The Palgrave Macmillan/Amnesty International series illuminates the greatest human rights issues facing the world today. From human trafficking to poverty, terrorism to freedom of expression, this dynamic and accessible series encourages debate about the situation today and, the path we took to get here, allowing people with many different perspectives to tell their own stories of struggle.
Created Equal is a frank and clear-sighted introduction to the current state of women's rights globally. Millions of women throughout the world suffer from violence, poverty and denial of their human rights because of their gender. By exploring their stories, and hearing the views of both advocates for and opponenets of women's rights, Anna Horsbrugh-Porter reveals the real human costs of the violation of these rights. Among the issues covered in this book are:
-violence against women,
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About the Author
Anna Horsbrugh-Porter is a radio journalist who has worked for the BBC World Service, BBC Radio Four and independent production companies for nearly twenty years.
Amnesty International, founded in 1961, is a worldwide organization which campaigns for internationally recognized human rights for all. With more than 2.2 million members and subscribers in more than 150 countries and regions, it coordinates support to act for justice on a wide range of issues, including poverty, discrimination, and women's rights.
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Voices on Women's Rights
By Anna Horsbrugh-Porter
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2009 Amnesty International UK
All rights reserved.
Education and Work
This section looks at women and their relationship to power both inside and outside the home. What areas of control have gender demarcations? What pressures, both cultural and religious, are exerted on women in terms of dress, conduct, education, and work? What happens when the traditional male hierarchy is overturned, when a woman is successful at work, in business, or in politics — and in some cases even takes the highest political office in the land?
Finally, and fundamentally, this section will address the fact that all activity outside the domestic sphere for women is predicated on ensuring the absolute human right to education. Girls and women can accomplish very little in a public space without it, and denying them a basic education is the surest way to keep them at home, out of sight and earshot.
A Woman's Place Is in the Home — And What Happens When She Leaves It
Woman is made specifically to please man.
— Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1762
Gentleness, docility, and a spaniel-like affection are ... consistently recommended as the cardinal virtues of the sex ... one writer has declared that it is masculine for a woman to be melancholy. She was created to be the toy of man, his rattle, and it must jingle in his ears whenever, dismissing reason, he chooses to be amused.
— Mary Wollstonecraft, 1792
131 Bellows for Dusting
When cleaning down, one of the handiest labour-savers is a pair of bellows. In cleaning the head and foot of a wire spring mattress, where the dust collects, a good pair of bellows blows out the dust and fluff in a minute. For the back of wardrobes that are too heavy to move stand at one end and blow the bellows behind along the skirting board, and you will find the dust out at the other end.
A pair of bellows and a passion for cleaning — this is a surreal picture of virtuous womanhood, conducting an ongoing war against the combined enemies of dust and dirt. Always on a high state of alert for these domestic battles fought on the home front: that is the traditional ideal of a good woman, a safe woman, whose primary role is as a housewife and mother. Modest, respectful, conforming in dress, speech, and behavior — a figurehead for her sex.
This tip about dusting is just one of over 30,000 entries submitted to The Good Housewife Competition run by the British Good Housekeeping Institute in the 1920s. Other entries ranged from the bizarre to the plainly unnecessary:
How to Sweeten Rancid Butter: Melt and skim the butter. Put into the fat a piece of toast ...
How to Clean Playing Cards: Place them on a newspaper, sprinkle with talcum powder and rub with a piece of clean, dry cheesecloth ...
How to Banish Cockroaches: If cockroaches and ants are troublesome in the house, sprinkle ground rice around their haunts. They eat greedily and it swells inside them and they die.
This obsessive devotion to housework can easily be ridiculed, but to what extent is it still part of an accepted female behavior today? How common is the traditional belief that a woman's place is in the home, that men are to be cooked for, cleaned for, and cared for, first by a mother, then by a wife; that women who do infringe on this code and go out to work have only themselves to blame if their doing so results in broken marriages, drug-addicted children, disintegration of families, and domestic violence? The socially conservative right-wing British newspaper the Daily Mail prints a steady flow of stories undermining women working outside the home:
Nearly nine in ten British women plan to quit their jobs to look after their children, a survey has found. The research flies in the face of the idea that women want to have it all by juggling a career and having children. As well as giving up work, the poll showed that women want large families. One in three said they would have four or more children if money weren't an issue. It provides a revealing insight into women's attitudes to work and relationships and their commitment to family lives. One in five who already have children thought that women who work while raising a family make worse mothers.
Women still do the majority of household tasks, despite participating more in the labor market than in the past. A recent 2007 survey in Britain found that the gendered "chores gap" — for unpaid domestic work at home — is worsening, with working women spending an average of 180 minutes a day on housework, compared to 101 minutes a day for men. The former Equal Opportunities Commission in Britain said that it believes this gap will never close, and that women will continue to spend in excess of 78 percent more time doing housework each day than men.
