“All women deserve to live free from fear,” Obama said after signing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) earlier this month. This act was allowed to expire and it is disappointing that there was even a debate about whether or not this act should be signed again. Rachel Maddow probably put it best when she said,”If you are against the Violence Against Women Act, what does that mean you are for?” My thoughts exactly. In the USA, we are lucky that this legislation was put back into action. However, the safety of women is not the only area where women’s rights need to be made a priority. Especially when we examine women’s rights from an international point of view. Across the board, women are not being valued, protected, given the same freedoms and opportunities, or paid equally as men. In the rest of this post I will provide some summarized info about VAWA, where women and their rights stand globally, the areas of society that are failing women miserably, and what we can do to start changing things. By the way, don’t forget to check out our Women’s Issue magazine for Women’s History Month! The Violence Against Women Act (info from Huffington Post and The Hill) On March 7th, President Barack Obama signed the Violence Against Women Act, renewing a measure credited with curbing attacks against women a year and a half after it lapsed amid partisan bickering. After twice being renewed with little resistance, it was a surprise in 2011 when lawmakers let the act expire. At the heart of the clash were disagreements about expanded protections for gays and lesbians, Native Americans and illegal immigrants (are they not women, too?). This particular revitalization of the act in 2013 was an important win for gay rights advocates and Native Americans, who are now protected under the law (they were excluded before). The bill also includes new funding to reduce the backlog of DNA tests in rape cases and improve police facility storage across the country. The Violence Against Women Act has been credited with helping reduce domestic violence incidents by two-thirds since its inception in 1994. The rate of sexual violence against women and girls age 12 or older fell 64 percent in a decade and has remained stable for five years, the Justice Department said in a survey released Thursday. In 2010, women and girls nationwide experienced about 270,000 rapes or sexual assaults, compared with 556,000 in 1995. However, advocates were careful not to suggest that the problem has become any less urgent. One in five women will still be raped within their lifetime. The work toward a more equal and peaceful world for women is far from over. Here are some stats from Do Something about women internationally:
- Women perform 66% of the world’s work, but receive only 11% of the world’s income, and own only 1% of the world’s land.
- Women make up 66% of the world’s illiterate adults.
- Women head 83% of single-parent families. The number of families nurtured by women alone doubled from 1970 to 1995 (from 5.6 million to 12.2 million).
- Women account for 55% of all college students, but even when women have equal years of education it does not translate into economic opportunities or political power.
- There are six million more women than men in the world.
- Two-thirds of the world’s children who receive less than four years of education are girls. Girls represent nearly 60% of the children not in school.
- Parents in countries such as China and India sometimes use sex determination tests to find out if their fetus is a girl. Of 8,000 fetuses aborted at a Bombay clinic, 7,999 were female.
- Wars today affect civilians most, since they are civil wars, guerrilla actions and ethnic disputes over territory or government. 3 out of 4 fatalities of war are women and children.
- Rape is consciously used as a tool of genocide and weapon of war. Tens of thousands of women and girls have been subjected to rape and other sexual violence since the crisis erupted in Darfur in 2003. There is no evidence of anyone being convicted in Darfur for these atrocities.
- About 75% of the refugees and internally displaced in the world are women who have lost their families and their homes.
- Gender-based violence kills one in three women across the world and is the biggest cause of injury and death to women worldwide, causing more deaths and disability among women aged 15 to 44 than cancer, malaria, traffic accident, and war.
These statistics may shock you. You might think, “How is this possible?” Globally, there are several horrible offenses being committed towards women that are actually EMBEDDED into the culture! Here are some, thanks to Women’s Rights Worldwide: Female Genital Mutilation Female genital mutilation (FGM) is sometimes called female circumcision. The process involves trimming or removing the clitoris and in some cases, stitching the vagina closed, leaving only a small opening for fluids. This is done without anaesthesia. The tradition has been passed down for many generations in Somalia and in other African countries. Those who perform the “surgery” view it as a rite of passage into adulthood. But FGM at the least causes pain, infections, childbirth complications, infertility, and at worst, death. This is still being done, even in 2013. According to official statements of the top Muslim clerical body of the largest Muslim-majority nation of the world, the Indonesian Ulema Council, “the practice (of FGM) is a religious obligation that should be done to control women’s sexual desires.” The WHO has offered four classifications of FGM. The main three are Type I, removal of the clitoral hood, almost invariably accompanied by removal of the clitoris itself (clitoridectomy); Type II, removal of the clitoris and inner labia; and Type III (infibulation), removal of all or part of the inner and outer labia, and usually the clitoris, and the fusion of the wound, leaving a small hole for the passage of urine and menstrual blood—the fused wound is opened for intercourse and childbirth. Around 85 percent of women who undergo FGM experience Types I and II, and 15 percent Type III, though Type III is the most common procedure in several countries, including Sudan, Somalia, and Djibouti. Several miscellaneous acts are categorized as Type IV. These range from a symbolic pricking or piercing of the clitoris or labia, to cauterization of the clitoris, cutting into the vagina to widen it (gishiri cutting), and introducing corrosive substances to tighten it. (Wikipedia) “Honor” Killings Members of certain societies have convinced themselves that it’s OK to murder women if they feel within themselves a sense of “dishonor”. Human Rights Watch defines “honor killings” as follows: Honor killings are acts of vengeance, usually death, committed by male family members against female family members, who are thought to have brought dishonor upon the family. A woman can be targeted by (individuals within) her family for a variety of reasons, including: refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce—even