From Iceland to Canada to Afghanistan. The rights and freedoms of women are very much varied in the world. We can look towards the most gender-equal societies found in Scandinavia such as Sweden and Iceland where women enjoy some of the best rights and freedoms found anywhere in the world. While other countries like Afghanistan and India, there exists utter discrimination and a lack of human dignity for women.
How can such variance exist in the world? Why do so many countries (indeed likely most developing countries) treat women in such a disgusting manner? What can we do about it and is there a future in which complete gender equality is achieved?
Many of these questions are very difficult to answer and I would suggest any person looking to expand their knowledge in gender issues and feminism to implore their local libraries for books regarding this topic. Books like Power shift by Sally Armstrong and Men explain things to me by Rebecca Solnit are amazing for introducing people to the field of feminism.
What I’m about to describe in this article piece are true feelings and thoughts I carry with myself every day. The world has still much to do, and we can start by studying feminist ideas, and looking to better the world for all.
And although we’ve made much progress.
The world has not achieved gender equality or gender equity at all, and we’re not even close.
Equality and Equity
For equality, there still exists dozens and dozens of countries where women are not equal to men before the law (e.g., Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia). And gender equity is something that hasn’t even been achieved by any developed country yet outside of perhaps Iceland which is ranked to be the most gender-equal society for 12 years in a row according to the World Economic Forum.
According to this same report by the WEF, the world has actually become slightly less gender-equal as of 2021. The report also highlights that closing the gender gap will take approximately 136 years. Closing the gender gap in “Economic Participation and Opportunity” fares even worse, with the report estimating 267 years. A long way away from any life in our generation.
Obviously, the WEF reports broad metrics to predict the improvement of gender equality and isn’t so much interested in the ground reality of what women face in the world. Be it domestic abuse, lack of education, healthcare inequities, pay gaps, sexual abuse and rape, objectification, enslavement, basic privileges like driving or walking outdoors alone, poverty, etc.
The women in Afghanistan are a prime example of the worst of humanity being manifested in their treatment of them. The Taliban (an extremist Islamist terrorist group) has banned schools for girls after grade 5. The Taliban has reinstated mandatory face coverings for women going out and have mandated a mahram to accompany a woman if she chooses to go outdoors.
Other draconian rules like having TV anchors cover their faces, limiting the employment prospects of Afghan women to only healthcare and teaching, and hunting down previous women who worked in government and in the judicial system. The women of Afghanistan are being persecuted.
Of course, Afghanistan is a place where the rights and freedoms of women are undermined to the worst degree, and it’ll take more than a century to restore any semblance of gender equality in the country.
Neighbouring countries like Pakistan and India fair a little bit better for women but even those societies are horrible for women. Marrying off girls at the ages of 12-16 to men over twice their age is commonplace in the South-Asian peninsula (although this is a global phenomenon that we see even in the US and Canada in reduced numbers).
UNICEF specifically mentions South Asia as having the highest rates of child marriage in the world. Where "45% of all women aged 20-24 years reported being married before the age of 18" and "17% married before the age of 15".
A decade ago, one in four girls were married before the age of 18, this statistic has been reduced to one in 5 girls. And although child marriage is declining globally, including in South Asia, the marriage of girls under 18 is still commonplace. According to GirlsNotBrides - a humanitarian organization that seeks to end child marriage, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18 each year globally.
Education and Opportunity
Regarding economic opportunity and education, girls aren’t expected to go to school like boys are and many of them end up working in low-paying (or no paying) labour-oriented tasks to care for their families (or are married off to care for their husband’s family). And thus, women’s roles in these countries (South Asia, middle east) fall into the traditional housewife/caretaker role.
For one, this type of gender division leads to both men and women being limited in what they can do. Men are the breadwinners; women are the caretakers. This type of extreme gender division limits the potential freedom of what either gender can do with their lives.
