I am obsessed, I know, with burrowing into dark places, unearthing and chronicling the myriad effects of war on women and children. Many are old and obvious. From Sarajevo to Zaire, rape endures as a deadly weapon. Kids step on land mines, starve or die from unnecessary disease. Families rot away in refugee camps waiting for refuge that never arrives. There is nothing new here.
For me something new, a link previously unconnected came by surprise. Last night at an impromptu gathering of friends, I chanced to meet a woman who has spent the last five years working with Cambodian villagers near the famous temples of Angkor Watt. She described in detail how a mere $240 builds a well, and how the water changes lives. In a society where civilization itself vanished, she provides uniforms and books so children can attend school, wrestles up medicine, creates health care programs and garners donations to pay teachers and nurses. The benefits are measurable.
When I asked what she considered the most important service offered she answered without hesitation: teaching contraception and dispensing otherwise unaffordable, birth control pills. Since the financial burden of a large family is difficult, many children with married, loving parents are sold or given to local orphanages, knowing the chances for adoption are remote. Most often children are sold again into slavery and sex-trafficking.
For anyone who has visited Cambodia’s Killing Fields and its museum of torture, the horrors are shocking and impossible to forget. Many of Cambodia’s impoverished still live in the shadow of the Khmer Rouge. A people stripped of their financial and cultural resources, this war riven legacy has proved disproportionately hard on women and the children they cannot afford to bear. It’s impossible to imagine the pain of selling a child knowing the result is servitude and abuse. To the parents, isn’t this another subtle, disguised form of torture?
In the wake of recent years, opponents of Choice have espoused religion at the expense of economics. They’ve succeeded in erasing any pecuniary considerations from the political discussion even though that is where the debate originated. Choice is and always has been about the economic emancipation of women. The conflagration in Cambodia fueled huge, unintended consequences. So too, might the War Against Women here at home.