Category Archives: women in politics

International Women’s Day – 100 yrs.

On Sunday in the Ivory Coast women were massacred in an ambush while protesting peacefully in the streets. Last week in Libya women were gunned down while being used as human shields by mercenaries.

young women protesting in Libya (Yahoo)

Still, women are out in protest across the Middle East and beyond, asking insistently for change and fundamental fairness for their place in society. But women have taken part in revolutions before in the Arab/Muslim world and their plight has consistently remained unchanged with the change-of-the-guard. They are sent back home with few gains to impact their immediate lives and little to show for their sacrifices. Economic participation remains limited, social inclusion is inhibited, and a future involving full civic participation with rights and choices is no more a broad-based reality today, as we mark the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, as it was 100 years ago.

Why is there such resistance to women’s inclusion in civic life, along with rights and economic freedom, across the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa?

Some contemplate that it may be religion. Some think it must be the nature of the Eastern woman. Some have come to believe it is simply the eternal destiny of Arab/Muslim women to serve, rather than to be served. Truth be known, it is tradition…simply deep-rooted Tradition.

Muslim women protesting in Egypt

It has been long ingrained in mythology and legendry, that the good Eastern woman is to serve quietly, and to subserviently live out her days as her master and patriarch dictates. Today, as modernity would have it, many young women in the East are questioning the wisdom of this tradition, and its applicability to their emancipated instincts. After all, women across the Arab world and in Muslim Iran have increased their presence in universities and have attained levels of education previously unseen among women in generations prior. Today more than half the students enrolled in universities across the Middle East are women, although only a baffling 5% are represented in the work force.

Still, the state of women in Muslim countries across the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia is worrisome. Not because they are battered and beaten just as the men are amidst the brutal crack-downs confronting protests, but because for as long as their emancipation is only in the minds of women, and not in the folklore that creates the Muslim lifestyle, women will continue to be battered and beaten at home as well as on the streets.

Reform must begin at home, and affect society from the bottom up. Women who live in societies where they are expected to cover their heads as a condition of being female, necessarily live in a society that expects them to be subservient. That is not to say that all women who choose to wear head-coverings are subservient. No. If that is a choice made of free will and not higher command, then it is independent of coercion and emblematic of a faith that is to be respected. The trouble presents itself when tradition compels the woman to look and be marked as separate and apart from the men, who remain uninhibited by a dress code that is necessarily debilitating. Hijab by its nature is debilitating. From its most basic to its most oppressive forms, Hijab hinders one or more of the senses and is part and parcel of a tradition to disable and debilitate women by limiting their power of movement and perception.

Contrast in Cairo

When I see pictures of emancipated women with free flowing hair and traces of make-up yelling in protest on the streets of the Arab world along-side their veiled sisters, I worry. I worry that the two sides are not hollering for the same kind of change. One is risking life and limb for change that she thinks will mean equality and emancipation for women and the acceptance of their full participation in civic society, while the other is taking part in an exercise to consolidate the power of religio-centered politics with an allegiance to fundamental Islam rather than to the rule of law and the influence of equality in civic life.

They stand next to each other, grudgingly smiling at one another in a civilized exchange that gives hope to the idea of respectful co-existence, thrusting their fists and voices into the sky as one – one voice for change. They both agree on the idea of rejecting the order they have now and can unite over a call for a new socio-political order. But the new order will not suit them both the same.

Modern women protesting for real change

To see change in the Middle East go toward fundamental fairness and equality for women, the vernacular of society has to change. The culture of domestic life must begin the change just as fundamentally as the politics do. Tradition has to shift from one that trumpets the subservience of women to one that champions their empowerment. Grass roots organizations have to begin in the villages and towns across wide swath of these regions to raise a collective howl against the prevalent but silent domestic exploitation of women. These organizations must begin to change hearts and minds and win people over to the idea that women are equal creations in the eyes of god and man, and that they must be bestowed the rights that make a human whole.

No government anywhere across the domino landscape of revolutionary Middle East today will step in and proclaim the equal rights of women, and actually proceed to bequeath those rights to them. Not without the sustained and committed pressure of regular men and women in society at large – who stand up and assert that fundamental fairness and not a skewed custom of conventions long out-dated should rule the land – will any revolution on the streets of the Arab/Muslim world translate into practical changes in the lives of women there.

These days, to celebrate 100 years of International Women’s Day, female talking heads and pundits in the West, who have attained the emancipated role of ‘role models’ sitting in the comfort of lawful lands, theorize about the plight of women in Arab and Muslim countries displaying the courage for change. They proclaim that until women attain educational and economic equality they cannot be truly empowered.  But to begin to attain that equality they must battle Tradition – and that tradition will be tightly held in place by strong willed men who loath to give up the power it gives them.

If ever there was a time for the emancipated institutions of women to come together for a cause it is now. Women across the Arab world have a chance to turn the corner and establish a pathway to fundamental change against business as usual for governments vis-à-vis the rights of women. Well funded, well connected, well networked organizations that aid, empower and represent the rights of women should come together, strategize and make a plan to establish grass roots efforts wherever possible and to introduce basic education to women and girls. Only this way can we help to change the landscape of civil society and the vernacular of mythology that feeds into a tradition which has historically ill-served the women of the Arab/Muslim world.

