Separated by great distances—between continents, between conflict and peace, between ordinary citizens and massive institutions—a simple letter can draw us closer together.
Sherna | Trinidad and Tobago
“IT IS WIDELY SAID THAT THE UNITED NATIONS IS A 'TOOTHLESS TIGER', BUT I BELIEVE THAT THE UN HAS UNTAPPED POWER TO STAND IN DEFENSE OF OUR SISTERS.”
“Dear Secretary General Ban Ki – Moon,”
“My name is Sherna Alexander Benjamin, and I lived through chaos, trauma, extreme violence, and abuse. 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 from that time ever present and standing in clear view before me.”
“I grew up in an age when 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”.”
“Unfortunately, silence is very much still active and encouraged by the silences of those in authority. Progress has been made, but today I ask you to renew your efforts to reduce violence against women and girls and call upon world leaders to make a serious effort to effect change.”
“Too many women have lived in fear and deprivation; too many have been sexually abused, violated, refused basic human rights, and sold as pieces of meat to the highest bidder in the human trafficking market; too many have been beaten, 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 soldiers, being raped repeatedly even by those who swore to protect them during war. They have had to endure the mental torture of watching the rape of their daughters and sons, and their voices have been imprisoned. But no man can stop their tears; in their tears—in all our tears—there is solidarity and freedom of voiceless expression.”
“It is widely said that the United Nations is a “toothless tiger”, but I believe that the UN has untapped power to stand in defense of our sisters. So much more attention needs to be given to prevention, policies, and advocacy—not only relying on professionals, but also listening to grassroots survivors of abuse.”
“The world hails survivors of war who stand against all the odds and give their lives to save others as heroes. We too are heroes, who have been through hell and back. We have lost many of our sisters in this war and have saved many also because we broke our silence to speak out against child abuse, domestic violence, and sexual assault.”
“I stepped into the area of advocacy because my innocence was violently stolen at the tender age of seven. My voice was taken away, and my life damaged. Through a conscious but difficult choice I decided to break my silence because it was and is the right thing to do.”
“It is never too late 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 honoring one woman, you honor all women.Divided we are broken and weak, but together women are an unmatched force. We garner strength by standing up for a cause which unites us all, and that cause is the elimination of violence against all women and girls.”
“I ask you, I appeal to you, to stand up, and take positive action. Reach out and defend not only the women of today but the generations of tomorrow. ”
“Yours Respectfully, ”
“Sherna Alexander Benjamin”
“Former Victim/Thriving Survivor/Advocate/Founder”
Pelamutunzi | Zimbabwe
“WHERE IS OUR VOICE SPEAKING OUT AGAINST VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND CHILDREN IN IRAQ?”
“Dear little Yazidi girl,”
“When I saw you on CNN yesterday, my heart was immediately drawn to you. You trudged along clutching a very small doll, with your mom gently nudging you to go faster. You must sense her fear and it all shows on your face. You must be aware of the reason you are fleeing from home, that there are some evil people who want to kill your family because you are different and you have different beliefs from them. Your little head and big heart must be bursting. Who would want to kill you?”
“Yet you walk on. A journey even some adults would never dream of taking. But oh little courageous girl you soldier on. I imagine you yesterday night at Mt. Sinjar, crying because you were thirsty and tired. You missed home and wanted to play. And instead of sitting you on her lap and soothing you, Mummy told you to be quiet. You were hurt but had to swallow your tears. You know she loves you and as you take another step, little girl, I urge you to be strong. You will succeed and fight this injustice.”
“As you cross the border into Syria, you must know that women worldwide are fighting very similar battles to the ones you face. My dear girl, I am not living in a desert or fleeing persecution, but I'm not free to express myself or live as I would want. The presence of my mother’s voice telling me to be quiet overwhelms me. Little girl, I feel an urge to play and to be free but when I walk the hungry, unabated eyes of men follow me. If I dress as I wish they jeer at me; if I don't they jeer at me. If I speak they tell me to be quiet; if I'm quiet they tell me to be quiet. Imagine! I'm called names and my dear, not only by those who feel a woman is a second class citizen, but by my fellow women colleagues.”
“So as I see you sharing a drink of water with fellow girls and women fleeing violence, I envision a future where I will also share a bottle of water with fellow women comrades as we speak with one voice, just as the world should speak with one voice against the violence being unleashed on you. The rights of women are being flouted but where are the rest of the women in other countries? Where is our voice speaking out against violence against women and children in Iraq? As the CNN report ends, it hurts me that I have done nothing for you. So today I'm using the Internet to write you a letter and hope this will inspire women worldwide to be more aware of your situation and speak out against this and other situations affecting women worldwide.”
