“What are my rights as a woman in the United States?”
This was the very personal, painful question asked by a refugee woman who was having marriage problems. Many refugees come to the U.S. having been raised in cultures with much different values regarding women than what I have been raised with. I take it for granted that I am equal in the eyes of the law. My worth is the same as a man’s here. If I were ever placed in a situation where I would need to call the police, I can make that call with confidence that I will be defended by those in authority, not physically assaulted.
Recently while accompanying an African woman to court who is in the middle of a domestic situation with her husband, I could sense the burden on her face. The United States is a scary place for a woman who does not speak the English language, but when this same woman faces a future possibly as a single mother, things look even scarier. Especially when the only thing this woman knows is what occurs to single mothers back in her home country: They are oftentimes left to beg for food. They are shunned by the community. Those in authority cannot be trusted because of corruption.
I looked this mother in the eye and told her not to worry. I explained in the most elementary English that she is safe here, that she will not be forgotten, that she has rights. I explained how she will not become homeless. She will have financial security through child support. She will receive government assistance with childcare and food. The stress melted from her body and was replaced with a smile. “Thank-you, America. God bless America” were the words that flowed from her mouth as her hands lifted in prayer.
I live in a land that does not make excuses for honor killings or violence against women. If a woman has experienced verbal or sexual or physical abuse, it does not matter if she is rich or poor; she can call 911 and entrust that she will be taken care of. There are domestic violence shelters that offer immediate protection. My mom is co-Director of one such shelter, Branches of Monroe County in Tennessee. In cases of separation from a husband or divorce, a woman will not be dumped on the streets or forced to live at the mercy of friends. There are many social services that she can take advantage of to help her get a second chance in life. These services are offered to citizen and immigrant alike.
When a refugee woman realizes that her worth is the same in the eyes of the law, an amazing thing happens. She begins to see herself through different eyes. She is worthy to be cherished. She has value. She does not have to be victimized by abuse. She can rise up and create a new future for herself and her children.
The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of freedom for all, but female immigrants take extra notice. The Statue of Liberty is a woman who represents: Liberty Enlightening the World. Indeed, many countries of the world have much to learn in regards to how they treat women. I pray that they will be enlightened with what most Westernized countries inherently believe: All humans are created equal.
I have 5 daughters. I am thankful they were born here in the US. They can do anything they want with their lives. No man has the legal right to abuse them in any way. No matter how depressing the political forecast for my nation is, when I think of the personal freedoms and protection under the law that my daughters have, I, too, join my female refugee friends and say