International Women’s Day is an opportunity to appreciate and draw inspiration from bold and brilliant figures in the movement, both real and fictional. In his book, My Daughter’s Army, Greg Hogben takes us into the world of Sera, a fictional young woman who appears to be the female messiah, sent to fight for women’s rights. Through Sera’s journey and realisation of the horror of the world in which she lives, Hogben also skilfully weaves in many realistic stories of worldwide oppression.
The novel manages to sensitively tackle honour killings, female genital mutilation, human trafficking, acid attacks and forced prostitution, as well as shed light on how these injustices can be addressed through our own efforts. The book serves as both a compelling work of fiction and an educational resource into the most pressing global human rights issues in the world today.
This International Women’s Day, I spoke to Greg about his experiences writing the book, his hopes for the future and what he thinks we can be doing now to drive change forward even more effectively.
Q. My Daughter’s Army is truly a masterpiece – what first inspired you to write the book and what was your greatest challenge?
A. I’m not too sure about 'masterpiece' but I'm certainly glad you enjoyed it! The book initially was inspired by a love of fiction, but as I researched the background for the story I was struck by the scope, scale, and severity of the myriad issues women face around the world. You can’t help but be moved by the horrors women have faced, and continue to face, but also the remarkable courage, stamina, and resilience they show. I knew I wanted to raise awareness of the issues, since so many people aren’t aware of just how pervasive and widespread they are. The greatest challenge in writing the book was composing realistic stories of the women within the book that would be long enough to convey the emotion and struggle they went through, while short enough that it didn’t take the reader out of the narrative of the novel’s story for too long.
Q. You have an adorable little daughter – what do you think/hope the world will be like for her by the time she’s Sera’s age?
I hope my daughter will see a different world from the one that I’ve seen, and that she will witness the progression of women’s rights as they unfold, and full equality and equal protection under the law is achieved. I won’t deny I felt robbed of the chance to take her to the National Mall to celebrate the inauguration of the first female President of the United States. I am still angry about that, and I don’t think that feeling is going to go away anytime soon – for the majority of us. But we can channel that anger into action to prevent regression. In the meantime, I can teach my daughter about ruling queens and female prime ministers until she finally gets to take that trip to the Mall.
Q. The theme of this year’s IWD is #BeBoldForChange. What one thing do you think we could all do to be bold for change?
My family and I attended the Women’s March in DC. It was truly a spectacular show of unity. I had never witnessed anything like it. I believe taking a stand for your rights and beliefs and expressing your voice is courageous, especially if you have never protested before. But standing up to a powerful government in its own backyard was a remarkable display of boldness. I’m still celebrating that!
Q. Social media is a big part of your activism and using technology is an important theme in My Daughter’s Army. How do you think we can be using digital media to drive change more effectively?
People often feel helpless or believe they don’t have the resources or even know where to start helping or contributing to a cause. But there is so much to be said about simply raising awareness. A tweet, Facebook post, or shared article all have the potential to inspire others – and perhaps one of them may be in a position to help. Even something as simple as adding your voice and support does make a difference. For proof, just look at the petitions that governments had to address because people took time to sign them. Collective voices can be enough to pressure those in power to limit, adjust, or even rescind bad policy ideas.
Q. A lot of the issues covered in My Daughter’s Army are quite distressing and in the book, Sera’s health is very affected by what she’s learned – as an advocate yourself, do you have any advice for maintaining mental health while learning about and fighting these issues?
That’s a tough question. I spent a year researching human trafficking, honour killings, and other devastating issues. I would be lying if I said that didn’t affect me. There were days when I had to walk away from it, just to escape being overwhelmed by it all. But that is a luxury that the victims of these horrors aren’t afforded. While I am happy I managed to write a book to raise awareness, not a day that goes past that I don’t acknowledge a profound sadness and anger about the things I learned. It almost feels like grief. But I take solace and strength in knowing that things are improving and that anything I do (however small) to raise awareness helps achieve that.
Q. Literature can be a powerful tool for education and motivation – do you have any advice for writers trying to tackle serious issues through fiction?
Don’t be afraid of telling the truth, no matter how hard it is to write. Don’t assume readers can’t handle the gritty reality. All of the stories woven into My Daughter’s Army are built around real-life events. I didn’t have to embellish their hardships because, quite frankly, the truth was terrifying enough as it was. It isn’t right just to throw something traumatic in without a purpose or lesson to be learned, but if the pain and anguish of your subject only can be conveyed with harsh detail, writers shouldn’t shy away from it.
Q. My Daughter’s Army brings attention to many important issues and you highlight how crucial it is to raise awareness as we can’t change things we don’t know about. For those new to activism, what do you think are good next steps to take once aware of these issues?
The best first step once you learn about the issues is to elevate the voices of those who are in the trenches, even if you can’t be in the trenches yourself. Everyday people on the front lines in these struggles shout for help and their voices often get lost in the din. But we all can find ways to help and support them. For example, one of the most high-impact and practical solutions I’ve encountered are micro-loans through organisations such as Kiva. Amounts as small as $25 can allow a woman in the developing world to start a small business and achieve greater independence. There are no panaceas, but a thousand small efforts like that collectively can change the world.
Q. Even in 2017, there are so many global problems that need significant attention. What do you think are the three most troubling issues we need to address this year?
First, investing in the education of girls must be a priority. So many of the issues facing the world could be addressed if governments understood that they are only utilising fifty percent of their resources, talent, and potential. Denying full equality in education is just blatant misogyny over common sense.
Second, we must give greater credence and exposure to the issues unique to women from diverse backgrounds. While there certainly are issues that all women face in the struggle for equality, those issues are particularly acute for women from minority, disadvantaged, and underrepresented communities. The rise of the prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement coincides with questions of racial privilege and disparate treatment. All those who purport to support equality must listen to and promote the perspectives of those who have been most disenfranchised and neglected by the inequalities we struggle against.
But I think human trafficking is the most abhorrent human rights issue in the world right now – sex trafficking, in particular, which affects an obscenely higher proportion of women and girls. I just cannot fathom how every nation on earth isn’t combatting this issue. I recognise that the social stigma of the victims and that conversations about sex trafficking are uncomfortable, but that’s all the more reason to elevate the issue. Every person on earth should know that modern day slavery is very real, and not just an appalling chapter in history books. Millions of people continue to be held against their will, exploited, and abused.
By next year’s International Women’s Day, what do you hope you’ll have achieved on a personal level and what do you hope will have been achieved in the wider movement?
On a personal level, I hope to continue to learn and be a better ally. As for the wider movement, I hope even more men become involved. It was incredible to see how many men participated in the numerous Women’s Marches around the US and the world. Growing numbers of men are taking stands for women’s rights and equality and we must ensure that trend continues – while continuing to respect and amplify the voices of the women leading the charge.
What’s next for you in 2017?
I am planning to write a kind of companion novel to My Daughter’s Army, recounting many of the events from an entirely different perspective with completely different insights. It’s tough to describe, but hopefully it will make sense once it’s released!
Want to write for Hub For Change? Find out how you can become a contributor.
- Buy the book here.
- Catch Greg Hogben’s article on why he wrote My Daughter’s Army here.
- Read my full review of My Daughter’s Army here.
- Read The Rainbow Times Q&A with Greg Hogben.
- Follow Greg on Twitter here.