“Little girl, you are very close to my heart. I pray that you will be able to go back home soon and live in world where you are free to worship as you wish without discrimination. A world where your youthful thoughts are fulfilled and we tolerate and love one another for our differences.”
“All my love,”
“Pela Your mother, sister, friend, and cousin in Zimbabwe”
“I SEE A MIRACLE UNFOLD WHERE ONE WOMAN CAN INFLUENCE ANOTHER WOMAN’S LIFE OUTCOME THROUGH THE SHARING OF EXPERIENCES AND JOINING OF STRENGTHS.”
“Dear Yvette Austin Warren,”
“I always tell my daughter to play outside instead of playing a game on the tablet. I insist she first sees, tastes, feels, and explores the fabric of this wonderful, real world before she walks into the virtual world, lest she lose sight of the distinction between the two.”
“Yet, I also tell my daughter about you, my sister who I met and have stayed connected with on World Pulse, in this sea of virtual space. I tell her how I have never sensed the borders that separate us, how I have felt understood, heard, loved, and supported in our friendship.”
“Has it been three years this soon? At one point you were just an American woman author from Louisiana, USA, among many friends on social media. It was a Sunday, if I follow the calendar of my heart, when this changed. Let me remind you of that beautiful spring morning.”
“Though we were in separate countries, I felt your presence beside me while I cooked Sunday brunch for my family. We were logged in on Facebook together so you could witness how I created an Indian meal of egg curry.”
“I ground masaIas, prepared fresh vegetables, eggs and fruits, all the while sharing pictures of the steps involved. What I thought would be a simple exchange led to discussion of the ingredients we use, to the parts of our countries where these are grown, to the main crops and staple foods we eat, the types of utensils we use in our countries to cook, the types of stove used, to the time a woman spends in the kitchen, the gender norms, and the imbalances in our countries.”
“I noticed the author and feminist in you and I understood the health activist and journalist in me as we taught each other and opened up deeper conversations. That afternoon, the last picture I sent out to you was a picture of our family eating the food with our hands, relishing every part of it.”
“I was excited when you volunteered to cook lasagna for me the following week with ingredients that I could find in India: ricotta cheese, olive oil, and pasta.”
“I showed my daughter my computer screen with the lasagna on a white porcelain plate. The cheese in it made my mouth water, but never for one moment did we feel at a loss for not being able to dive the spoon in that dish. Our joy for experiencing this sharing goes beyond tasting food.”
“I see a miracle unfold where one woman can influence another woman’s life outcome through the sharing of experiences and joining of strengths. Through our digital connection, we build bridges across man-made divides.”
“I tell my daughter that there are many countries, religions, communities, and traditions in this world, but geographies are not the cause of conflict that we see today.”
“I hope she grows up to learn from my life that when there is conversation, sharing, and love—then prejudices and racial discrimination don’t stand a chance to exist in our lives.”
Laetitia | Democratic Republic of Congo
“I KNOW FROM EXPERIENCE HOW CONFLICT AFFECTS ALL ASPECTS OF OUR SOCIO-ECONOMIC AND CULTURAL LIVES, PARTICULARLY FOR WOMEN AND CHILDREN.”
To the women living in countries torn by conflict around the world,
In the name of all women in my organization, my heart goes to you, who are facing unhappiness and suffering because of conflicts happening in your countries. The news we can see in the press, visual media, and so on remind me of all the horrors we went through during the two wars that raged in my country, and more precisely in the city of Bukavu, in the South Kivu province (in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo). Despite hostilities having officially been put to an end, the state of war and its effects (killings, displaced populations, sexual violence) have continued to spread daily in almost all of the province's rural areas.
I know from experience how conflict affects all aspects of our socio-economic and cultural lives, particularly for women and children. Women always pay a high price despite not taking part in combat. In my country, some of the men fighting perpetrated rape and other sexual violence against women and girls. I hope this is not the case in your countries.
Fortunately, the international community has committed to this cause by adopting Resolution 1325, which requests all member states to ensure women are widely represented in the negotiations to end conflicts.
My dear, all women across the globe must advocate for our governments to respect this very commendable resolution. This provides an opportunity for women to make our strategic needs, as well as those of other vulnerable groups, appear in peace-making agendas, new laws, and other tools. I would love to know the actions you conduct with other women to make this resolution a reality. For our part, women’s organizations are conducting sensitization actions for women to know more about this resolution and become its advocates.
I hope that your countries' diplomatic services strive towards this goal. I am optimistic that with women’s participation, peace negotiations will reach their objectives. May your countries soon get out of these crisis situations and may peace be restored.
Translated by Aurore