by Talia Carner
At a mid-October U.N. session commemorating the 15th Anniversary of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the international community to commit resources to improve women’s health and gender equality.
How much has changed since 1994 In 2009, across the globe, women are still positioned as far inferior to men in every public spherepolitical, religious, legal and economic.
No country is free of a womans problem, be it full legal rights, maternity care, access to birth control, religious representation, political leadership, civil liberties, education opportunities, pay equality or protection from sexual violence.
In South America, where military regimes are unconcerned about women, poverty is feminized with the highest rate of teenage mothers and with 70 percent of working women employed in domestic service. In some African nations, maternity death reaches a ratio of 2,000 to one maternity death in Europe. In the U.S., mothers are often disenfranchised and discredited in our courts.
But seeking legal justice or pay equality is a luxury reserved for women in developed and even developing countries. What happens in Third-World nations stuck in the seventeenth century
In the film, The Stoning of Soraya, a man in contemporary Iran wishing to divorce his wife concocts an allegation of infidelity. Using false witnesses in a trial that Soraya is prohibited from attending, she is sentenced to death. An hour later, her lower body is buried in the sand while her upper body is stoned to shreds. Her male relatives and neighbors are her delighted executionersstarting with her own father. The viciousness in which her adolescent son is the first to throw a stone that hits her forehead reflects the misogyny indoctrinated into boys impressionable minds. It is also linked to global terrorism: The same bloodthirsty societies such as Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi-Arabia that are obsessed with womens bodies purityand where women are considered property no different than goatsare also the countries that produced most terrorists and terrorist acts of the 20th and 21st centuries.
A child-bride forced into sexual slavery in the Middle East, Asia or South America may dream about fleeing the marriage into which she was sold. But she relinquishes all hope once she is the mother of several infants and fears the world outside, more cruel toward an illiterate woman than the world in which she is trapped.
Nevertheless, courageous girls who attempt to flee the rice fields of Vietnam or the steppes of Siberia for the promise of jobs abroad, are likely to fall into sex trafficking rings. At any given year, one- to two-million girls and women are ensnared into brothels from Berlin to Calcutta.
The atrocities visited upon women are highlighted in mass rape used as a tool of war. From East Timor to Sierra Leone, wars between nations are won by breaking women, shattering nuclear families, tearing apart villages and wrecking a nations spirit. But when wars end and people crawl out of the ashes, mores are shattered. In African nations, men expect sex simply by overpowering a female, making gender violence an inevitable part of the school environment.
Then there is the burning of brides in India and the mass gendercide of girls in China. There is the clitoridectomy of two million girls a year in Africa and Muslim nationsAmnesty estimates that 130 million girls and women suffer the brutal, radical excising of most or all of the female genitalia.
What is the answer for this bleak state of global gender discrimination that results in female misery and death
When women are educated, they delay marriage age, have fewer children, seek to educate them, present role models for their daughters and a fresh view of women for their sons.
When women are educated, their earning capacity increases, they are more likely to start their own business ventures, and have a better chance to pull out of poverty.
When women are educated, they help better other womens and childrens lives, seek leadership roles and run for political offices.
When women are educated, they use the Internet to reach beyond their narrow world, and are less likely to tolerate extreme forms of religious fundamentalism that is the root of terrorism in our world today.
Women are not the problem, but rather the solution. Had society heeded the 1994 Population Conference recommendations, women, one-half the worlds population would have helped society double its forward move toward development and prosperity.
October 20, 2009
Talia Carner, a New York-based novelist, is the former publisher of Savvy Woman magazine and a lecturer at international women economic forums. Her heart-wrenching suspense novels, Puppet Child and China Doll, (and her upcoming novel, Jerusalem Maiden,) are inspired by social issues and are often the choice of reading groups. Please check www.TaliaCarner.com.
Also see Selecting the Same Sex by Merle Hoffman in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.
See In A Word: The True History of Misogyny by Christine E. Hutchins in the Caf in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.