My Wish for 2011: More Progress for Women
My wish for the new year, the dawn of the second decade of the 21st century, is for women around the globe to progress significantly in both public and private arenas. On Dec. 10, the world observed Human Rights Day, commemorating the 1948 adoption by the U.N. General Assembly of the inalienable rights of mankind. The “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” included a commitment to end discrimination against women.
Sixty-two years later, rural women produce nearly 70 percent of the globe’s food but own merely 1 percent of the land. Globally, women make up 60 percent of the chronically hungry .
Across our planet, women are far inferior in every public sphere: political, religious, economic and legal. From Afghanistan to Sweden, from Iran to the United States, at the end of 2010 women are not equal partners in the cash-and-trading economy needed to obtain these power rights. Tragically, at the receiving end of this global discrimination, hundreds of millions of children suffer the consequences.
“A women’s problem” still exists in every country. In Sweden, patriarchal pre-eminence is visible in both the public and domestic arenas. Under the military regimes of South America, poverty is the common condition for women. Maternity deaths in some African nations are documented at 2,000 to 1 maternity death in Europe. Russia’s highly educated women’s population lost its Communist- era parliamentarian quota along with the security net of school meals for children and medical care that had never even provided enough aspirin.
In my research for my novel “Puppet Child,” I discovered that in our American courts mothers are often disbelieved and discredited. And for my novel “China Doll,” I documented that gendercide in China — the abandoning or killing of girls — reaches more than 1.75 million girls each year.
Seeking legal parity, political voice or economic equality is not even on the horizon for women in Third World nations. They are struggling for the right to be considered human.
In some Middle Eastern countries, women are sold and bought like goats. Family honor killings and stoning women for concocted accusations do not even require the presence of the accused at a trial in which she might deny the allegations. Sexual slavery of girls as young as 9 is widespread in Asia and South America under the pretense of “marriage.” But those girls attempting to flee the rice paddies of Cambodia or the permafrost of Siberia for the promise of jobs abroad often fall prey to sex trafficking rings. Every year 2 million women are ensnared in brothels from Berlin to New York.
And then there are the atrocities of the mass rapes. From Bosnia to Congo, wars are won by breaking women’s bodies in order to shatter a nation’s spirit. And when wars end, mores have been wrecked: In southern Africa, sexual assault and rape are rampant in schools.
During my participation at the 1995 International Women’s Conference in Beijing, I helped design campaigns for Indian women against the burning of brides over dowry disputes, and for Muslim women trying to abolish clitoridectomy. Writing and speaking about the plight of women led me to explore the religious world where cloistered women are brainwashed into obedience. My upcoming novel, “Jerusalem Maiden,” examines a society 100 years ago in which adolescents were expected to hasten the Messiah’s arrival by procreating. Today, the widespread maltreatment of women under Islamic Shariah law has been documented, but what about girls and women still in devout enclaves of Christian, Jewish or Hindu groups?
What is the solution for this gloomy gender oppression and suffering on our planet? Should we take heart that this past May, Iran was appointed to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, an international body “dedicated to gender equality and advancement of women”?
In my prior volunteer work, I had witnessed the uplifting effect of microlending on African women. With as little as $5, they could buy seeds, chair-caning tools or used sewing machines — and dramatically change their status: Husbands’ brutality stopped, mothers-in-law’s tyranny relaxed, sons’ misogyny reversed and daughters’ futures were filled with hope.
But there is more. The key is education.
Educated women marry later, produce fewer children, educate them and present to them positive role models. They work for pay or start their own businesses, and pull out of poverty. They help improve other women’s and children’s lot, become community leaders or run for political office. They use the Internet to develop hopeful visions for their communities outside their narrow universe. They strive to break from religious fundamentalism that traps them and indoctrinates their sons to become terrorists.
Had society heeded the now-62-year-old Universal Declaration of Human Rights, women would have helped our globe dramatically improve its progress toward prosperity. We know what needs to be done. Let’s do it!