Saturday, March 21, 2015

On Behalf of Women and Girls in Guatemala: Thank You Ashley Judd

She is bold and beautiful, articulate and intelligent. And if she were not already a movie star, she should be. Ashley Judd represents and demonstrates what American women have fought for and earned: the right to stand tall and be heard when the core of who you are as a person has been attacked.
You may have heard the details already. Ashley Judd showcased the rubble of a less-than-perfect past in a recently published essay that can be read here (warning: disturbing language):
Ashley Judd's Essay
Even with the March Madness mania that occupies our collective thoughts and TV sets during this basketball season, Ms. Judd's essay jumped to the top of our media radar instantly. Movie stars with difficult circumstances, whether past or present, make for increased press sales. 
Emma was fourteen when she was raped in Mexico. After finding the anger and strength to kill her attacker, she fled to Guatemala, where she buried her past but not well enough to marry appropriately. Her husband was an alcoholic who beat her. She and her two children remain in hiding.
Maria is twelve and is one of the students in our scholarship program. When she told me about her recent rape she hadn't yet found her voice, and rightfully so, since the perpetrators live in her small rural Guatemalan village. On her way to school last fall she was attacked in a way that changed her life and her persona in irretrievable ways that she doesn't understand. Her parents asked us for money to help hire a lawyer and press charges.
We were advised against using our nonprofit funds for legal aid that would not bring resolution in a country where justice is still a new word. For her own protection, I can't show you her face.

These are only two of the stories in our small organization.The eighteen women on Finding Freedom's client list have backgrounds of incest, spousal abuse, infidelity and child molestation. The sad reality is that if they didn't have these traumatic pasts, they would not need our program. 

Rural Guatemala: remote, beautiful and a hard place to be a woman

Their role models have crossed the borders looking for work
As a board, we don't have the foresight to know what direction this new found knowledge about Ms. Judd's past will follow. It is our hope, and most likely hers also, that by divulging the circumstances that no girl or young woman ever wishes to list on her curriculum vitae of life, other women will be inspired to deal with and process the confusing myriad of emotional and physical circumstances that accompany the violations they went through. 
For a woman in Central America the chance of getting the help they need, be it psychological or legal, is as remote as the pathways to their respective villages. Guatemala has the dubious distinction of having the third highest level of gender based violence against women in the world. Finding Freedom is working in a part of the world where fathers are missing, boys are brought up in a culture of machismo (an exaggerated sense of power or the right to dominate) and justice for women is not on the political radar.
Thank you Ashley. Thank you on behalf of Emma and Maria, and for raising awareness among the boys of Guatemala, who we hope will someday be raised in a culture that cherishes the gender that gave birth to them. Your words, and the bravery that it took to write them, will give some women, wherever they may live, the knowledge that they are not alone. 

(photo credits: Devin Mendenhall and Jody Greenlee)