Women should have the freedom to pursue any education or career they want, and men should have the freedom to be caretakers and family-oriented beings. In essence, people should be able to do what their hearts desire without any social coercion.
Access is highly inconsistent across the globe. Countries like Iceland, Canada, and the Netherlands have great access to education for women. While other countries like Pakistan, Iraq, and Yemen have very poor access to education.
For me, education is one of the most important issues in allowing women to become educated enough so that they can autonomously fight for the things they believe within the institutions they learn and work from. Being aware of what is possible as a woman is the difference between succumbing to whatever society tells you to do and fighting for the rights and freedoms you believe in.
An excellent example are the women of Afghanistan. Where after two decades of education access, media exposure, and employment has led to women fighting for the rights and freedoms they rightly deserve. These women are fully aware that the Taliban fears women’s education; it is the biggest obstacle the Taliban must defeat in order to control women and their freedoms.
But the fight for women’s rights and freedoms doesn’t end in Afghanistan or anywhere in the world for that matter. Protesting and demanding from oppressors with utter redundancy and rage is what’s required. Striking fear and despair in the hearts and livelihoods of the oppressors is what it will take to grasp what women rightfully deserve.
Sexual Abuse and Rape
Sexual abuse and rape are still very much prevalent in the world, especially in the developing world. According to Geo News, there are 11 rape cases every day that are reported to all police authorities in the country (with the actual number likely much higher). In addition, out of all the accused, only 0.3% have been convicted of rape. These statistics aren’t just unique in Pakistan but are replicable in many other developing countries.
Even in developed countries like Canada. Sexual abuse cases disproportionately affect women and girls. According to Statistics Canada, approximately 4.7 million women - or 30% of all women over the age of 15 have been “sexually assaulted outside of an intimate relationship at least once”. In addition, Statistics Canada also concludes that “women are more likely than men to be sexually assaulted or experience unwanted sexual behaviour in public”.
Again, these conclusions and studies can be replicated across any country - developed or developing - and will yield very similar results to varying degrees. But the overall message is that sexual assault against women is rampant everywhere.
Even within their families, 82% of rapes in Pakistan are done by the victim’s fathers or brothers. Talk about absolute livid and horrid actions done by the families of women. Even when women are forced to take on the role of caretaker. There is no respect and no dignity provided for women from even their own families.
Reproductive Rights, Contraception, and Child-Care
Abortion access is still very much varied across the world. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, only 36% (around 601 million) of women of “reproductive age” have the right to abortion on request. The Center for Reproductive Rights defines abortion requests with a gestational limit of 12 weeks. Thus, women that have access to abortion upon request in the second term of pregnancy is even less.
When looking at these numbers, I feel as though women live in a dystopia where women are expected to both be caretakers but at the same time are not able to make the decision on whether they personally want children. It feels like societal coercion to steer women in a particular direction to only be able to caretake children. No other opportunity for them in the form of education or employment is promoted or socially accepted.
Basic sense policies that are supported by the majority of economists are also lacking in much of the world. These include but are certainly not limited to education for women, access to employment, government-subsidized daycare, a real solution to any type of abuse against women (which costs the global economy billions), abortion access, maternity and parental leave, and the willingness to invest in the future of women.
Some countries have done a great job at addressing these issues. For example, Canada is looking to transform their childcare system to an affordable $10 a day system that is focused on building new quality publicly licensed childcare spaces and providing accessible child-care for mothers across the country. This national system will be fully implemented by the government by 2025-26 and will make a real difference for both women and children.
Taking Quebec as an example - which already had a subsidized daycare system even prior to the national system - leading economist in subsidized child-care Pierre Fortin states that “young women’s labor force participation in Quebec is the highest worldwide now. It’s 86% in 2017, and it is exceeding that in Switzerland and Sweden”. Fortin says that this policy alone will “increase participation of women in the workforce, and cost efficiency”.
In comparison, Canada’s workforce participation overall is 80% including Quebec. Without Quebec, this number drops to 77%. As a result of the increase in workforce participation, Fortin says that the program “pays for itself”. Meaning that any costs that go towards the child-care system are paid back in full by the increase in tax revenue from more women working. Talk about a return on investment.
Socially speaking, having a public daycare system does many things for women and children. For children, studies show that high-quality child care provides “stimulation and structured educational content— [and] benefits children’s cognitive development and school readiness”. And this is especially true for children from “disadvantaged home environments”.
For women, the benefits are obvious. Women no longer must choose between having a child and pursuing their careers. If affordable high-quality child-care is presented as an option, then women can choose to do both. Obviously, this means that the division of caretaking the child when at home should be divided equally between mother and father (step it up fathers).
A big part of reducing the gender gap is through universal reproductive freedoms for women and men. Things of access to contraception, abortion, sex education, and destigmatizing the sexual desires of women.
Most recently, the US Supreme Court has determined in a dissenting opinion in the landmark overturning of Roe v. Wade that a right to contraception may not be guaranteed by the constitution. This basically means that states would have legal grounds to ban or heavily restrict contraception (which frankly is already a reality in deep-red Republican states).
Contraception is a key aspect of women’s success and happiness in life. And to nobody’s surprise, studies agree with this sentiment. Access to contraception leads to reducing women’s poverty, increases earnings, furthers their careers, increases their educational attainment, results in better outcomes for their health and reproductive safety, and even increases their high-school graduation rates.
Knowing this, why do legislators purposefully Lawmakers in these states know full well the ramifications of their actions, what they are doing is a deliberate attempt to reverse the rights and freedoms of women because they genuinely believe in whatever “religious” fundamentalist ideology that drives their thoughts.
Sexuality, Language, and the Patriarchy
The destigmatization of sexuality is another big issue, women are shunned, socially ostracized, or even put to death for any sort of sexuality they may exhibit. It is considered “sinful”, “wrong”, and “manipulative” that a woman may manifest in their sexuality. Even in developed countries, the sexuality of women is unequal when compared to that of women. A woman who is comfortable with her sexuality will be shunned, while a man of equal sexual experience will be praised.
Even when women are rightfully sexual. Another big problem is that women are often expected to play a submissive, degrading, and passive role during sex. Which is especially perpetuated and planted in the minds of men through pornography. This type of mindset is especially hurtful for men that end up destroying their own attitudes towards women and only think of them as sexual objects.
Degradation, submissiveness, and passivity only embolden men who think that all women want to be in a vulnerable position like that. It hurts men and women alike; it destroys the platonic aspect of what relationships between people should be like. Rather than seeing women as people, men will see them as entirely sexual beings waiting to be claimed. For me, this is disrespectful and unhuman-like behaviour that people (men) have succumbed to.
On the other hand, why has porn (and indeed the expectations of men) placed women to take on the role of passivity in sex? Are they not too active participants? They certainly are. The distinction lies in how societal discourse of sex pertains to the role of genders. While the man is the “provider”, the “giver”, the one who “claims” the sexual appetite of the woman. The woman “receives”, “takes”, or is “penetrated” by the man.
I use these words deliberately because they are all superficial. These words intentionally put meaning in the way we treat sex in accordance with the role of the genders. They are socially constructed to delegate women to a lower passive role in their sexuality.
Upon further inspection, one may put any word to describe the role of sex between the genders. I could easily reverse the words typically used in sexual discourse and nothing would change biologically or physically outside of its meaning.
For example, if the woman was the “provider”, the “giver”, or who “claims” the sexual appetite of the man; the only thing that changes is the relation of those words with the respective sexual acts and genitalia. Nothing would change regarding the physical act of sex but the attitudes toward the role of genders during sexual activity reverse completely. And all I did was change a few words.