Starting this year, on the 100th anniversary of a long-standing global struggle, stand together. Make a difference. Change lives forever.

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A Knock at the Door…

Last night just before dinner-time, as the sun was setting and the eerie dusk of a rainy day had sent in, our door knocker clanked loudly against the silence. Alarmed I looked up at my husband who instinctively uttered “uh-oh”.

In a split second I remembered where I was and retorted, “what do you mean uh-oh? Go see who’s at the door”. You see, we live in a safe suburb with mowed lawns, alarm company patrol cars and a functioning government in tact. Still, a sudden knock at an off hour can send our hearts racing, even if for an instant, until we remember we are not in a law-less land.

The knock at the door was a woman looking to sell us some magazines, because she was a single Mother of 4, trying to make a fresh start after, to her own admission, she had made some mistakes. My husband had stood outside in the drizzle for 30 minutes listening to her tale, and finally assented to buying two books from her list, for our two kids, who were safely playing video games downstairs, blissfully unaware of the intrusion.

I was alert, but still, safe inside the house working on dinner, secure in the knowledge that my husband would be back inside soon enough. Sure enough, he was.

Iraqi woman

But the sense of alarm stayed with me through the night. Not because I was frightened but because I was all too aware of the fact that in too many corners of the world, the same knock would have been a harbinger of hell knocking just before dinner-time. There would be no safety if I were a woman and mother of 3 in Baghdad, for example, in the same situation. The knock would most likely have been a warning sign for the end of my husband’s life and an impending rape for me. I cringe to think about the possibilities for my children. Where would I turn? Nowhere. Where would I be able to go? No place. How could I have escaped the brutality that would have come? I couldn’t have.

In 2003 Suzanne Goldenberg writing for the Guardian wrote from Iraq that “Amid the ordinary lawlessness of a city of 5 million with a barely functioning police force, there are particular horrors for women.” Those horrors have grown since 2003. Today armed thugs kidnap the family members of rival gangs and either beat them, rape them and then either tear them from limb to limb or discard the beaten lump of a human by the way-side. The lucky ones die. The unlucky ones are later killed by family members in the name of “honor”. Not so honorable.

Iraqi women

Women are under effective house arrest across Iraq. A nation that once boasted a secular society replete with educated women who were part of the work force as teachers, dentists, doctors, hair dressers and more, Iraq’s women are now relegated to the role of men’s property and a tool for settling scores. Abduction and rape has become a way for gangs to get back at one another for deeds and mis-deeds. Kidnapping and rape have become so common as to simply have evolved to a pass-time men engage-in simply because – well, because they can.

In 2003, all of the women Goldenberg spoke to recounted some horror of abduction. She notes soberly that “in a society like Iraq’s, where a family’s reputation is measured by the perceived virtue of its women, [a] woman suspected of transgressing social codes suffers extreme consequences for bringing shame on her family….She may even be murdered by her family to wipe out the stain on their reputation.”

Life in Iraq

“We know of a lot of cases against women,” says Nidal Husseini, a nurse at Baghdad’s forensic institute. “When a girl is kidnapped and raped and returned to her family…the family will kill the girl because of the shame.” (see: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/oct/11/iraq.suzannegoldenberg)

“Iraqi traditions are hard,” Says Mari Samaan, an Iraqi psychologist quoted by Women’s e News. “Every woman without a husband or family watching over her is seen as prostitute. I have seen girls raped by armies and militias and then killed by her own families.” (see: http://womensenews.org/story/war/101011/in-syria-iraqi-refugee-daughters-risk-being-sold)

So a knock on the door at dusk in Baghdad is likely to bring more than just an impoverished mother selling books or magazine subscriptions to try and make a living. In fact, impoverished women in Iraq sell their teenage daughters to brothels and traffickers with unspeakable consequences. In 2009, Rania Abouzeid wrote for TIME Magazine from Baghdad that “the buying and selling of girls in Iraq, [is] like the trade in cattle,” A resident says “I’ve seen mothers haggle with agents over the price of their daughters.” (http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1883696,00.html).

With rampant crime in Iraq, a woman may find herself suddenly widowed. Tradition dictates that she will be unfit to marry again and unable to hold a respectable place in society. She is likely to be ostracized by her family, shun by the community and ultimately sold into prostitution. Many would rather end up in prison than in a brothel. Some are lucky enough to make that arrangement, if they have a friend or acquaintance on a police force they can pay to save their lives. Many aren’t that lucky and live their final days in the horror of a modern-day Baghdad Brothel or shipped to neighboring countries with no better circumstances.

“Hinda” an anti-trafficking activist in Iraq who was raped at 16 and disowned by her family soon thereafter tells TIME that she has been beaten by the security guards of pimps who suspect her of encouraging young victims to escape or offering them help.

