Save the World. Gather the Women.

August 9th, 2014 | Posted by Barbara Belknap in Activation

By Barbara Belknap

My heart is pulled towards the women in war ravaged countries around the world. Today, August 8, 2014, there are Yazidi women on Mount Sinjar in northeastern Iraq clutching their hungry and thirsty children close to them. Some mothers have watched their children die of thirst. The Yazidi are only the latest in a painfully long history of women’s suffering. I do not diminish the suffering or the role of the fathers, but it’s the mothers I wish could be spared the constant impact of warfare.

When Jean Shinoda Bolen wrote, “Gather the Women, Save the World”, the battle for women had already been a long one. I’m taking liberties with the title to this essay, but I think she’d be ok with that.

Women in the Mideast have not started any wars since Cleopatra, but the world has witnessed them bearing so much of the brunt of these conflicts. Watching the PBS NewsHour in June, I saw huge Russian tanks roar through the narrow ancient streets of Baghdad. The alwomeninburqaandboy-Qaeda fighters “at the wheel” were oblivious to the stream of men, women, and children heading away from the fighting. One man’s head was up above the tank’s open hatch and he had a victor’s smile on his face.

My heart broke as I watched mothers fleeing with their terrified children in that narrow space between the rumbling tanks and the walls. Most of the mothers’ faces were completely hidden. One woman, wearing a full black burqa, stays etched in my mind. She balanced a tightly packed woven basket on her head with her right arm, and carried a baby with her left arm. A little girl around four years old had a tight grip on her mother’s billowing robe. Two young boys with curly black hair ran alongside. As a mother myself, I remember thinking, “What if the little girl loses her grip on that robe with those tiny fingers? What if the two boys can’t keep up with their mother, and get lost in the throng of identical burqas?”

There appeared to be just as many women covering their hair with hijabs, leaving their faces uncovered and, in my worried opinion, safer to keep track of their children and vice versa. Meanwhile, the huge tanks were rumbling through the streets just inches away with drivers oblivious to the fleeing families.

I wrote a poem about a particular scene on PBS that I saw that June night that I cannot erase from my mind. I call it “Maelstrom”.

Maelstrom, conflagration, chaos
The mother shrouded all in black flees
A basket holding their lives balanced on her head
Wide-eyed children cling to her robe with tiny hands
Monster tanks are crawling through the ancient streets
Cocky young men with itchy trigger fingers in control
Nothing will be left standing but the oil
and the bitter seeds of another war sown deep.

What can we do? It seems like eons ago now, but Malala Yousafzai is the courageous young Muslim woman who stood up for a girl’s right to an education in 2012. The Taliban responded by shooting her in the face. She was fifteen. In July 2014, the world saw the terrifying leader of Boko Haram and his gang kidnap an estimated 275 girls and threaten any girl who goes to school. By mid-July 2014, Malala was filmed literally striding through a village school in Nigeria with her book under her arm. I heard her saying in a strong voice, “Of course, you must learn how to read.” She met with the school girls, and then took her time posing for pictures with them. That is courage. (

To finish this on a more optimistic note, I am a long-time member of the PFLAG Juneau Pride Chorus. On Tuesday night, a small group of us met to vote on music for the 2014-15 Season. I was so happy to see that one of those songs is “Malala”. We’ll be singing the version arranged by Joan Szymko. Take a few minutes to watch this short video and feel hopeful that, indeed, we can gather the women and save the world. It’s just going to take some time.

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