to come to school the day after the election. It all sank in. Being disenfranchised because of the way I looked was a reality I had to deal with all my life, but now I saw it a little differently. I felt like a stranger walking the halls of the school I had adored so much. I didn’t want to do anything anymore. I am tired of struggling. I am tired of being discriminated against. I AM TIRED OF BEING AFRAID! My family worked their asses off to come to this country and to build a better life for us, but this was not the America they had done that for, this was not the America that I recognized. And what was most hurtful was that the Trump voters I had in my head were no longer the “white trash rednecks” that I had imagined sitting out on their porch, drinking beer, spewing insults towards minorities. It was 51% of COLLEGE-educated white women, and an even higher percentage of educated white men. The intellectual realm of people that I had for so long yearned to enter included the same groups of people who had the toxic mentality that shook me to my core.

But I’m not going to stop countering “All lives matter,” transphobic, homophobic, sexist, anti-semitic, islamophobic and hateful speech. At the end of the day, those comments and actions come out of fear. Fear of the other. But, it is hard to combat fear when I am feeling so afraid myself. I couldn’t even talk to my FRIENDS the same way. The amount of distrust, fear, and loathing I felt and still am feeling scares me. I don’t want an “us” vs. “them,” but at the same time, I am not going to try and bridge the gaps between people who would rather widen those gaps and get rid of people like me forever. So, I feel stuck. And I feel afraid. I woke up the day before the election feeling like I wasn’t doing enough for social justice issues, that I wasn’t speaking up enough for those who were disenfranchised or elevating the voices of those who were silenced. But, after Trump was elected, I woke up feeling like maybe I was doing too much. I felt as though I had been preaching to a choir who would never listen, and wasting my breath on a country that would never change. It’s been hundreds of years, and it feels like every time we take a step forward, we are brought 1,000 steps back. When it comes to issues like stop-and-frisk, mass incarceration, overturning Roe v. Wade, defunding Planned Parenthood, the strong belief in trickle-down economics (that plummeted this country into the Great Depression), or re-establishing trade deals, I am scared. But, at least I have a little hope in the good people in politics to fight for the voices that don’t get heard in this country. With that said, knowing that the Chris Christies and the Rudy Giulianis of the world are the ones in this president’s (I can’t even say “my” country comfortably anymore) Cabinet scares me. What scares me even more, however, is the revolution Trump’s campaign and victory has ignited. A revolution that is making people spray paint swastikas on walls, writing, “Make America white again,” re-energizing the KKK, excited to reclaim violence as a part of their hateful parades, and having little children in MIDDLE SCHOOL CAFETERIAS chanting, “Build that wall.” I’m scared about the direction this country is going. I am scared for my friends and my family, and for every single minority and group of people, including white men (although not as much), in this country. I am scared, and I feel hopeless. I know I will feel like this for a while, possibly for the rest of my life.

The political views expressed in this blog post are solely those of the authors and do not represent the political views of WomenStrong International.

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