from an abusive husband—or (allegedly) committing adultery. The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that “dishonors” her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life. (Wikipedia). Slavery Millions of women and children are living their lives as slaves. Forced Prostitution “Temple Prostitution” in India is an example of sex slavery disguised as a religious tradition. For centuries, girls and women have been working in Hindi temples. They were talked into believing that this “service to the Gods” was the “holy duty” they had to fulfill. They have to serve men from their villages belonging to higher casts. For centuries, girls and women had been serving in this so called ‘Devadasi system’. However, in the past this service was entirely different from today. In former times, the Devadasi women were servants to the priests and assisted them in ceremonies. They did not provide sexual services then. In the course of time, though, the women were forced into prostitution (Kindernothilfe.org). Forced Marriage Many women around the world are forced into arranged marriages at extremely early ages. Many of these girls die or are severely injured from early pregnancies. One in every five girls in the developing world is married by the age of 18. One in seven marries before they reach the age of 15. Countries with the highest rates of early and forced marriage in Europe include Georgia (17 percent), Turkey (14 percent) and Ukraine (10 percent). At least 10 percent of adolescents marry before the age of 18 in Britain and France. In countries where the legal age of marriage differs by sex, the age for women is always lower. In Benin, Cameroon, Gabon, Mali, Niger and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the legal age of marriage is 18 for males and only 15 for females. Early and forced marriage happens because of gender inequality, poverty, negative traditional or religious practices, failure to enforce laws and conflicts, disasters and emergencies. Early and forced marriage contributes to driving girls into a cycle of poverty and powerlessness. They are likely to experience:
- violence, abuse and forced sexual relations – women who marry younger are more likely to be beaten and to believe that husbands can justify it
- poor sexual and reproductive health – child brides are more likely to contract HIV than their unmarried counterparts because of their greater sexual exposure, often with an older husband who by virtue of his age is more at risk of being HIV positive
- illiteracy and lack of education – girls tend to drop out of school shortly before or when they get married. There is a commonplace view that once a girl is married she has crossed the threshold into adulthood and no longer needs an education.
(Info from Plan-uk.org). Forced Abortion Despite some reports claiming China may relax or even do away with its brutal one-child policy that results in forced abortions, coercive sterilizations and other human rights abuses, Chinese officials are renewing its commitment to it.“We must unwaveringly adhere to the One Child Policy as a national policy to stabilize the low birth rate as the primary task,” stated Wang Xia, Chairman the National Population and Family Planning Commission, at a national conference on January 14. “We need to keep the One-child policy and keep the national birth rate low . . . It’s our priority.” (Life News) Restricted Freedom of Movement In some countries, women are not allowed to leave their homes unless accompanied by either their husband or their father. They are limited as to who they can speak to, touch, or even look at. Without freedom of movement it is impossible to get an education, a job or decide who you want to meet. Norms and traditional values relating to what women should do, how women should behave and who they may socialize with limit their possibility of moving freely in conflict-affected regions and peaceful societies alike. Ultimately it is all about women not having control over their own bodies. Restrictions in freedom of movement mean that women do not have the same opportunities as men for participating in society. Women who deviate from the norm and change traditions risk being subjected to violence or threats of violence by society or their immediate family. The reason for restricting a women’s freedom of movement is often said to be to protect her from assault. For example, the international community has time and again limited women’s freedom of movement in conflict regions during peacekeeping missions by isolating them in their homes. But instead of increasing women’s security they reduce it by isolating them. The home is the most dangerous place for women, both in conflict regions and peaceful societies. The most common perpetrator of violence against women is the immediate partner. Despite this, public places are still portrayed as being the most threatening to women. Women are thus encouraged to avoid, or prevented from being in, public places. To have to adapt to a fictitious or real threat in daily life instils everyday fear – it is in itself restrictive. (Kvinna till kvinna) Harassment by “Morality Squads” In Iran, for example, armed men and women patrol the streets in SUV’s looking for violators. Any woman not matching their definition of “morality” can be detained, searched, subjected to “virginity checks”, or even jailed or executed. In 2007, Shiite Muslim Iran launched one of the widest crackdowns in nearly two decades, allowing paramilitaries and police to harass or detain hundreds of women for wearing snug clothing or not wearing the proper head scarves. (Post-gazette) Infanticide In India and many other developing countries, boys are valued more highly than girls. Girls are less likely to help support their families economically, and when a girl marries, her parents must pay a dowry to the husband’s family in addition to paying for the wedding. The boy’s family gains wealth, while the girl’s family often spirals into debt. Facing this dilemma, many families kill or abandon daughters after birth. An estimated 39 million women and girls are “missing” in India alone due to infanticide and sex-selective abortions. – World Vision Magazine, Spring 2007 What can we do? None of us can change the world by ourselves, but lots of people doing a little can make a real difference. The nations that tolerate the mistreatment of women must know that we are watching, and that we will not stand by. Most governments are run by men who may not have the desire to change things unless the world makes some noise. Let them know that we’re watching. We Can…
- Educate ourselves
- Support organizations that promote women’s rights
- Let our representatives know that we are aware of what’s happening around the world and we won’t accept it.
- Write to foreign embassies about the abuses in their counties
- Spread awareness
- Read, write, blog and talk about it – staying silent will never change anything.
Did you find this information useful? What part of women’s rights is most important to you?