A version of this article appears in the January ’12 issue of Sojourners Magazine
Recently I watched I Came To Testify, the first program in a PBS series called Women, War and Peace. The documentary focused on sixteen Bosnian women who were brutally raped by Serbian soldiers during the war in the Balkans in the early 1990s. When the International Court of Justice held a Tribunal to try three of the perpetrators of these “crimes against humanity,” these sixteen women told their stories.
The three men listened to the women without showing one hint of emotion or regret. All were found guilty of hundreds of counts of rape, but their sentences seem light: 26 years for one, 20 years and 12 years for the others. I traveled twice to Bosnia during that war; I met women like the sixteen who testified about the “rape camps.” I am surprised by the light sentences and disheartened to know that most of the perpetrators will never even be brought to trial.
I cannot hear stories like this without being shocked anew by how often women suffer at the hands of men. But something else struck me as I watched this program. The narrator was a man, actor Matt Damon. “As a man raising four daughters, things like this matter to me,” Matt said. “But it would have mattered anyway…It’s important to understand the experience of women.” (from a short video of Matt on the Women, War and Peace PBS website)
As I listened to Matt I thought of Nicholas Kristof, co-author of Half The Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, a book that compellingly highlights the suffering of women. One chapter focused on rape as a weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where women are victimized at a rate of nearly one every minute.* Two years ago in the Congo I talked and wept and prayed with some of these women. I also talked with local pastors, mentored by a Congolese man named Marcel, who raise money and create care groups to help bring these violated women “back to life”—that’s how the women describe what the pastors and the care groups do for them.
I recently wrote a forward for a book called The Resignation of Eve that examines the role of women in the church and suggests ways to give women the same respect and honor Jesus gave them. Author Jim Henderson believes that women are too often victims of the abuse and misuse of power. “In the spirit of our master who flipped the tables in the Temple on their tops,” Jim wants women to have the freedom, power and influence they’re meant to have.
Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of reconnecting with Tomas Perez, who I remember as a football-playing teenager in the youth ministry at Willow. Later Tomas became a youth pastor and church planter, but now—as the father of three young adult daughters—he’s found a new passion and a new mission. After learning that 100,000 minors are forced into prostitution or sexual slavery in the US each year, Tomas knew he had to do something. A year ago he launched EPIK (epikproject.org), hoping to engage 100,000 men in raising awareness and funds to support organizations that rescue exploited kids. “Men created this problem,” says Tomas. “Better men have to solve it.”
Generally in my writing I challenge privileged American women to work on behalf of oppressed women, and I won’t stop doing that. But today I’m feeling gratitude to the men—the better men—who use their power, money and influence on behalf of women. So thank you Matt, Nicholas, Marcel, Jim, Tomas. May an army of better men rise up to join you!
*The American Journal of Public Health, May 2011