Opinion: Haunting photographs are a call for action

Lisa Robertson

“Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” I don’t know who said these words, but I love them. They hang on the wall of my living room and I look at them every day.

Why the talk about feminism? It has to do with a series of articles I’ve read throughout the last six months from The Daily Beast and The New York Times, and just this week in “Time” magazine. All of these articles have reaffirmed to me the importance of those words.

This week’s cover of Time features a beautiful portrait of a young Afghan woman, though what draws the eye is not only her beauty, but her disfigurement. Her name is Bibi Aisha, and in retribution for her running away from an abusive marriage she was forced into as a child, her in-laws cut off her nose and ears and left her for dead, apparently for shaming them.

Bibi survived her attack and will travel to the United States soon to receive reconstructive surgery.

In some of the only coverage I’ve seen on the ongoing conflict in the Congo, The Daily Beast has a photo taken by Robin Hammond that is branded in my memory. It is a close-up portrait of a woman, Basemae Maombi, a survivor of rape, an endemic crisis for women in the Congo. But Basemae was not just raped, and this portrait has shown the depth of cruelty that was inflicted upon its subject. According to the article, Basemae recognized one of the men raping her.

His response to her recognition was to cut out Basemae’s eyes.

The injuries to her face are the only sign that a crime much less visible, and rarely talked about in her country until now, has been committed: rape.

Bibi and Basemae, and other women and girls like them who have been maimed, mutilated or raped, are not property. They are people. They are women, and they are worthy of the dignity and respect every single human being should be given.

Whatever the cause behind this violence, I believe only a fundamental societal change in how women are viewed can improve their lives—but how the hell do you make that happen?

I have no doubt the cover of Time will cause controversy, along with the images of the visible wounds inflicted upon the survivors of mass rape in the Congo. From a journalist’s perspective I hope they do, because sometimes I feel like it’s only the most controversial or sensational events that receive the majority of today’s news coverage, instead of stories like that of Bibi and Basemae.

That’s why I’ve written this column today, to urge people to get and stay informed about what’s going on in more than just their little corner of the world. The two women I’ve spoken of are just a single example of the countless women and men who face atrocities in war zones across the globe, not to mention those facing violence in more stable regions.

I’m often told I shouldn’t read so many of these horror stories of violence against women because all they do is sadden and anger me. I refuse to listen to this advice and hope I never do. These are the stories that must be told, no matter how painful it is to listen.

Lisa Robertson is a graduate student and columnist for the Summer Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].