This concept plays into the overall attitudes towards how society treats women’s sexuality. One that should be kept “chaste”, “protected”, or “virtuous”. These words mean nothing outside of the meanings we assign them as a society. I could easily frame these words towards men and the dynamic would change significantly simply because men’s sexuality is considered more open and acceptable than that of women.
Why does this language discourse exist? Perhaps the language arose deliberately as a means of controlling women by relegating them to a passive, submissive role in society. And I would argue that the start of this controlling language arose because of the patriarchy. For this, I’ll need to reference Sally Armstrong – author of the critically acclaimed Power Shift – she is a Canadian journalist, filmmaker, and human rights activist. Everyone should read her book to gain insight into the rise of patriarchy and how patriarchy is in fact a social construct, not a “natural” phenomenon.
Armstrong argues that the patriarchy arose during the agricultural era when women were “domesticated” as the need for labour increased to tend the fields. Patriarchy came about as a response to socially coerce women to become “baby incubators”. Additionally, men used it to justify controlling women’s bodies in a way which served their interests.
Thus, the formication of language to reflect this new era of controlling women was cultivated over thousands of years and has become the norm which we hear in language today.
Armstrong further states that the normalization of men’s “domination” in both societies and in relation to women has resulted not just in societal misogyny; but has caused religions and cultures that justify misogyny.
And of course, language is only one medium in which misogyny is manifested. Another big problem that perpetuates misogyny and the inhumane treatment of women is pornography. Pornography genuinely takes the worst of what women are expected to do during sex and displays it in full, fueled by blind lust through men’s idea of degradation and obsession with female submissiveness.
The Blight of Porn
A lot of the aggressively patriarchal attitudes towards women’s sexuality can be explained by porn. Men take what they see in porn and then replicate it in practice, thinking that women must want what the abused women in pornography want. Men become conditioned to think that degradation is what women want, they become so conditioned to the point that asking for a woman’s sexual preference becomes difficult or even a non-consideration for them!
Many women talk about this exact problem, and it’s led me to believe that pornography is a big reason why men can often only see women as sexual objects, and not as full human beings. Or why do men often feel like they can only talk or be friends with women with the inclination that somewhere down the line – they will have sex with that female friend. It is frankly very dehumanizing.
But porn isn’t just bad for the psyche. Studies have shown that pornography has negative effects on relationships. According to Psychology Today, increased use of pornography may actually play a role in reduced sexual satisfaction with partners for both men and women. Another study suggests that the “chance of divorce doubled for both men and women who started using porn after getting married”.
Other things like body insecurity are perpetuated by porn. Women and men compare themselves to the unrealistic body expectations they see in porn and in the media and end up hurting their bodily self-esteem. We’ve all seen countless articles and videos on hourglass figures, bust size, penis size, sexual stamina, etc.
All these media pieces feed into the ever-increasing insecurity that women and men of today are experiencing. What sows is the mindset that maybe our bodies are not “good enough”. We tell ourselves; “what if I looked like that? Why don’t I look like that? Only if I look liked that”. This kind of insecurity hurts everyone, and it’s incredibly destructive to a healthy mindset toward the opposite gender and sexuality.
The reality that I’m envisioning is not a unique one or even one that is “radical”. It is frankly the bare minimum to achieve true gender equality and equity that all persons deserve, no matter their gender.
The chromosomes that you’re born with at birth should not have any impact on how you live your life. No person should experience higher levels of physical abuse or less educational attainment as a result of being born with two X chromosomes. It is ridiculous how much a 50-50 coinflip in your mother’s uterus can predict so much in your life. All the way from your likelihood of experiencing sexual harassment in public to literally being enslaved by psychotic misogynistic terrorists in Afghanistan.
And be sure that all the discrimination faced by women is deliberate. A deliberate attempt to undermine women for whatever selfish interests the oppressors desire. The only way to stop their selfish intent is through solidarity, perseverance, determination, resistance, and a furious onslaught.
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