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Fences and Walls 2 - The Great Leap Backwards

One of the things I missed while I was busy, was International Women's Day on March 8. It seems that a lot of other people missed it too. In fact there is a petition by a man, yes, a man, saying we should commemorate it more. Usually the event is celebrated here with a breakfast or luncheon and a rosy picture in the morning paper of the handful of women who have made it in business or public life. When I think back to the days when I was the first female 'counterboy' in the insurance company I worked for, when married women could not sign cheques or obtain a loan, or how my mother was a temporary public servant for twenty three years with no raise in pay or status, because married women could not advance, I think for a moment that we have come a long way, yet by lunchtime there will be a discussion about closing childcare facilities or why having paid maternity leave as other OECD countries do, will lead to even more women becoming part of the underpaid, unprotected casualised workforce and the whole affair is forgotten.

Legal Rights

While women in most countries won the right to equality under the law when the the UN Declaration on the Rights of Women was unanimously adopted by 130 countries in 1981, this has not translated into effective action in most places. The majority of women continue to be underpaid, marginalised and exploited in various ways and even gross abuses -such as cutting off noses,  and even witch burnings for heaven's sake, continue to be tolerated and trivialised as being 'tribal' in nature.

The UN can only intervene at the request of those countries themselves, so its responses are limited  to educative processes rather than taking punitive action against offenders. That's why the petitions are so important. It is one of the few ways of letting the powers that be know that such behaviour is unacceptable to large numbers of people in the world and yes, we are watching. I will only include a few representative ones at the end of the post. There are many more on the Care2 site under "Women."Not only is there little evidence of improvement but many countries - even so called economically advanced ones seem to be going backwards instead. While there are hundreds of issues which could be mentioned in this context, I shall only focus on two here, besides the basic one of having political rights. The first concerns reproductive rights - the right of a woman to decide what happens to her body and whether she bears a child or not. The second is about violence towards women because many of the others can be understood in that light. The issue of sexual exploitation and human human trafficking is really part of this, but I shall leave this for another  post.

The Right to Control over our Bodies

There used to be a really bad joke doing the rounds a few years ago. It went something like this.
Q. “Why did the woman cross the road?
A. “Who cares. What was she doing out of the kitchen?”
Well, there seem to be an awful lot of people trying make sure that she never gets out again. Curiously, the USA appears to be one of the worst offenders in this regard. This is a great pity since the USA has until recently been the role model and poster child for individual freedom in much of the world. To its great shame, the USA is one of only seven countries not to have ratified the UN Declaration on the Rights of Women  (along with North Korea and a few other reprobates) and now seeks to further limit women's reproductive rights. Between 2000 and 2011, the number of states who were either neutral or positive towards abortion dropped from nineteen to nine, while the number of states hostile to abortion rose from 13 to 26, leaving some 50% of young women of reproductive age living in states which  have imposed restrictions of various kinds - from outright bans or long waiting periods, to defundung of family planning clinics, denial of insurance coverage, requirements for invasive ultrasounds or inadequate sex education. 

If  all these bizarre laws are passed, much of the USA will be entering a new Dark Age which denies women freedom and independence and the chance to rise out of poverty. Of course some countries never had any in the first place. In the Philippines for instance, a reproductive rights bill giving women the right to family planning and maternal health services, has still not been passed despite lying on the table since 1998. Honduras is about to pass a law requiring six years gaol  for women who take the morning after pill, even after rape, and to punish the providers of the pill as well.  Apart from the effects on women themselves, this strikes me as utterly irresponsible at a time when overpopulation, dwindling resources and rising consumption are major concerns. We should at least be helping those women who want to limit their families - some 200 million around the world according to Population Connections, especially in very poor countries such as Afghanistan, Niger and Guinea - Bisseau  where women continue to have seven children per family,  but do not have access to modern contraception. As well as helping women in the USA to reassert their rights to same, I urge you to support their petition. Click Here.

ls the worldwide recession responsible for this backlash -the need to get women back into the home so that the employment figures don’t look so bad? That also happened after men came home from WW II. Suddenly women who had competently managed businesses, industry and farms were told that their job was to look pretty and be homemakers,  but that doesn’t explain some of the more retrograde steps that are being taken all around the world to make women subordinate and powerless again, if they ever had any power to begin with. It looks more like the rise of religious conservatives.  Even in newly hatched democracies such as Egypt, dictatorship by one family appears to be being replaced by dictatorship by a fundamentalist religious group, the Muslim Brotherhood. I know that in Australia at least as far back as the census of 2000, Catholics whose religion forbids abortion and contraception, outnumbered other religions. I suppose that is one way of ensuring the dominance of your beliefs even if they no longer make sense in a crowded world. I do not mind what people believe, so long as they don't impose their beliefs on others, or non -believers have to live with the consequences.

Freedom from Violence

Some would argue that invasive ultrasound or forcing a woman to bear unwanted children are a form of legalised violence. On top of this the USA as a whole has failed to reauthorise the Violence Against Women Act which provides women with some legal protection from domestic violence. In other cases it is a failure to enforce laws against domestic violence or follow through on restraining orders which cause women to suffer and fear for their lives. Minimal sentences for perpetrators or judges saying women should not wear this or that (Canada) also send the wrong message.
Rape within marriage is still condoned by many countries and rape as a weapon of war also continues in several regions despite the work of many organisations  and new guidelines being issued by the UN's new Special Representative on  Sexual Violence in Conflict and Post Conflict, Margot Wallström.

  There are fears now that once foreign troops leave Afghanistan things will worsen there for women too. Without support centres they too will be vulnerable to sexual and other forms of exploitation as has been seen in the Congo. Urging Japan to apologise and pay compensation to the few surviving South Korean  'comfort' women exploited by its troops in World War II, would show that such behaviour will not be tolerated or forgotten by the rest of the world.

For many of the 186 signatories to the UN Convention  it seems that violence towards women is just business as usual. In the UK it there have been 2823 reported cases of honour crimes, including threats, kidnappings, forced marriages, acid attacks, mutilations and beatings. Many more go unreported for fear of reprisals. The UN estimates that worldwide 5,000 girls and women are murdered by their own families each year. At least the recent Canadian case where a father, his second wife and and his son were convicted of first degree murder for killing his first wife and three daughters sends the right message. India too, which has been guilty of treating such cases too leniently, plans to make them a capital offence. However, other assaults small and large on women and their rights continue. In Karnataka, also in India a self styled Hindu 'moral'  militia is systematically assaulting women who are out and about; the Australian Navy gives only a one year sentence to an officer accused of sexual assault on a female subordinate; the 16 year old Moroccan girl forced to marry her rapist kills herself; and is the proposed invasive ultrasound testing in the USA all that different from forced virginity tests on female prisoners in Egyptian goals which caused univeral outrage last year?

Will we soon be saying on entering the USA what pilots used to say upon entering Bahrain. "You are now entering Bahrain, turn your clocks back six hundred years." Let's hope we have better things to report next International Women's Day.  Oh yes, and there was another petition from a male saying we needed a special Office for Men and Boys too. I couldn't agree more. It should be especially tasked to instruct men that it is never OK to assault women, not sexually or otherwise, that "No" means "NO" and that making comments on women's dress or body, or lack of children (especially women in public office) is not cool.

Tell Mali not to Turn Back on Women's Rights
Mexico Free Irene 
Morocco Change the Law to Protect Women not Rapists 
Protect Women's Property Rights in Pakistan
Demand a Woman Friendly Justice System in Pakistan
Stop Police Attacks on Women's Rights leaders in Zimbabwe 
UK Overturn ridiculously lenient Sentence in Child Rape Case