Friday, March 8, 2013

International Womens Day 2013 - Status of Women in the World

There is an ancient Chinese proverb that says "Women Hold Up Half the Sky."

Today is International Womens' Day 2013 - what is the status of  the female half of the sky in the world today? Here is my take as someone who has seen the state of women in nearly 50 countries the last three decades.

Here are some FACTS:

Literacy:  "There are nearly one billion people in the world who are illiterate, one-fifth of the world's population. In spite of the fact that most development agencies identify women's literacy as the single most important factor in development, one out of every three women in the world cannot read and write..." (Source)

Yet in the United States, women are now a MAJORITY of college students and are getting more advanced degrees than men. Yet they are still being paid about 77% of men for doing the same job.

In 2013 it might as well be the days of Viking raiders raping and pillaging but its worse than that. It is the local men who have been swarming women on buses in place like India and Egypt and attacked them even when they have a male companion. Women are still incredibly abused in all countries worldwide. Rape is epidemic from Albania, to India to Zimbabwe --even in our own military installations.

It is estimated 1/3 of women in our U.S. military have been raped --by fellow soldiers. Even military recruiters and Air Force trainers at places like  Lackland AFB have forced women into sex without their consent. That takes a real jerk with no respect for others to do such a thing.

In Egypt, a new "democracy" and India, the largest democracy in the world which has had women like Indira Gandhi as leader -- women are routinely attacked in public by large groups of men, raped and even killed as a result. It seems to be getting worse, not better, both in the U.S. and worldwide.

In Afghanistan we all know that women can be killed for attending school and girls' schools are still attacked by Taliban.

But attacks on women, or the tendency to treat them as second class citizens is not confined to any one religion or culture. The ultra-orthodox in Israel are now insisting women walk on certain sides of the street and sit separately from men on buses.

Not that the west is any better. In the U.S. women are still not allowed to be Priests or even Ministers in most religions, although there have been inroads in some of the more progressive churches (e.g. the Episcopalians allow women to serve as head of a church. I've had the honor of meeting some of the first trailblazers).

Instead, we have sign a disturbing number of sex scandals by male Priests and Ministers involving minors.

Today we also have "pro life" groups in the west who rail against "government intrusion" yet require women who face the difficult choice of an abortion to have a transvaginal probe inserted inside them against their will. Why? Because men wanted  to show the women images of what is inside them.

It should be noted that none of the men who voted for the legislation have NOT been required to have probes inserted inside their private parts. This is an area ripe for equal opportunity!  Time to reap what they sow.

Yet once the baby is born the same men from the same party readily denies them food stamps to feed those babies, refuses to provide them health insurance, a living minimum wage or equal education opportunities. In Texas over 1 in 4 people are without health insurance - the highest number of uninsured in America.

The good news is that "Empowerment cuts Abuse." It has been shown in numerous countries that empowering women cuts the abuse they were subject to. Educating women raises the entire country's standard of living. Women pass learning on to their children and with an education they earn more money, benefiting the economy. In other words, it is a win-win to advance women's health and education.

America has not yet had a women President, but it has now had three dynamic women Secretaries of State - Madeleine Albright, Condi Rice and Hillary Clinton. Each of them, Democrat and Republican, made equality and advancement of women worldwide a core priority for these reasons. Women of both parties understand the same things that few men before them did. Few men know the sting of inequality based on gender. Women from all countries share a bond because they have had the same experiences.

To his credit, newly minted Secretary of State John Kerry who said "he has big heels to fill" has stated that he intends to continue the work of these American women pioneers to help women globally. No young girl should be shot in the head by a Taliban simply because she wanted to go to school.

Americans believe in justice and equality. Until women everywhere are paid the same for equal work, until women are free from rape at work or on the street, and until women have the same education opportunities as men, the world will remain a lesser place than it could be.

We have a ways to go before American justice and equality is available for all, including the women who hold up half the sky.  Make your voice heard by your State and Federal representatives on this special day.

Until we have equality for all there is justice for none.

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