Reading “The Unfinished Revolution: Voices from the Global Fight for Women’s Rights” (by Worden) , I felt the convulsion in the pit of my stomach that manifested because I was angry, pained, sad and scared for the persistent violence against women on this earth.
The book examines the impact of the Arab Spring and found that there has not been a direct correlation between the new found freedom and the increasing level of equality for women. In many cases, the same group of women who worked side by side with men in the struggle to overthrow the dictatorial regime ended up being shun from the decision making table. During the struggle, many of them were brutally raped, beaten and even killed. For the price they paid, they did not gain the same respect they deserved as the men.
The following is a quote from an article published by the Amnesty International, “Violence against Women”.
“Living free from violence is a human right, yet millions of women and girls suffer disproportionately from violence both in peace and in war, at the hands of the state, in the home and community. Across the globe, women are beaten, raped, mutilated and killed with impunity.
Gender-based violence stems from the failure of governments and societies to recognize the human rights of women. It is rooted in a global culture of discrimination which denies women equal rights with men and which legitimizes the appropriation of women’s bodies for individual gratification or political ends. Every day, all over the world, women face gender-specific persecution including genital mutilation, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, and domestic violence. At least one out of every three women worldwide has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime.”
Reading books and articles and watching TV news, I often admire those women activists who continue to be on the front line fighting for freedom and justice. Their bravery has me re-examining my role in the fight for equality as a woman. While we may not be able to single-handedly wipe out all the violence and injustice in the world and before we rush out to condemn those countries for their mistreatment of women, we should at least continue to fight for women’s equal rights in this country.
The first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848. After 2 days of discussion and debate, 68 women and 32 men signed a Declaration of Sentiments, which outlined grievances and set the agenda for the women’s rights movement including equal rights in education, employment and rights to vote. Women were finally able to vote in every state of the Union in 1920. This was a 72-year battle.
Today, more women have Bachelor degree or higher than men between the age of 25-44. Consequently they will have better employment prospects than men. However, according to the Census data analyzed by the National Committee on Pay Equity, women on average earned 77.4 cents for every dollar earned by men holding the same full-time and year-round job. While white women’s pay has improved a little bit, pay for women of color has not changed at all. Survey by Catalyst, a non-profit organization focused on women’s progress, indicates that women lose out on more than $400,000 in salary over a 40-year career to men with similar qualifications.
Pay or glass ceilings are not the only issues. Although we don’t have honor killing, bride burning or female circumcision in the U.S., one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year. 85% of domestic violence victims are women. Historically, females have been most often victimized by someone they knew. Females who are 20-24 years of age are at the greatest risk of nonfatal intimate partner violence. Most cases of domestic violence are never reported to the police. In addition, we still don’t have a “just” way to protect women who were raped or stalked. Finally, there is the under-reported sex trafficking that the society often does not want to see.
If we women are too quiet, our voices will not be heard. If we stand up for our rights, we often get called bitches, whores or branded as militant. Just look at what happens to the feminist movement. Furthermore, since the 60’s, women of color have continued to subordinate their grievances for their lack of equal rights for the sake of civil rights movement. Like their sisters in the Arab Spring, they fought along with their brothers of color for racial equality but they still cannot get to the big table without being branded as bitches.
Too many men make jokes during gender discussions. Too many women go along so that they would not get beaten up verbally or physically. Every time we laugh at a sexist joke or a joke that subtly demeans women, we continue to help keep sexism alive.
In still many corners of this society, violence is just a thin layer of bad language away. A portion of the population not only applauded when an opinion leader called a female law student a “slut” but also wanted to strip women of their reproductive rights along with the right to control their own health. Too many forces continue to silent our cry for help. Where is the freedom? Where is the equality? This is not some KKK rally where the rhetoric and banners are the product of some very extreme and fringe movement. This crowd represents the underbelly of otherwise law-abiding and charity-giving model citizens. The violence this group potentially can cause is bigger and more dangerous than any direct killing of women.
So, what business do we have criticizing and judging other countries for their bad cultural or religious practices that abuse women?
Why are so many of men silent on this assault on women? Don’t men realize that 50% of the population are women and they cannot avoid sharing this world with women? Furthermore, what are they willing to do to stand up for their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters?
Why don’t we hear from more women? Sometime it is even more painful to face the deafly silence from women. I often hear women, young and old declare that they don’t like working for a female boss or they rather be friends with men. They avoid supporting other women. Many women even make sure they are not seen as feminists. Our silence and act of omission continue to stop us from gaining the equal status as our birth right in this country.
In the diversity work we do, we have a term called “internalized oppression.” It describes how a subordinated group, such as women, oppress themselves either because they feel inferior to the dominant group, such as men or they want to avoid further abuse.
For the last few decades, we have spent a lot of energy to encourage girls to raise their hands in class and to empower them to reach for the stars. We have helped them play the game well in order to succeed in a still male-dominant business world. However we have not helped our boys develop more fully because as long as women try to be like men, men don’t have to change. In many instances, we have produced a population of men and women who do not have enough empathy for women’s plight as if statistics of women’s abuse are just academic data, similar to the way we see the wars as episodes on TV. These thick concrete walls and glass windows of our office buildings have somehow insulated us from our feelings toward injustice.
Decades after the women’s right movement, we have serious eating disorder issues among teen age girls and 3 out of 10 girls become pregnant before they turn 20. We still have a large population of young women who sell themselves short in their relationship with men. What happened to all the work done to raise their self-esteem?
Since 1848, we have come a long way to achieve the advancement for women. However, can we turn a blind eye on the work yet to be done from the gated community all the way to some back alley?
Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 2011 said, “Women are not free anywhere in this world until all women in the world are free.” This bold vision reminds us of those women’s shoulders we have stood on to get here. Women’s rights are human rights.
In order for our society to advance to the next level and become truly a beacon for freedom, both men and women will need to wake up and get fully involved in the work to achieve gender equality.
The TV camera followed this young woman activist who sprayed graffiti on the wall in a dark alley of Kabul, to remind people the fate of Afghan women. Her black eyes beamed from her hijab-framed face. Her blue paint glowed in the dark with determination. She said she chose this alley, infested by abandoned drug needles, syringes, and polluted by the smell of urine because that was the only place that she felt safe from the soldiers and thugs who would kill her on sight.
Can we afford to look the other way?
Celia Young works as a diversity consultant with businesses and communities to achieve gender equality.