Dear Secretary General Ban Ki – Moon,
“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” Elie Wiesel
My name is Sherna Alexander Benjamin and I lived through an age of chaos, trauma, and extreme violence and abuse and I survived, I survived with scars from this war, wounds from each battle, and memories of pain to last a thousand generations, I survived with the demons of that age ever present and standing in a clear view or walk hastily with subdued speed before me.
I grew up in an age where the following phrases were constantly repeated by families, professionals, society and governments: “what happens behind closed doors must remain there”, “family privacy is just that private”, “girls must be seen and not heard”, “boys must not cry, they must be strong”, “to save your life keep silent” and finally “silence is golden”
Like me there are many women across this globe who have been touched by violence and marred by its effects, they too are hurting and, many are victims of horrendous abuse, many remain silent to this day and death is their only peace. Many have decided like me to take that bold step to go against the socially accepted norm of silence and break the silence.
Unfortunately the majority of our sisters in nations near and far are not as bold, and fear has crippled them, fear of the abuser and fear of the judgments of society and so they remain bound in chains and are held prisoners of this war (the blatant and subtle perpetuation of abuse) by many who tell them to speak out.
This chosen path of being an advocate is not an easy one, I stepped into this area because my innocence was violently stolen at the tender age of 7, my voice was taken away and my life damaged, by a conscious but difficult choice I decided to break my silence because it was and is the right thing to do. The world and even the United Nations hail survivours of various wars who stand against all the odds during and after war and have given their lives to the saving of others as HEROES.
Those of us, who have been through hell and back and have lost many of our sisters in this war and have saved many also because we broke our silence and speak out against child abuse, domestic violence, and the sexual assault we experienced and in defense of victims and for the reduction and prevention of abuse are simply labeled as “just SURVIVOURS”, in this modern age unfortunately silence is very much active and encouraged by the silence of those in authority, governments, communities, families and the clergy.
I cannot negate the fact, and it will surely be an unwise and uneducated decision for me to say that progress has not been made. However there is a great need for so much more to be done, so much more resources need to be invested in the freeing of prisoners of war, prisoners whose very conscience are undermined and their basic human rights violated – the right of expression and democracy, the right to say no and the right to live free from violence and stigmas, the right for equality and justice.
So much more attention need to be given to prevention, policies, strategies, laws, programs, and advocacy not only using the professionals but the grassroots survivours of abuse. The cost of abuse is too high if we can intervene and lessen the casualties and prisoners of this war then the cost for after care will be drastically reduced for the individual, family, governments, organizations and nations.
I said the following in a speech a few weeks ago and it is still relevant as I write to you “Because of the stigmas which are associated to abuse and mental health issues these topics or rather social issues are not openly discussed, many who lead the charge in advocating for victims, change, and for Primary prevention intervention are trodden under foot. The powers that be either bleed them dry, make them bitter, push them to compromise or whips them into submission and subjection, if none of the above has an effect, then they have the unfortunate lot of standing alone.”
As secretary General of the United Nations, I admire your stand on ending violence against women and girls, today I call upon you to acknowledge the grassroots women around the world who have placed their lives into this work of being advocate and voice. Not only acknowledge but support them, become their supportive voice in a male dominated society, become their protector in an age where the sexual objectification of women seems normal, be their bulwark and stand against many of the norms of various societies which perpetrate misogyny, be their educator for those who are refused education and save our women and girls.
Today I ask you to renew your efforts to reduce violence against women and girls and call upon the world leaders to make a serious effort to effect change in their various countries which will enhance and benefit the lives of women and their protection.
For too long our women have been in fear, deprivation, sexually abused, violated, refused basic human rights, sold as pieces of meat to the highest bidder in the human trafficking market, and beaten and abused and disfigured.
For too long our sisters have had to endure the most horrendous violations during and after war, becoming the sex slaves to many soldiers, raped repeatedly even by those who swore to protect them during war, have to endure the mental torture of watching the rape of their daughters and sons, and their voices have been imprisoned but their tears no man can stop and in their tears, in all our tears there is solidarity and freedom of voiceless expression.
They are humiliated and considered vile and the reason for the world being as it is, many run to the churches for sanctuary but sadly within the walls of prayers and faith and sacrifices of obedience they are subjected to further bondage and abuse.
It is widely said that the United Nation is a toothless Tiger, if this statement is indeed true then our sisters are in greater extinction and trouble than what I perceived. If this is true then there is no United Universal body to denounce the atrocities against our sisters from the Caribbean to India, from Africa to Asia, from Latin America to South America, and every country under the sun. And we must therefore consider our grassroots advocates as HEROES and honour them highly for having the courage to stand in a dark age, an age which finds profit and fills their avaricious appetites of pleasure and gratification on the broken backs and emotionally imprisoned minds of our sisters.
I however beg to differ with the phrase and I believe that the United Nations has power, untapped power, it has what it takes to stand in defense of our sisters, there was no defense for me but I survived, it is never too late for you to defend one woman for in doing so you defend all women, educating one woman you educate all women, freeing one woman you free all women, and honouring one woman you honour all women. Women are woven together with an unseen weave of passion, courage, fortitude, determination, dedication, and having strong resolve, together we are, an unmatched force divide us and we are broken and weak yet still we garner the strength by standing up for a cause which unites us all and that cause is the elimination of violence against all women and girls.
Secretary – General, today is a new day with old social issues from time immoral. The difference?, we are in a new age where technology is considered king, and an enlightened age of the internet and social media, an age where the television is the comfort for many, the radio the only thing many hear and we live in an age were travelling is less gruesome and information reaches its destination in seconds. Shall we not fully embrace this age and use it effectively and wisely for the freeing of our sisters and the education of the whole?
Shall we not use it for the preservation of generations which shall come forth from women today? I ask you, I appeal to you, to Stand Up, Take positive action for the preservation of women and girls, Reach out and defend not only the women of today but the generations of tomorrow. Speak for gender equality, justice, and our human rights and for us to be free from violence.
I thank you.
Sherna Alexander Benjamin
Former Victim/Thriving Survivour/Advocate/Founder
From the Beautiful Island of Trinidad and Tobago
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Emagazine: Bridging Borders .