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Imagine This

woman shopping in burkhaYou live in one of the poorest countries on Earth. You can’t read or write. You have given birth to seven children but only five have survived, as your country has the third-highest infant mortality rate in the world — and you have no access to prenatal or neonatal care. One in every four children in your country dies before they reach 5 years old. You mourned both of your losses with a broken heart. Every time you have another child, the risk to yourself is considerable, as your homeland has the world’s second-highest maternal death rate. Daily existence is a struggle. You’ve spent a lifetime caring for your family and your household in a country perpetually ravaged by war, with little resources or infrastructure.

You are not allowed to go to the market without a male escort. You cannot drive or ride a bicycle. You are expected to cover yourself from head to toe in public. If someone beats you or rapes you, your best recourse is to keep your mouth shut — because the police and legal system do not support women and you might find yourself in jail, or worse. You do what you can to raise healthy, happy children. You love your children fiercely and on the worst days, this love is what keeps you going. When a toothache throbs in your jaw for months, you live with it. You don’t have access to a doctor. You can’t afford to send your children to school — even though you want desperately for them to become educated — because your family’s survival depends on everyone working. Even if you could afford it, the nearest girls’ school is a three-hour walk away, which isn’t a safe journey for your daughters.

And then, one day, your husband is killed. In your patriarchal society, your husband’s death means that you have lost your social protection and your voice. What little property you owned now belongs to your in-laws. In the event that you re-marry, you may be forced to leave your children behind. You are 35 years old. Your life expectancy is 44. You have no marketable skills. Two of your children are still little and can’t be left alone. Your 10-year-old son had an occasional job pushing a wheelbarrow but he’s become sick and can’t work. There are no local agencies to help you. Your children look to you with silent, hungry faces. It’s been days since anyone ate.

What do you do?

Beyond the 11th works to ensure that there is an answer to this question.