Somalian author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, former member of the Dutch parliament, in Rome in 2008.
Elisabetta Villa—Getty Images
By Ayaan Hirsi Ali
November 20, 2014

This Thanksgiving I am grateful for the things that we take for granted as women living in democratic countries such as the US.

Violence against women and girls is universal. Worldwide, the number of women who suffer from some form of physical or emotional abuse, sexual assault or rape, kidnapping, female genital mutilation or forced marriage is staggering. In many places it is justified by religion, culture, or tradition leaving women and girls with nowhere to turn. But in the US, we have laws that protect us, lawyers that defend us, press that condemn our abusers. We have civil action groups that protect our reproductive rights, we have medical professionals who treat us. We have a community that supports our rights as human beings.

Now imagine if by law:

  1. You need permission from a male guardian to step out of your home
  2. You can’t drive
  3. You have to wear a veil and be fully covered
  4. You are forced into a marriage and you may be as young as 9 years old (the law in Iran and Saudi Arabia)
  5. You receive a divorce but leave with no assets
  6. You are subjected to polygamy
  7. You are subjected to female genital mutilation
  8. You inherit half of what your brother inherits
  9. Your testimony in court is worth half of that of your rapist
  10. Your murder is a lesser crime because you were killed in the name of honor

It is not only the state but a whole society that has declared war on you because you are a woman:

  1. Women who are fighting in Saudi Arabia for the right to drive are:
    1. Mocked in the press
    2. Condemned by the clerics
    3. Ridiculed by male drivers
  2. Women who resist their rapists are imprisoned, tortured, and put to death like Reyhanneh Jabbari in Iran
  3. Fathers sell their daughters to the highest bidder
  4. Girls are denied an education. The brave ones like Malala who stand up for their rights are shot.
  5. As a woman or girl you face hostility in the press, the court system, schools, the marketplace, even home and for no other reason than you were born female.
  1. Mocked in the press
  2. Condemned by the clerics
  3. Ridiculed by male drivers

As with any rule, there are exceptions. There are kind and generous guardians. And there are fair-minded judges. And there are human rights defenders fighting alongside women. And there are chivalrous brothers and husbands. Women should be infinitely grateful for these exceptions.

For us women in the US, in the West, we take all of these rights for granted. We have an obligation to help our fellow women in small and big ways. In the US, many of the same injustices are happening here as well despite our laws. I am grateful that I have been able to give back to women and girls by founding the AHA Foundation to bring awareness to these abuses. Please help me put a stop to these practices in the US so that other women and girls can have the opportunities I have had.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Somali-born writer, activist and founder of the AHA Foundation which supports women’s rights and is working to end honor violence.

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