Holding Up Half the Sky
exactly is a woman's place, anyway? In pre-revolutionary China,
the birth of a daughter was a sad thing. Many newborn baby girls
with names like "Little Too Many" wound up being discarded
in street corner "baby towers." Yet, China was the source
of the saying that "Women hold up half the sky." Women
in China today account for almost half the workforce, and have a
huge presence in the medical field and teaching. Women's place is
in the professions as well as in the rice fields.
may remember the practice of "suttee" in the India of
old where widows were supposed to throw themselves on their husband's
funeral pyre, as they had no place in society without reference
to their marriage partners. Things have definitely changed for the
better since their colonial masters put a stop to that, and today
a woman's place might even be in Parliament. Remember Indira Gandhi
when she was the Prime Minister of the world's largest democracy?
the former Soviet Union, in those years when Reagan called it the
"Evil Empire," women enjoyed an equality never before
seen in that part of the world. With the fall of what we liked to
call "communism" (really totalitarian socialism), women
have been put back "in their place", and the growth of
prostitution has been dramatic. "A woman's place is in the
of the 1.3 billion people in the world living in poverty worldwide
are women. Most of the low-paid sweatshop maquiladora "offshore"
factories are "manned" by women, for the simple fact that
they can be paid less than men to do work like electronic assembly
and garment work, and tend to be a more tractable workforce. They
will put up with a lot, and can be discarded after their usefulness
is over. Their wages are seldom above the poverty level, even by
local standards. A woman's place is in the sweatshop from Mexico
or the Philippines to the Northern Marianas.
friend of mine who worked for an American oil company in Riyadh,
Saudi Arabia, once told me an interesting story about their every-two-week
company-paid weekend in Paris. As soon as their plane would leave
the ground, the secretaries would go to the rear of the plane and
change their cover-all abayas to miniskirts. After a weekend of
European partying, they did the reverse number just before landing
back in "Saudi". Interesting. Remember, Saudi Arabia,
our staunch ally in the Middle East is the place where, a few years
back, one of their princesses was stoned to death for having an
affair with a commoner. She was buried up to her neck and then a
dump truck load of boulders was dropped on her. A woman's place
is covered up...
back before the attack on Iraq, a few scholars pointed out that
Iraq under Saddam was all that was keeping the fundamentalist Shi'ite
majority at bay, and that removal of Saddam might prove to be a
big mistake. Well, we did it anyway. One of the things the new U.S.-supported
Iraqi Governing Council did was to wipe out Saddam's progressive
laws which forbade child marriage and "divorce-on-the-spot",
and which gave women rights in child custody and property inheritance.
There was a huge outcry, and women demonstrated against this reversal
of their position in society. A woman's place is in the streets
we are in the year 2004. Women in the U.S. are still paid less than
men for equal work, and sexual harassment is the order of the day
in many occupations. The VA reports that 90% of the women in the
military (an equal opportunity employer) have reported sexual harassment,
about 1/3 of which have been rapes. A woman's place is in uniform?
behind a receptionist's desk? Out of the workplace altogether and
back doing the housewife bit? Are we sure?
to Amnesty International women's prisons worldwide are lonely places.
Inmates, usually incarcerated for political activity, get few visitors
and little sympathy. In some places, like Turkey, our good buddy
on the Iraqi border, sexual and psychological torture of women prisoners
is common. In women's prisons here in the US, sexual harassment
and poor medical care have been repeatedly reported by inmates.
Many of the women in there have murdered abusive husbands. A woman's
place is in jail? More women are in jail that ever before.
and large, it would seem that women around the world are still exploited
and controlled by male-dominated institutions . Progress is not
inevitable. Some males in America like to think that "uppity"
women who champion equal rights, equal pay, and equal opportunity
are "feminazis"... (Rush Limbaugh's term, not mine). As
long as women are in prisons, in brothels, in sweatshops, in burkahs,
and are abused and exploited, any country which calls itself "free"
is kidding itself.
need more commitment than just "Mother's Day, or "International
Women's Day." Men and women of good will need to use what influence
they have in the world to call attention to the position of women
around the world, and to never accept that this is the way it has
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