As a researcher who studies gender issues and sexual violence in developing countries, I come to hear of some horrifying and disgusting things. But truth be told, I've been getting better at numbing myself to it. It's easier to push into the back of my brain and focus on my work. A lot of stories don't even shock me anymore (like when I came to find that brothels here stick freshly boiled eggs up sex worker's vagina's to punish them). Don't get me wrong, I'm still overwhelmingly angered that gender violence and discrimination is STILL occurring in the goddamn 21st century--but nothing surprises me anymore. Also, most of the time I'm talking to women who escaped and are now with an NGO, (hopefully) out danger. Maybe distancing myself is the only way I can continue with my work.
But it's a whole new set of emotions burst through that wall when something happens to someone you know.
I was supposed to hang out with my good friend yesterday but she cancelled. When I asked her why, she said that her family suddenly informed her that they have a marriage proposal for their 17 year-old daughter (my friend's niece). My friend has been paying her niece's school fees because her brother and his wife aren't working but are living on her family's land. I started to freak out, I thought she wanted to go to college. "I'm going there to meet him and ask her what she wants," my friend responded. I knew I regretted asking: "How old is he?" "35." You do the math.
I spoke to my friend today: "Well, my niece is getting married today." Restraining my fit of rage I ask her, "What did she say?"
"Well she said, 'Why not?' Amanda, she isn't allowed to leave the house now. My brother keeps her inside. She isn't allowed to go out and talk with her friends. She thinks that maybe when she married, her parents can't say anything and she'll have more freedom. She is miserable now, might as well try something new."
I sighed, "I still don't understand why a 35 year-old wants to marry a child."
"For the sex, Amanda. What else?"
"Isn't that rape?"
I know the gender imbalance of her country upsets her, but she just brushes it off as normal. I just can't accept it: because no woman wants that as a normal life, wants marriage as her only choice of escaping tyrant parents. 'Choice'--a word she doesn't know.
I've met this niece at a family gathering, she's sweet. It's just too close to home. It's repulsive and a violation of who we are as humans.