Dear President Barack Obama and Secretary Of State Hilary Clinton,
It is a rare privilege for a human of my gender and caliber to be given the opportunity to raise a voice to the leaders of the great and admirable land of equal opportunities. I speak not only for myself but for the millions of other women who would otherwise be hushed to silence. Our minds and bodies have for ages suffered under the yoke of unchanging cultures that have left us hopeless and in tears.
Please dry our tears by passing the International Violence Against Women Act.
President Obama, one of the first times I listened to you, I found reassurance in these words:
“The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”
Equality and freedom are far-fetched ideals for the women of Cameroon. Every evening in my village, my thoughts are preoccupied by the heart-throbbing cries of battered women amidst the sounds emanating from mortars pounding the evening meal, and with thoughts of teenage girls living in fear of how painful their next breast ironing session will be. My heart bleeds when I think of how difficult it has been for me and many other women to get the little education we have acquired and how seemingly impossible it is for us to get more.
I think of 30-year-old Beatrice. When she lost her husband, she sat and slept on the bare floor for one month, was not allowed to shake hands with people, take her bath, have a change of clothes, and was asked to drink the water that was used to wash her husband’s corpse.
She was later forced to marry her late husband’s brother who died of HIV a year later. Beatrice was again obliged to undergo widowhood rituals for another year. Today she is HIV positive and very ill. She has no job nor property and has six orphans to care for.
With the increase in death rates over the past years due to HIV/AIDS, there has been a rise in the number of women who undergo ordeals like Beatrice’s. Widowhood in the Western Highlands of Cameroon is measured at approximately 33.3%.
As women, we desire to emerge from our relegated positions to the corridors of decision-making. We desire to be given more opportunities for learning; to be liberated from the clutches of negative cultural norms; and above all to join our imaginations with our fellow men for the common purpose of making a prosperous world.
President Obama, I regard you as the world’s number one evidence of the fact that giving a chance for equal opportunities is giving a chance for progress.
Our imaginations cannot thrive when the world gives a deaf ear to the raging acts of violence that are perpetrated against us day and night. Passing the International Violence Against Women Act would be equal to abolishing a subtle form of slavery that has existed from time immemorial in all parts of the world, keeping the destinies of millions of women in chains.
It is my dream to see a world where women are seen as humans and not sub- humans; where women shall utilize their full potentials and not regard themselves as mere objects of pleasure. It is my prayer to see more women in decision-making positions in my country and in the world.
The IVAWA is a panacea to the world’s most dangerous ailments because women are those most affected by HIV, climate change, war, floods, and famines.
I respectfully appreciate the time you have taken to read this letter and thank you for taking the lead in addressing the issue of violence and oppression which women in many countries face every moment of their lives.
Shekina Bamenda, Cameroon