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Equality and Justice


Equality and Justice

...She said she would keep fighting for me until I was free. She was like an angel, someone who had come to  rescue me from the living hell I had endured since coming to the United States." -  Excerpt from Fauziya Kassindja's  ‘Do They Hear You When You Cry?

Violence against women and girls is the most widespread violation of human rights—globally and locally. One out of every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime, says Layli Miller-Muro.

Mary was born out of wedlock and raised by her grandparents. Because she was “illegitimate,” she was physically, emotionally, and, later, sexually abused. At the age of ten, she was forced to undergo female genital mutilation. Then, when her family tried to force her to be an older man’s fifth wife, Mary fled for a better life.

Fauziya Kassindja, Meryl Streep and Efua Dorkenoo (equalitynow.org)Fauziya Kassindja, Meryl Streep and Efua Dorkenoo (equalitynow.org)She accepted the help of a woman who offered to send her to a school abroad in order to escape Kenya. But instead, she horrifyingly found herself captive in a brothel in Mexico where she was regularly beaten, drugged, and forced to have sex with men. By the time Mary made it to the United States, she was overwhelmed, depressed, and in shock. Not knowing what else to do, she attempted suicide—twice. She came to Tahirih for legal help and we worked with her and a team of pro bono attorneys to apply for asylum. But, she needed more than just legal assistance. She was traumatized, homeless, and, as the result of rape, had just given birth to a baby girl. Tahirih rallied support to get her social services, shelter, and essential supplies and clothing for her child. After many years of waiting, Mary was finally granted protection in the United States from a lifetime of violence. Today, she is working in the medical field and is continuing to pursue her education. Although her past is unimaginable, she is finally free and no longer afraid.

Photo of women taken in Niger by © Sergio Pessolano from Roma, Italy - sergiopessolano.itPhoto of women taken in Niger by © Sergio Pessolano from Roma, Italy - sergiopessolano.itLayli Miller-Muro says "I went to law school and became passionate about human's rights work. When I was in law school, I had an amazing experience; I had the opportunity to help in the defense of Fauziya Kassindja, a 17-year-old young woman who had fled Togo in fear of a forced polygamous marriage and a tribal practice known as female genital mutilation.  She was granted asylum in 1996 by the US Board of Immigration Appeals.  This decision opened the door to gender-based persecution as grounds for asylum."

Using her portion of the proceeds from a book she and Kassindja co-authored about the case (Do They Hear You When You Cry? Delacorte Press, 1998),  Layli Miller-Muro established the Tahirih Justice Center which provides free, high quality legal services to vulnerable immigrant women and girls who are the victims of gender-based violence such as human trafficking, female genital mutilation, rape, torture, forced marriage and domestic violence. Layli has led the organization in becoming a national leader in promoting justice for immigrant women and girls while serving as an important service provider in the Greater DC region.

On September 30, 2009, the Tahirih Justice Center, together with Human Rights First and the Women’s Refugee Commission, convened a Congressional Briefing to call attention to the many challenges facing women and girls seeking asylum in the United States.On September 30, 2009, the Tahirih Justice Center, together with Human Rights First and the Women’s Refugee Commission, convened a Congressional Briefing to call attention to the many challenges facing women and girls seeking asylum in the United States.Why Tahirih? Tahirih was a champion of women’s rights in mid-19th century Persia during a time and place when most women were kept illiterate and hidden from the public sphere. In 1848, as a symbolic pronouncement that a new day was dawning for the status of women, Tahirih became the first woman in recorded Middle Eastern history to publicly remove her veil before an assemblage of men. A member of the persecuted Bahá’í Faith, she was executed for her beliefs and activities at the age of 32. Her last recorded words were, “You can kill me as soon as you like, but you will never stop the emancipation of women.” -- The Tahirih Justice Center welcomes women and girls in need regardless of their adherence to religious and cultural practices. The reference to Tahirih removing her veil is historical and not meant to imply the promotion of unveiling.

Since 2001, Layli Miller-Muro has led the organization in its service to over 11,000 women and girls, growing it from a staff of 6 to 30, and expanding its offices to Houston and Baltimore in addition to the Washington, DC area. In recognition of its sound management and innovative programs, under her leadership, Tahirih Justice Center won the Washington Post Award for Management Excellence.

Layli Miller-Muro with acclaimed actor Sam Waterston, who has portrayed Executive Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy on "Law & Order" and some Tahirih Justice Center clients.Layli Miller-Muro with acclaimed actor Sam Waterston, who has portrayed Executive Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy on "Law & Order" and some Tahirih Justice Center clients.Justice and Equality – a basis for change in our troubled world
by Layli Miller-Muro 2004-07-17

We live at an historic time in human history. Some of you may be sensing this as you read the newspapers, as you watch television. We live in an historic time that requires us to make historic moral choices – about who we want to be and where we want to go. I’m here this evening to ask us to reflect. To ask us to pause, and to ask us to look at whom we are and who we want to be. Because it is now that we are faced with critical choices that will determine for the rest of history who we are, particularly who we are relative to how we treat people, and especially those who don’t look like us. The United States is facing some of these questions in the wake of September 11 that are especially dramatic. And I know that New Zealand – and the rest of the world – has to make decisions about how it treats people who come to its shores seeking justice, and how it treats people within its own borders.

Jailed for two years in a maximum security prison in the U.S. after fleeing FGM, Fauziya Kassindja Geft) found a champion in law student Layli Bashir (right). Layli Bashir Unexpected Crusader by Kavita MenonJailed for two years in a maximum security prison in the U.S. after fleeing FGM, Fauziya Kassindja Geft) found a champion in law student Layli Bashir (right). Layli Bashir Unexpected Crusader by Kavita MenonAs I look into the eyes of the Tahirih Justice Centre’s clients - the non-profit organization I work with, where we provide free legal services to women and girls who are fleeing human rights abuses – I see the experiences of women who have fought amazing circumstances, who have overcome huge obstacles, and who have mustered up tremendous courage to make their way to foreign shores in order to seek protection. These are the conditions that many people are living in today and many people are fighting for justice in different ways. The world is in turmoil and its agitation is increasing every day. We are witnesses of historic events that are changing the fabric and the institutions of our society.

We have a tremendous opportunity before us. We can use recent events to promote compassion, justice and global concord or we can use recent events to promote fear, suspicion and separation. We have choices to make but we must be careful. We could make the wrong choices. We could fail to take advantage of the opportunities for progressive change which exist around us.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said that one of the great liabilities of human history is that people have too often failed to remain awake through great periods of social change. We must be alert. Nothing would be more tragic than to live in these revolutionary times and to fail to achieve the new attitudes and approaches that a new reality demands.

From L to R: Senator Joseph R. Biden, Layli Miller-Muro with Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan and Congressman James Moran at the 2005 Tahirih’s annual fund raising benefit event.From L to R: Senator Joseph R. Biden, Layli Miller-Muro with Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan and Congressman James Moran at the 2005 Tahirih’s annual fund raising benefit event.You see, I believe that humanity is an ever-advancing civilization and as a result we go through periods and stages of growth and evolution. If you look at human history, for example, you can see that we have gone through the stage of infancy, or complete dependence. We’ve also gone through the stage of childhood and we are currently in a stage of adolescence.

If you look around the world today, and if you think about the qualities of adolescence, I think that you can see how some of those qualities are reflected in the world today.

For example, adolescents are often striving for their identity, for a sense of independence. You hear a lot of "I can do it on my own," "I can do it myself." This is one of the qualities of adolescence. It’s not a bad quality. It’s a good quality that can lead to helpful things, but it is one of the qualities of adolescence. If you look at the world today you can see this quality being reflected. People, particularly over the past 50 years or so, have been striving in aggressive ways to maintain their identity, to establish their independence. You also hear things, particularly from countries like my own, that "we can do it alone," "we can do it ourselves," and these are also qualities of adolescence.

