“An airplane takes off against the wind not with it” – Henry Ford
The art of flight is a dance with the nature of circumstance and many times our circumstances can feel like they’re against us. But, if approached properly, it’s that resistance that will take us to where we need to go. It’s the resistance - though sometimes painful beyond measure - that builds our strength and takes us higher.
Throughout history, we’ve been fighting for basic human rights, and not without sacrifice.
It can be easy for many of us in the US - born into a lifestyle of freedom and equality - to turn a blind eye to the struggle that some are still facing.
When we hear the statistics behind the gender-based violence that is occurring in our world, part of us might want to change the subject or disengage for a couple of reasons: it can be incredibly painful to hear about, for one, and also because many times we don’t know what we, as individuals, can do about such a prevalent problem that we are privileged enough not to see or hear about on a regular basis. There’s a guilt that we naturally carry when we feel as though we cannot help.
But, if there’s an easier thing to talk about within these situations, it’s the inspiration and bravery behind women who are standing tall and fighting for their basic human rights, and behind the people who are sacrificing time in their own lives to bring justice and security to the ones starved of it. It’s this courage that can inspire us to stand a little bit taller in our own lives.
One Planet Ops is a proud supporter of theTahirih Justice Centerand through our partnership, we have found many stories worthy of sharing. The first, of course, is how it all began.
In 1996, Layli Miller-Muro, then a young law student at American University, was assigned the case of a 17-year old girl seeking asylum in the United States to escape the tribal practice of forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) in Togo, West Africa. After winning asylum by the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals, amidst mass media attention, and opening the door to recognizing gender-based persecution as a grounds for asylum, Miller-Muro and her client co-authored the book, Do They Hear You When You Cry? Using her portion of the proceeds from book sales, Miller-Muro founded the Tahirih Justice Center to continue helping women and girls fleeing gender-based violence all over the world. In addition, after this case gained worldwide attention, the village in Togo where this young girl was from stopped their practice of FGM.
Learn more about Tahirih through this video.
Since the organization’s inception in 1997, Tahirih has answered more than 20,000 pleas for help from women seeking legal and social services in multiple locations nationwide.
As you’ve just seen in the video, women from all over the world are facing gender-based violence and threats deeply rooted in cultural practices.
Some time ago, we had the pleasure of meeting a young girl originally from Yemen who came to Tahirih for help.
She had grown up in the United States and was told by her family she needed to go back to Yemen to visit her ill grandmother. Once she arrived, she found that her grandmother was in fact perfectly healthy and the real reason she was asked to come back was because her family wanted to force her into a marriage. Though, she knew she would bring dishonor to her family if she didn’t agree to the marriage, she was not willing to accept that fate.
She told us she remembered her brother talking to her mom in the kitchen and saying: “you know bullets only cost a dollar”.
In her own words:
“Honestly the most difficult obstacle that I had to overcome was depression. I wanted to crawl into a little ball and never come out. I thought to myself so many times which would be easier, to put an end to everything or keep striving and pushing forward?”
Eventually she felt she had run out of options, and agreed to marry on one condition: that she would be allowed to return to the U.S. immediately after the ceremony and continue living a life of independence. With the help of a friend back home in California, she was able to plan and execute her return.
While she was in Yemen she was also in constant contact with a woman from Tahirih who guided her through her situation.
“She was amazing, always checking on me, trying to help me figure out different options, and most importantly respecting every move I made. I had never met her in person but it felt like a guardian angel watching over me.”
Today she attends nursing school in the U.S.. A survivor by nature – she also beat cancer at 8-years-old – she wants to dedicate her life to giving back and helping others who are in situations similar to or worse than her own.
It’s the bravery in these women who stand up for themselves, at times against their own family and traditions, that can strengthen a fight for equality and justice that is far from over. And, it’s organizations like Tahirih that provide the wings for flight.
In her moving TED Talk, Miller-Muro brings up a strong analogy from the Bahá'í faith:
“Human kind is like a bird with two wings. One is that of the male, and the other is that of the female. And, until both of these wings are equally strong, this bird of civilization will be unable to soar to its fullest potential”
She goes on to say that these issues are not just women’s issues, but humanity issues.
There are many organizations out there continuing this fight that deserve more attention than they get. If you feel moved at all by the story of the Tahirih Justice Center and the women they support, you can help continue the fight for justice bydonating.
If money is not something you can give, we hope that you take away a piece of the strength that exists behind the stories and principles of the Tahirih Justice Center and apply them to your own life. Whether you are male or female, understand that whatever struggle you may be going through, it is just a component of what can take you, and everyone around you that you impact, to a higher place, as long as you keep moving forward.
As George Washington famously put it:
“Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth”