It’s a tough world in which to be a woman (and please don’t say it’s not).
Despite having lived on three different continents and in multiple ethnic, religious and social settings, I have not yet met a woman who has not, at some point in her life, experienced gender inequality, suffered gender-based violence, or endured the much-disputed-yet-still-all-too-real gender wage gap.
Today, I find myself living in Papua New Guinea — one of the most difficult countries in which to be a foreign female guest, let alone be born a woman.
Here, some have observed that a woman is worth less than a pig or a dog, can be seen as property, and may be used and abused as such. Women in Papua New Guinea battle for basic rights such as education, their voices are largely silenced, they are the lowest priority for public services, and many live with a very real fear that they will be the next rape case or torture case or body in the morgue.
This inequality and injustice is an unfortunate but deeply entrenched societal ‘norm’, which means that simply being a woman means being less likely to be safe, more likely to be swindled, less likely to be treated like a human being.
But this ‘normality’ is not limited to one country.
Around the globe, women have to fight longer, work harder and be more tenacious than seems humanly possible. Even so, we still don’t always make it up the career ladder. Or step into a societal position of respect. Or pull any weight on the scale of world leadership.
Many of us are simply doing our best to keep our chins up; taking on Wonder Woman’s courage in an effort to change things for ourselves and our daughters. And our daughters’ daughters.
Yet what really stuns me is how ferociously I see women being taken down by… women.
We’re taunting and belittling each other. Attacking and depreciating each other. Dragging our fellow females off any kind of foothold they have managed to cling to in a male-dominated kingdom.
Everywhere I look, women are crucifying women.
It’s downright disheartening, and it’s not unique to one nationality or race. You’d think we would be kinder to each other, knowing something of the additional struggles that we as women face, but the crude fact (which I unfortunately can testify to) is that much of our anxiety, anger or downright defamation is instigated by:
Every time it happens, I am shocked by the betrayal of trust within my own gender. In a world that makes it hard enough to be of the female sex, how can women so effortlessly knock each other down?
But my experiences have been the mild ones. The unkind, unfair but survivable ones.
Not everyone is so lucky.
On PNG’s much celebrated Independence Weekend, a child died unexpectedly not more than two hours from where I live; the grieving community began to gather.
Meanwhile, a 23-year-old girl named Shirley was on her way to her mother’s house with some groceries for their celebration dinner. Shirley accidentally caught the wrong bus, and found herself having to walk the final hour or so home. She unknowingly trudged past the dead child’s house, where an increasingly agitated crowd was gathering, and this is where her gender proved disastrous.
The crowd turned on the innocent woman, yanking her from her distracted thoughts and declaring that she was a stranger, therefore a bad omen, therefore a sorceress who had used her evil powers to kill the child.
Such a bald accusation would make you or I laugh incredulously or flare up in righteous anger. What a completely unfounded attack! The indignation and injustice! Shirley is clearly innocent!
But Shirley is also a woman.
And it is the latter which ties the knot in the hangman’s rope.
The next 24 hours were hell on earth, as a crowd of men raped, tortured and burned with hot irons a beautiful, blameless young woman. What was her crime? That she was in the wrong place at the wrong time in the wrong gender.
Shirley suffered unimaginable pain, numerous operations and terrifying flashbacks of the crowd who roared her down. Her waking moments were full of searing agony and excruciating shame. Her dreams were nightmares of the ghoulish faces of men mercilessly torturing her young body.
Eight days later, Shirley died.
Because the really gut-wrenching part of the story is this:
Q: Who daringly rescued this terrified, blackened, broken shell of a woman and drove her away to a hospital in the middle of the night?
A: Courageous, compassionate men.
Q: Who handed Shirley to a demonic crowd which insisted that she must die?
A: Fearful, grief-crazed women.
The woman whose child had died; the woman who first saw Shirley walk by; the women who gathered in curiosity, then stepped back in sudden terror lest the accusing finger point to them.
Sometimes, women are the loudest betrayers.
If women can tear down women — if those on hand can lay false blame and those far away can pretend such tragedies don’t exist — how can we expect the world to treat us with respect or kindness or even equality? Is the fear of men and the perceived lowliness of women enough cause for us to sentence each other to death?
On that tragic day, it was women who shut their eyes to the truth, who accepted the 30 pieces of silver, and who handed over one of our own to be crucified.
My sisters, NEVER AGAIN.
Let us not allow history to look back on our generation as women who stood by and watched or — worse — as women who crucified women.
It’s time to realize our influential position in society. To rise as the majority we are and to embrace our significant impact for good across this globe. To believe how effective we can collectively be, if only we choose to be.
So choose we must. And choose we will.
We will choose to empower our fellow women. We will fight for the rights of the female clan. We will publicly proclaim the loss of Shirley, our slain sister. We will change the face of history. We will change the very heartbeat of the world.
And we will refuse to be women who crucify women.
Emma is an Italian-South African with a New Zealand passport, living in Papua New Guinea. As well as years of running a puppet ministry and directing student choirs, she has served with Mission Aviation Fellowship since 2007, currently based in PNG. Emma's deep joy is in writing, music, playing with her ginger cats and finding God in unexpected places.
Emma McGeorge’s previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/emma-mcgeorge.html