Do They Hear You When You Cry? by Fauziya Kassindja  Do They Hear You When You Cry? by Fauziya KassindjaAnother quality of adolescence is a sense of invincibility or indestructibility - not quite realizing, maybe, our own limitations. Again, these are qualities that may be used for good - many heroic acts have been done because of this sense of invincibility - but it can also be a liability. You can see in the world today that many countries – again, I think mine is a good example – are seeing themselves as invincible or indestructible and not fully appreciating their own limitations and the need to work with others in order to fully realize their own capacity and potential. Again, this is a quality of adolescence.

Another quality of adolescence is that an adolescent will have the physical capacities of an adult. You know, an adolescent has the physical ability to give birth. An adolescent also has the ability to take a life. An adolescent has the physical abilities but may lack, as of yet, the emotional, intellectual or spiritual maturity to use those physical capacities to their fullest. If you look around the world, you can see how humanity reflects those qualities. Humanity has tremendous physical, material capacity. We could, if we wanted to, feed the entire planet. We could, if we wanted to, annihilate the entire planet. We have tremendous material capacities. But, we lack as of yet, the emotional, the spiritual, the intellectual maturity to go along with those material capacities – to use them to their fullest.

The Bahá’í Writings state that the

    Long ages of infancy and childhood, through which the human race has had to pass, have receded into the background. Humanity is now experiencing the commotions invariably associated with the most turbulent stage of its evolution, the stage of adolescence, when the impetuosity of youth and its vehemence reach their climax, and must gradually be superseded by the calmness, the wisdom, and the maturity that characterize the stage of adulthood.

We are in this stage currently and there are certain lessons we have to learn, like any good adolescent, in order to mature eventually to the stage of adulthood.

One of the lessons we have to learn is the importance of justice. Without achieving justice we will not be able to enter into adulthood and fully reach our capacity. I had hoped, after September 11th, which we in the United States would learn that where there is injustice, then that means the entire world is at risk. You know Afghanistan was a place of tremendous injustice for many, many years, when half of its population was subjugated and suffered under a system of gender apartheid. It was my hope that we would learn from what had happened and know that, where there is an unjust society, odds are very good that that injustice will become infectious, contagious and afflict all of us in the world. We are not immune from things that happen across the planet – those things are all affecting us at home.

Worldwide facts about gender-based violence

In the next decade, more than 100 million girls worldwide will marry before their 18th birthday. Some will be as young as eight or nine; many will marry against their will.

There are an estimated 100 million to 140 million women and girls who have been subjected to female genital mutilation. Currently, about three million girls, the majority under 15 years of age, undergo the procedure every year.

Every year, in 65 countries combined, more than 250,000 cases of rape or attempted rape are recorded by police.
 
Every year, 5,000 women and girls throughout the world are murdered by members of their own family in the name of honor.

An estimated 11,000 to 16,000 women, representing one-third to one-half of all foreign fiancé(e)s admitted to the United States each year, may have met their husbands through International Marriage Broker (IMB).

Internationally, 700,000 to two million women are trafficked across borders annually. The volume of trafficking grew by almost 50 percent from 1995 to 2000.

Around the world, at least one woman in every three has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Most often, the abuser is a member of her own family.

A wave of genocide created 500,000 widows in Rwanda. After the genocide, many widows were further victimized by their husbands’ male relatives.

The Tahirih Justice Center will train volunteer attorneys to provide free legal assistance to 250 immigrant women fleeing violence so they can access justice and protect their children. DONATE TODAY. Thank you.

(Excerpt from the
transcript of the talk given at the 5th annual Margaret Stevenson Memorial Dinner and Lecture, July 17 2004.)
Layli Bashir Unexpected Crusader by Kavita Menon - read more  / Tahirih Justice Center Website

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