Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Women in the News

Playing a pundit, again. This time I'm a caustic, male-bashing feminazi goddess. I always wanted to be caustic; I'm imagining walking by obnoxious people and causing all their clothing to melt.
General male-bashing comes harder, but it's doable if I pretend to be Rushette Limbaugh. Limbaugh and all his ilk bash females nonstop and that's called objectivity in some very loopy circles. Feminazi, well, I can goose-step with the best of them, but the rest of the nazi stuff makes me feel vomity.

So imagine me with safety-pins through my eyelids and with a horrible square stubby moustache. Ready? Ok, here it goes.

The first piece of news today is the miserable life of women in Congo, especially the life of young women who have been repeatedly raped by the militiamen in the recent disturbances. Now that they have been saved by the United Nations troops:

Young female refugees in the Congo who were raped by militiamen are now allegedly being sexually exploited by United Nations peace troops. According to the Independent, UN peacekeepers are giving girls as young as 13 food in exchange for sex.

Testimonies from both aid workers and teenage girls say that young girls in the Internally Displaced People (IDP) camp in northeastern Congo are climbing through a wire fence every night to sell their bodies for food to UN soldiers from Morocco and Uruguay, reports the Independent.

What else could they sell if they're hungry? Who would value the parts of these young women which are not related to sexual activities?
The stories they can tell, the songs and dances they may know, the ideas beginning to take shape in their heads. What will be saved for their futures? What sort of futures will they have?

And consider this, in many parts of the United States it's illegal to leave a child under twelve alone in a parked car. In Congo, thirteen year olds climb fences to have sex in order to eat. I eagerly await the rigorous examination of this problem the U.N. has promised.

A second interesting piece of news is the rarity of female ministers in the governments of countries:

The Asia-Pacific region has the lowest ratio of women in legislative office, according to a report presented at the Global Summit of Women 2004 in Seoul.
According to the report released this week, Europe has the highest number of female cabinet members, comprising 18 percent of the legislative body. Compared with 14.7 percent in the United States and 10.8 percent in Africa, the Asia-Pacific region comes in at 6.9 percent.
Today, 12 countries have no female ministers of any rank in government, according to the report. Nine of those are from the Asia-Pacific region; they are Brunei, Lebanon, Libya, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu.
Won-Hong Kim, a researcher of the Korean Women's Development Institute, told the Seoul-based Korea Times that the low numbers are a result of patriarchy in Asian-Pacific society.
"Traditionally, Asian societies have been male-centered, denying access to women in many sectors, especially politics," Kim said. "In order to improve the status of women, policymakers are required to give special attention to the problems and offer administrative support."
Irene Natividad, president of the summit and a Women's eNews 21 Women for the 21st Century, released the report that included 195 countries in its analysis.
"One woman minister can affect thousands," Natividad told the Korea Times. "One woman minister can ensure women are open to all occupations. One woman makes a difference."

Asian societies have indeed been traditionally male-centered, and as far as I can tell, they are still very much so. Just consider the well-known preference for boys in most of Asian countries. But the problem isn't limited to Asia; even Europe with the highest percentage of female ministers is still a continent where eighty percent of ministers are male. Where are all the women, many male bloggers might ask here. Isn't it the case that women just aren't interested in politics? Just look at who reads political blogs in this country.

Well, as Rivka points out in her excellent post on this topic, women actually vote in larger relative numbers than men, and are more active as political volunteers. She also demonstrates that women's political involvement increases with time, especially when counted from the date when they won the right to vote. Given that women have had the vote for only somewhat less than a century in even the most advanced countries, it's a bit early to start making some sort of philosophical conclusions about women's reluctance to engage in politics. There are still real barriers in the way of politically active women in many countries, and in several of them women who venture out into the political arena face open discrimination. Even in the good old U.S. of A. women bear special burdens in political life: they are attacked by right-wingers if they have minor children, they are still often regarded as responsible for the home and the house as well as their political careers, they are suspected of being weak on defense, merely because they are women, and they are viewed as running as 'women' rather than as people. And most recently, women are found lacking in the required macho quotient... But yes, it would be good to have more female ministers and presidents and even a pope or two. In my opinion.

Finally, something cheerful and uplifting about women in the news:

--As she answers phones, scours wire service reports for breaking news and researches feature stories, Nazima Shafique looks like any one of the other two dozen journalists working in the Pakistan Television (PTV) newsroom.
And that is just the way the 28-year-old news anchor--who has battled two of the harshest forms of discrimination in Pakistani society to pursue her career--wants it to be.
"When people look at me, I want them to see a person who can work just as well as anyone else in this room, that there is nothing different or special about me," she says.
As gutsy as she is humble, the cherub-faced journalist, however, is anything but ordinary.
The PTV news anchor, disabled by a severe case of childhood polio, is one of only four women in Pakistan presenting the nightly news.
In a country where only 25 percent* of women work, Shafique challenges the male-dominated status quo of most newsrooms and the cultural tendency, in a country still struggling with polio, to expect little of the disabled.
Although Pakistan passed a 1981 law to reserve 2 percent of the workforce for disabled persons and a 2002 law to integrate disabled children into the education system, many social workers complain of lax enforcement and little change in social attitudes.
"It's an engrained belief that disabled people are a burden, that they will never contribute to a family's earnings other than perhaps as a beggar on the street," says Islamabad-based social worker Aisha Hamid. "Sadly, changing this perception has just not been a priority for successive governments, and many disabled persons and their families remain utterly ignorant about the possibilities to better their lives."
Over 80 percent of disabled persons in Pakistan remain unemployed

Let's hope that this is the beginning of similar good developments all over the world.

Now, that wasn't too bad, was it? You've read through a whole feminazi post, and you're still as normal as you ever were. And I can rip off my moustache and go play with the snakes. Until next time.

*As an aside, I doubt that only a quarter of Pakistani women work; rather, that only a quarter of them are directly paid for the work they do.