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Strength in Leadership, Legislation and Literature

May 1, 2012

Sarah Hayes ’14

In the past week there have been a number of interesting articles on women’s issues. The Huffington Post ran pieces on the relationship between President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the pending reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), while The New York Times Magazine told the story of a women’s poetry forum in Afghanistan.

The Huffington Post published an examination of the relationship between President Obama and the Clinton family. Despite their intense rivalry in the fight for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, a more congenial connection has emerged between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Clinton’s tenure in Obama’s cabinet has increased her popularity and allowed for the development of a working professional partnership between the two politicians. At the same time, Obama has benefited from Hillary’s competence as a diplomat and former President Bill Clinton’s abilities as a campaigner in the 2012 election. For his own part, an alliance with Obama keeps Bill Clinton involved at the highest levels of the Democratic Party. From a personal standpoint, the Clintons are some of the few people who understand the challenges that Obama faces as president. In this examination of what was once a bitter competition, it is heartening to see that working relationships can be established between even the most controversial of rivals. It is also important to note that the article also focuses on Hillary Clinton’s role as a politician rather than on her gender, discussing how her strengths as Secretary of State could help her should she choose to run for president in 2016.

The actress Mariska Hargitay of Law and Order: SVU also contributed to The Huffington Post with a piece on the partisan divisions surrounding the renewal of VAWA. Originally passed in 1994, this act marked the first time that domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking were given appropriate attention, allowing for criminal prosecution. It also led to the creation of a support system for victims through rape crisis centers and organizations against violence. Reauthorizations in 2000 and 2005 broadened the definition of what constitutes domestic violence and sexual assault. The law was up for reauthorization again in 2011, but has stalled over partisan divisions. Passage would lead to the inclusion of LGBTQ, immigrant, and Native American communities within VAWA. Unfortunately deep factional differences have prevented approval in the Senate. Hargitay believes that to exclude these groups from VAWA undermines the law’s goals. The article brings up an important point that women of various backgrounds and communities need to be protected from domestic violence. Domestic and sexual violence are issues for all women and ideological differences should not stand in the way of prevention and protection.

Finally, The New York Times Magazine published an article on an Afghan women’s literary society called Mirman Baheer. Although members living in the capital city of Kabul live relatively free lives, female poets from more rural regions must keep their membership a secret. These women read their poems in secret over the phone to member Ogai Amail in Kabul, who transcribes their words longhand because the group cannot afford a tape recorder. Poetry has traditionally been a form of rebellion for the women of Afghanistan through the composition of landai, two line oral folk poems. Through Mirman Baheer, women can now preserve their works in written form and have them read on Radio Liberty. Should they be discovered by their families, they risk violence because love poems are seen as evidence of promiscuity. The literary society gives women a way to continue their education and present their accomplishments to the public, giving them new confidence even if their work is published under a pseudonym, as they often are for protection. Most importantly, Mirman Baheer shows the people of Afghanistan and the West that Afghan women are not as weak and submissive as they are often perceived. They are intelligent, strong, and courageous women, who are willing to risk physical harm and even death for the sake of their work. Their commitment to their own self-expression provides inspiration for the strength of women all over the world.

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