Outside the Home: Dress Codes
By staying confined within the home, in the domestic sphere, women are approved of by society at large and perceived to be safe and contained. When women venture outside, their appearance, throughout all cultures and all historical periods, has been a focus of mass observation and censure. For women in the public arena, the amount of flesh on display becomes charged with eroticism. In the West before the twentieth century, showing a few inches above the foot, perhaps an ankle or a glimpse of a calf as a woman moved around, getting in and out of carriages, was seen as highly sexually exciting. In the Indian Subcontinent today, the traditional sari exposes a woman's midriff and back, which isn't considered immodest. However, the sari shirt covers the underarm area, which is seen as erotic and risky to expose, as is showing the leg above the knee.
Different cultures have different dress codes for women — for instance orthodox Jewish women don't show their hair to anyone other than their husbands, and so usually wear a wig or a hat outside the home, and they dress modestly.
Hastings Banda was president of Malawi from 1961 to 1994, and part of his very authoritarian rule included restrictions on women's dress; women were barred from wearing trousers or skirts that ended above the knees. These strictures also applied to female tourists, and border guards stopped women from entering the country in trousers. Women had to wrap a towel around themselves to make an impromptu skirt at the border crossing into Malawi. Hastings Banda's argument for enforcing the dress code — that it instilled respect for women in Malawian society, and particular respect from men — is one often used in different societies to justify taking away freedom of choice from women about what they wear outside the home. He also enforced rules about the length of men's hair, and "hippie" trousers were forbidden.
Tell the faithful women to lower their gaze and guard their private parts and not display their beauty except what is apparent of it, and to extend their scarf to cover their bosom.
— Koran, 24:31
The Koran addresses all believers of Islam and asks them to dress modestly, but there has been much highly charged political and private debate on how these injunctions about dress in the public sphere apply to women specifically. There are two traditional ways that Muslim women can cover up — the hijab, which is the more common form of headscarf, covering a woman's hair and neck, and the niqab (full veil), which covers a woman completely. Of course many Muslim women wear neither the hijab nor the niqab, and their dress codes vary across the Muslim world from Indonesia to Morocco. In the West the "headscarf debate," as it has become known, is a fraught political issue. In western European countries such as France and Britain there have been court battles and intense public debates over whether women and girls should be allowed to wear the headscarf when at school, when meeting their members of parliament, or when teaching primary-school age children. Afsanah Safa, who is British and in her twenties, describes her experiences wearing the hijab:
I've been wearing a headscarf since I was twelve years old. When I started wearing it people were a bit surprised because I didn't wear it in the first year of school, then I took it off for a while, then I put it back on so they must have thought what's going on here, but it's OK now. I've been wearing it constantly for the last five years. Wearing a headscarf and covering your body is a way of detracting attention away from yourself. It's a way of preventing men [from] looking at you as a kind of sex object, so they don't have these kind of ideas as you walk down the street, because this is bad for you. We believe that you could get punished for this, if they have these thoughts about you. There are advantages and disadvantages about being brought up in England. You want to be like everyone else, you want to go out and have fun, and sometimes wearing a headscarf restricts these things. You can't go into a bar or a club wearing a headscarf, it's like being a nun or something, it doesn't feel right. When people look at you they must think oh she's very religious, not very interesting, a bit boring, and I really don't like that. I don't want people to look at me and see the headscarf. Wearing the headscarf it's like a constant reminder of who I am. It always reminds me of what I'm supposed to do and what I'm not supposed to do, it's like having your Mum over your shoulder telling you what to do. When I don't have it on I do feel more free sometimes, I think there's nothing holding me back. I do take it off sometimes, like when we have our school prom, otherwise I feel quite awkward. My mum's OK about it, on those special occasions, but it doesn't mean I go completely crazy, I still remember who I am, it's just good to get out of it sometimes.
Many Muslim women remain unveiled and feel no contradiction between this and remaining true to their religion. In Turkey, a majority Muslim but secular state (over 99 percent of the population is Muslim), the headscarf has traditionally been banned in public places, including schools and government institutions. Women wearing headscarves have been refused treatment at state medical facilities. This has polarized society and caused huge controversy, with protests and boycotts of universities by those arguing that by being denied the right to wear a headscarf, many women are de facto being denied the right to higher education and jobs. In February 2008 the Turkish parliament lifted the ban, but four months later the proposed amendment to the constitution was annulled by the country's constitutional court, which cannot be appealed. So the ban is still in place in Turkey, and women's dress — the wearing of a headscarf — has become a political symbol of the state's secularity on the one hand and the fear of a growing Islamization on the other.
Conversely, in Iran and Saudi Arabia, women are forced to follow a strict Islamic dress code, wearing the hijab and abaya (a long black cloak) outside the home. Religious police are there to enforce the law, and women who don't cover up are punished.
Asking for It
Descriptions of sexual violence and attacks on women are often subtly connected to how the women were dressed at the time, as a way of diverting blame and distracting the jury from what really went on. If a rape victim is reported as wearing a short skirt, high heels, or a revealing top, she is portrayed in the media and sometimes by the judicial system as having somehow provoked the attack, of having "asked for it."
