One Million Thumbprints

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

I cried myself to sleep last night; it’s been a long time since I’ve done that.

Embraced by the power of storytelling; these tears came after reading the reality of war related violence against an Iraqi woman named Amena, which I’ll share below. When I hear about Middle-Eastern violence, or African wars, or sex slavery in general, I can too easily write these injustices off as an “over-there problem,” but when a name is attached, it becomes very real.

I cried out of shame. I cried because it’s too terrible. I cried because I feel helpless. I cried because, “Jesus, won’t you come already?” How is it that my “problems” are what to cook for dinner or dealing with a busy schedule and another woman’s are how to go on living after yet another rape or the murder of her child?

In a December 2015 Today’s Christian Woman article, It’s Cheaper to Rape a Woman Than Waste a Bullet, Lynn Hybels shared Amena’s story—here is an excerpt.

In August of 2014, thousands of men, women, and children from Amena’s Yezidi community were slaughtered or kidnapped by ISIS. Members of this small religious minority are considered particularly heretical by ISIS; the Yezidis, consequently, have experienced the extremist group’s vicious wrath. Mass graves hold the bones of hundreds of men, boys, and women too old to be desired as sex slaves.

Amena might have preferred death to her “marriage” to an ISIS fighter who used her and then traded her to other fighters like a prize. But no, she could not die. Though ISIS had killed her husband, she still carried his baby in her womb. Her five other children had also been captured by ISIS, but she knew where they were; she knew they were alive.

Months passed. Amena gave birth to a perfect little baby. And then something snapped inside her—she had to get out, had to get her kids out. A chance came to escape, and she took it.

But Amena failed. She was recaptured. Her captors punished her by killing her newborn baby, as well as her 18-month-old and 4-year-old. They gave her a photo of her three babies wrapped in their funeral clothes, eyes closed, lying side by side as if asleep.

Four days before I arrived in Iraq in November 2015, Amena and her 10-year-old daughter had finally succeeded in escaping after 15 months in ISIS captivity. Amena showed us the photo of her dead babies. Her 12-year-old daughter is still with ISIS—along with hundreds more Yezidi women and girls being used and traded as sex slaves.

When a trauma counselor asked Amena why she’d agreed to tell her story, she simply said, “Because you need to help these women.”

You need to help these women, she repeated softly.

How can we read this and not weep? I’m devastated that this is the reality of so many women in the world.

One Million Thumbprints is a grassroots movement for women who experience violence in war. They explain the problem:

Violence against women is present in every single war zone in the world. Hundreds of women are raped every day on the front lines of conflict.

When you break the heart, you break the community. Women invest scarce resources into their families—food, education and basic healthcare for their children. The physical and psychological damage, fear and stigma resulting from sexual violence destroys families and pulls women away from participating in their communities.

Ending violence against women in conflict includes changing community perceptions about sexual violence, putting an end to stigma so that survivors can receive adequate care and restoration.

But even better, they offer ways we can all help. Here are some ideas:

  • Explore the solutions that One Million Thumbprints is advocating. They offer more information about the problem as well. I learned that the three most dangerous countries to be a woman are: The Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Syria/Iraq.
  • Add your thumbprint. Add your name and email to a list showing solidarity and concern. As thumbprint milestones are reached, the information is shared with the UN and other policy makers.
  • Give a financial gift. All proceeds go to grassroots efforts of peacemaking, advocacy, and aftercare for women who have been ravaged.
  • Join the team climbing Mt Kilimanjaro virtually. Follow the team of women climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro online. Donate per mile, or share about it via social media.
  • Share the story. Share this post or write your own!

Friends, hear the words of Dr. Martin Luther King and fill in the name of your town and a war torn country:

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in _____ and not be concerned about what happens in _____. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives (in the world) can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

We are in the boundaries of this problem. This is our concern. Pretending like it’s not there or waiting for time to work this problem out on its own is not enough. Rise up, my sisters of privilege, and stand in solidarity. Hear the call of Amena and thousands of others like her.

The dichotomy of my independence and power compared to the violent hell of so many women half a world away is sobering. Picking just one small thing moves you from indifference to advocacy.

Won’t you join me more than crying for the women of war injustices?