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Society is in a stage of adolescence, and equality between women and men is a necessary condition for growth, Tahirih Founder and Executive Director Layli Miller-Muro told an audience Oct. 15 at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.

“The equality of women and men is not a women’s issue. It is a men’s and a women’s issue, because we’re both flopping around on the ground together, and we’re both unable to fly and to soar and reach our fullest potential,” Miller-Muro said at Carnegie’s Merrill House in New York.

Equality between women and men was one of several thorny issues Miller-Muro raised during her moderated discussion, which was held in connection with the Carnegie New Leaders program. The Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs is a hub for discourse on war, peace and social justice, and the New Leaders program provides a forum to accomplished policy makers, social innovators, scholars and professionals.

Miller-Muro founded the Tahirih Justice Center in 1997 to serve immigrant women and girls fleeing violence. Since then, Tahirih has provided comprehensive legal and social services to more than 14,000 women and children fleeing human rights abuses such as forced marriage, female genital mutilation, human trafficking and domestic violence.

“Our goal is to truly provide justice to incredibly courageous women and girls who have suffered things that make us uncomfortable,” Miller-Muro said. “They have suffered things that are hard to speak out loud. They have suffered things that you might turn away from as you read about them or click on quickly to the next story so that you don’t have to see the details and then get that knot in your stomach which happens when you’re seeing something that you know is not okay, but you’re not really sure what you can do about it.”

By the time women and girls reach out to Tahirih, they are already heroes, Miller-Muro said. They have decided for themselves to change their circumstances.

“I often think, in some ways, our job is to create the stage, to kind of form a barrier of security around the stage, to give the microphone, and then to allow our clients to say what they need to say and do what they need to do,” said Miller-Muro, as she explored issues of cultural relativism.

There is a common misconception that Tahirih and its partners only protect women and girls from issues with roots in developing countries, Miller-Muro said. The majority of Tahirih’s clients – 70 percent, according to a recent study – are fleeing abuse that happened on U.S. soil.

“Human trafficking, for example, is something happening here. The people using the brothels are American guys. The people who are hiring domestic servants who are often being abused are here, and may be Americans. The mail order bride victims that we have been helping are married to very middle-American guys who very deliberately wanted to look abroad to find women whom they viewed as traditional and subservient, who didn’t speak English and don’t know the laws. Domestic violence is something, obviously, that’s happening here,” Miller-Muro said.

A full transcript of Miller-Muro’s discussion can be found on the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs’ website.