In the impoverished French ghettoes in cities such as Paris, Marseille, Lyons, or Toulouse, there have been incidents of gang rapes and violence by Muslim men and boys targeting those women and girls in their community who they consider to be dressing in a manner that is too "Western." Samira Bellil, a famous French Muslim activist who died in 2004, was raped at the age of thirteen, and brought this systematic violence into the public eye by talking about it openly when another thirteen-year-old girl in Lille, who was raped by eighty men, brought her attackers to trial. Bellil was close to the organization called Ni Putes, Ni Soumises, (Neither whores nor doormats [sub-missives]) set up in 2003 by a group of young French Muslim women to counter this vicious spate of attacks against women perceived to be breaking dress codes outside the home.
Women all over the world, whether or not they abide by traditional dress codes, are always conscious of the reaction they get from the men who pass them on the street and in public places. It's rare that they can move around freely outside the home unless they are older, postmenopausal, "invisible" to society, and therefore not interesting to men — and then they are often ignored in public places, and can find it hard to get attention from men or women.
Education for All
If women are expected to do the same work as men, we must teach them the same things.
— Plato, 427–347 BC
The Intellectual Inferiority of Women Death from Overstudy
— newspaper headlines
Only in the twentieth century did women's education start to become recognized as a universal right, if not a reality, for many millions of girls and women throughout the world. The prevailing view before that had been that educating women was a dangerous activity. It would result in chaos at home with women abandoning their domestic roles as housekeepers and child minders. Mothers were warned that their university-educated "bluestocking" daughters would be unmarriageable, and the press ridiculed women's attempts to get into universities or places of higher education.
Oxford University is the oldest university in the English-speaking world, founded in the twelfth century. For the first 800 years of its existence, no women were allowed to study there. Only in 1878 were two colleges established for women, but these first students were not allowed to become full members of the university; women could only begin graduating with Oxford degrees in 1920. Without a university degree, it was very difficult for women to enter the professions, and by 1900 there were still only 200 women doctors in the United Kingdom. In 1910 women were allowed to become accountants and bankers, but there were still no female diplomats, barristers, or judges. In the United States, universities were opened up to women earlier, and women's colleges were established. In 1837 Oberlin College in Ohio began granting degrees to women, becoming the first coeducational institution of higher learning in the United States; in 1862 the college saw the graduation of Mary Jane Patterson, the first African-American woman to receive a bachelor's degree. That Patterson managed this in the face of the prevailing opinion of women and racism at the time is even more impressive.
Henry James was an author who created some of the most lively, enduring, and compelling female heroines — women like Isabel Archer in Portrait of a Lady or Charlotte Stant in The Golden Bowl. Yet in the mid-nineteenth century he could still write:
Learning and wisdom do not become her ... women's true nature is not to promote the spread of science and art, is not to do battle with ignorance and superstition, is not to wrest the great field of nature from the domination of savage beast; it is simply to refine and enervate man.
— Henry James, "Women and the Women Question," Putnam's Monthly 1 (March 1853)
Over sixty years earlier, the London-born writer and freethinking feminist Mary Wollstonecraft had pleaded for equality in male and female education in her treatise A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. She said that keeping women in their current state of ignorance was a degradation of her sex, and that, without education, women are debased and cannot hope to escape from male domination, and would therefore always remain inferior to men.
[W]omen must be allowed to found their virtue on knowledge, which is scarcely possible unless they be educated by the same pursuits as men. For they are now made so inferior by ignorance and low desires, as not to deserved to be ranked with them ... It is plain from the history of all nations, that women cannot be confined to merely domestic pursuits, for they will not fulfill family duties, unless their minds take a wider range, and whilst they are kept in ignorance they become in the same proportion the slaves of pleasure as they are the slaves of men.
Education and Development
Education is a way of making sure that girls and boys have the same start in life and the chance to grow and develop according to their potential. This means that all girls and boys are to have an equal opportunity to enjoy a high-quality basic education. In 1990 the Education for All movement was launched at a UNESCO World Conference. It's aim is to achieve gender equality in education by 2015.
The benefits of female education go far beyond the individual. Educated mothers are far more likely to send their own daughters to school, to better look after the health of their families, and to have smaller families. Educated women are less exposed to sexual exploitation and health risks such as HIV and AIDS infection. In South Asia, 66 percent of all unschooled children are girls. In Afghanistan, 87 percent of women are illiterate, and only 30 percent of girls have access to any education. So there is a long way to go, and until education is freely available for both sexes, societies have scant chance of being changed from within. Without education, women can do very little in the public space.
Excerpted from Created Equal by Anna Horsbrugh-Porter. Copyright © 2009 Amnesty International UK. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. Education and Work,
A Woman's Place Is in the Home,
Education for All,
Half the Sky,
2. Wives and Daughters,
Breaking the Silence,
Sex outside Marriage,
Female Genital Mutilation,
Widows and Witches,
Women in Prison,
Threadlifts, Skin Peels, and Internal Bras,
Women and War,
On the Game,
Environment and Gender,
6. Making Changes,
Keeping the Peace,
A Level Playing Field,
Justice for All,
Sources and Suggestions for Further Information,
About the Author,