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Global Feminism in the News: Women & Progress

November 1, 2009

Global Feminism in the News is a monthly column discussing recurring themes in international news stories concerning women. This month we will focus on women’s progress and victories.

This week’s post is inspired by Phyllis Schlafly. Yep, you read correctly. Many of you probably read/heard/talked about this study that “determined” that women are less happy now than they were in the seventies. (If not, read some responses here, here and here.) Some immediate responses to the study blamed feminism for the unhappiness. If us pesky feminists just left well enough alone the world would have continued on as it was forty years ago and women would be happier.  Ms. Schlafly weighed in, of course, with this gem of a quote:

“[T]he feminist movement taught women to see themselves as victims of an oppressive patriarchy in which their true worth will never be recognized and any success is beyond their reach … [V]ictimhood is not a recipe for happiness.”

Why, I agree with you Phyllis! Well, I agree with part of that statement. I don’t think most women need a movement to show them that they are victims of an oppressive patriarchy. When you are disproportionately affected by poverty, HIV/AIDS, sexual violence, unemployment, lower wages and discrimination, solely because of your gender, you get the message quite clearly on your own. But you’re right about victimhood and happiness. It’s hard to be happy as a victim, which is why so many women decide to see themselves as survivors, or equals, or otherwise strong and competent people despite societal barriers and limits. And for me personally, “the feminist movement” (as grand and far reaching as that term is) has taught me that we as women usually have to reach farther for our success, but we can reach it if we try.

So while many women are victims, they are also survivors, leaders, and heroes. This month’s post is about those women and the amazing progress they have made despite adversity. Does the feminist movement get credit for this too, Phyllis?

In Kuwait, women may now procure passports without spousal approval. While this may not seem like such a large victory, government issued identification is not only necessary to travel but also proof of one’s citizenship. Without government issued identity, it is hard to prove you even exist, and women’s visibility is limited enough as it is.

South Africa is well on its way towards its 2015 goal of an equally male and female Parliament. They are now rated 3rd in the world for gender equal representation in Parliament, with women comprising 45% of the governing body. Rwanda and Sweden hold first and second place.

On September 30, after a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Secretary of State Clinton introduced a Resolution to the UN Security Council which was unanimously approved to delegate a special representative to focus solely on sexual violence in armed conflict. (See my post from July about women and war.)

In Saudi Arabia, the country’s lone female cartoonist is using her art to draw attention to gender inequality. Hana Hajjar’s work raises questions about commonly accepted discrimination, and her existence as a female cartoonist is an inspiration to other women considering the work.

“The general attitude in Saudi about caricaturists is that women don’t have the stamina and inspiration to last long in this field, unlike their male counterparts,” says Hajjar

A World Economic Forum survey determined that Iceland has made the most progress of 134 countries in its effort to close the national gender gap. The survey measured progress in the areas of politics, education, economy and health. (The US continues to slip in the rankings.)

In the Netherlands, 14-year-old Laura Dekker hopes to become the youngest sailor to travel the world alone. She is awaiting a court’s decision to determine if the trip is too dangerous for someone so young. I believe when I was 14 my highest aspiration was finding a summer waitressing job. Way to go Laura!

Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian woman instrumental in uniting Christian and Muslim women in her country to protest peacefully and support the election of the first female president of an African country, Ellen Johnson, was the recipient of $500,000 and the Gruber Women’s Rights Prize this year. (Gbowee will share the $500,000 with The Women’s Legal Centre in South Africa.)

In Palestine, a soccer game between Palestinian and Jordanian women ended in a 2-2 tie, but the day was still victorious for the Palestinians as they demonstrated their passion and fervor on the soccer field was equal to their countrymen’s. Several dignitaries attended the game in addition to Palestinian leader Mahmous Abbas. The youngest player on the Palestinian team, 14-year-old Aya Khatib, is a Muslim from a refugee camp near Jericho.

“Palestinian women can do everything — even football,” said Rukayya Takrori, the Palestinian team’s manager.

Please post any other inspiring/celebratory/victorious news stories you have read this month. I hope you’re reading Phyllis.

  1. Don permalink
    November 1, 2009 6:48 pm

    I like how Rawanda is leading the way. Rawanda made it mandatory that 30% of the seats in the Parliament must be held by women. But as of today women hold 56% of the seats. Yes, 56%. But I think the 30% figure should be bumped up to 50%…that way they would always occupy at least half of the seats at the very minimum…but they could also occupy more seats if more women are elected. Hopefully other countries will follow Rawanda’s lead.


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