The story is almost impossible to read, yet utterly compelling and urgent.
In Sunday’s New York Times (October 7), the front page carried a horrific, unfathomable report of the systematic, brutal and protracted campaign of devastating sexual assaults on women and girls in Congo. The description of the terrible crimes is sickening, but the purpose of these gross assaults is clear. As one doctor said in the article:
“We don’t know why these rapes are happening, but one thing is clear,” said Dr. Mukwege, who works in South Kivu Province, the epicenter of Congo’s rape epidemic. “They are done to destroy women.”
Just a little over a week ago, I sat with presidents of other women’s colleges in the United States and some from other countries and we talked about how we can bring the power of our unique educational missions to the women of the world. Here in the U.S., while we who are devoted to women’s advancement know full well that women and girls still suffer much discrimination and violence domestically, too often we become complacent about the small advances we have made at home, forgetting that millions of women around the world struggle to survive each day. We forget that two-thirds of the world’s nearly-one-billion illiterate citizens are women, that the majority of the 65 million+ children who are not in school are girls. In some elite circles, it’s become fashionable to scoff at the idea of women’s drive for equality, as bogus claims are made that women have “made it.”
Women are being destroyed emotionally, spiritually and physically each day in countless forgotten corners of the world, and even here in D.C. We cannot let the successes of our current generation of more privileged women — success stories which are considerable — obscure the even more urgent need to lift as we climb. The world’s women need the power of the women who have received the privilege of education at some of the best colleges and universities — our women’s colleges. That’s what we presidents talked about last week, and will continue to focus on in the years to come.
What can we do about the suffering of women, children and families in Congo, Darfur, Rwanda and so many other places of destruction? The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur have particularly active ministries in African nations, including Congo. Read more about their work here.
In the months ahead we will revisit some of the themes we explored in 2004 when we celebrated the 200th Anniversary of the SNDs with a symposium focused on Women’s Global Education. We had many good ideas then, the time has come to put ideas into action.
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