Marching Orders: Empower Women to Forge Their Own Way

The AHA Foundation is proud to announce that our founder, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, is one of the featured speakers at this year’s Trust Women Conference, which opens today in London.  Presented by the Thompson Reuters Foundation and the International Herald Tribune, the Trust Women Conference aims to bring together leading voices in the fight for women’s rights to “help spark new collaborations and solutions” to some of the most urgent issues facing women around the world.   Ayaan participated in a discussion about the clash between law and culture that arises in Western countries around issues like honor-based violence, forced marriage, and female genital mutilation.

The tragic results of this clash between our Western democratic culture and legal system and more conservative, oppressive, and male-dominated cultures have been evidenced in recent cases of honor violence in the U.S.  Increasingly, we are hearing stories of teenage girls who are brought to the U.S. by their parents at a young age and raised in a conservative and oppressive household, while at the same time exploring and embracing American culture.  We hear about girls like Noor Almaleki, who grew up to be a typical American teenager who wore jeans and make-up, had friends and boyfriends, and wanted nothing more than to make decisions about her own life.  Tragically for Noor, her decisions to resist a forced marriage arranged by her parents, to move out of her parents’ home and have friends they disapproved of, and to resist their repeated demands that she conform her behavior to their strict expectations resulted in her brutal murder by her father.  We hear about girls like Aiya Altameemi, who attempted to make her own decisions about her life by refusing to submit to a forced marriage and having conversations with boys that were not sanctioned by her parents.  For these acts of defiance, Aiya was threatened at knifepoint, bound and beaten, and burned with a hot spoon by members of her family.

Noor and Aiya and all the other girls like them who suffer at the hands of their families want nothing more than what is promised to all American girls:  the opportunity to work hard, dream big, and become anything they want to be.  This sounds like a modest wish, yet for untold numbers of girls in this country, the desire to guide their own way through life represents an affront to their families and communities and places them in danger of physical harm and disownment.  Around the world, there are women who cannot make their own decisions, who are bound to a male guardian to determine their destiny.

As Ayaan famously once said, “It is a matter of principle that women are free and equal.”  At the AHA Foundation, we believe that these are more than just words – these are our marching orders.  We will keep working – raising awareness, training, urging legislators to take action, supporting victims – until all of our girls are able to safely, confidently, fearlessly, and joyously forge their own way in this world.  We hope you will join us in this mission.