“In the past week she has received several death threats, some so frightening and persistent that she penned a farewell letter to her mother. “I’m scared. I’m scared that I’ll be killed,” she says, wiping away her tears. “But I will not surrender to that fear. If I do, it means I’ve given up, and I won’t do that. I have to work to stop this.”

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1883696,00.html#ixzz12kmARogK

What can you do to stop this? Write your representative to the Congress and you state Senators to help Iraqi women escape a brutality that goes against everything we believe in, here in the States. We said we would liberate Iraq. Now let’s stand by their women who are imprisoned at home. Log onto thelistproject.org and join a growing chorus of voices committed to helping innocent Iraqis.

“Open Faced” Democracy…

“Democracy thrives when it is open-faced”

Michele Alliot-Marie French justice minister   

France's fight against the face-veil (bbc.co.uk)

The lower house of the French Parliament, today, voted overwhelmingly (335 to 1) to approve  a bill proposing to ban wearing the full Islamic veil in public. Both the Niqab and Burka would be banned under the proposed law – which still needs to pass the upper house of the French Parliament in September.   

Even now, opposition groups have vowed to begin a legal battle to claim the law as being unconstitutional in Europe. So far as the women in question have been heard to speak or address the issue in France, they have stated that they wear the Islamic head-dress willingly and voluntarily. Indeed, most practicing Muslim women who live under Hijab voluntarily will tell you that they do not perceive their coverage as a limitation.   

That said, it is undeniable that the full forms of the Islamic veil for women have struck and offensive chord with Westerners. France has just been the first to pick-up the gauntlet. Although the proposed bill banning the Niqab and Burka, Islam’s most debilitating covers, makes no reference to Islam, it has been compared to a “walking coffin or a muzzle”, by Andre Gerin of the Communist opposition party.   

The "Burka"

The "Niqab"

The Council of State, France’s highest administrative body, warned in March that the law could be found unconstitutional on the grounds of limiting freedom of religion. What proponents will likely argue is that the Niqab and Burka are only worn by an estimated 2000 women in France. This makes it a minority practice that does not reflect the standard practice of Islam. It does however, limit the state’s ability to identify the women when need be and it flies in the face of the principles of France and French living.   

I have to wonder aloud: why would people who feel the need to follow the strictest strictures of Islam want to live in the West where, although Islam may be welcome, its extreme form is not?    

The French, it seems to me, have worked and fought hard to create a secular society that they covet. Who can blame them for wanting to protect that secularism? For many French people, it is that secularism – that freedom – that allows, indeed enables, them to be on the forefront of technology, industry, economy and the arts. To them, limiting their secular ways is tantamount to limiting their progress and their life-style.   

Though Belgium and Spain are considering similar legislation, it seems for now that France’s Parliament has taken on one of the thorniest issues facing European countries today. These nations have offered generous immigration and asylum policies to the influx of Muslims in their midst, and while Europeans near and far will be watching to see where the trend takes them, the Muslim world will watch to see how to react. Likely, the Muslim world will not simply turn a blind eye to this law, once it passes.    

The Bill, as it is currently proposed, will levy a fine of 150 euros ($190) for women who break the law and 30,000 euros (roughly $38,000) and a one-year jail term for men who force their wives to wear the burka. Clearly, France wishes to put the onus on the men. According to a BBC report, France has determined that the majority of the estimated 2000-3000 women who wear the Burka or the Niqab in France are young women, and many are converts. The assumption is that the men are exerting a great deal of control over these young and perhaps vulnerable, newly minted, Muslim women and the State is stepping in to protect them. It can legitimately be argued that the State does have a duty to protect its citizens and that the control Muslim men exact over their women is a form of coercion and abuse. Under French law, as in most Western legal systems, that conduct – if proven – would be punishable by law.   

The battle is likely to wage for years. Muslims will not turn away from this as a battle lost and a chance to learn and move on. From faith-inspired men acting alone to State’s whose legitimacy rides on their ability to coerce women into coverage, the wheels of establishment Islam will begin to turn toward the undoing of a law legally passed by a sovereign nation’s Parliament. They will mount a virulent opposition campaign against the French and the Parliament, and they will likely issue Fatwa’s (recall Salman Rushdie) and call for the heads to roll (recall the Dutch Cartoonist who dared to satirize the prophet Mohamed). No doubt, this will only enrage the French, and indeed any other country that dares to take on the issue, and harden their stance against allowing full face veils in their communities and societies.   

…And once again, we will have a cycle of hatred and violence with no end in sight.   

   

For the first time ever…

Elena kagan

For the first time ever there are 3 women on the United States Supreme Court (this follows another recent breakthrough of 4 women in space this year). Although few projected a contentious confirmation hearing for Elena Kagan, the most recent history making female confirmed to the court, even fewer thought it would go this well.

The 50 year old Solicitor General, whose record on the bench was nearly non-existent and her thoughts on the law were hard to discern, guided her questioners through a labyrinth of questioning that was designed to thwart her, until she masterfully meandered through it and brought Congress out the other end with her. She emerged into the sun-drenched light of confirmation, and made history by stepping onto a court now comprised of more women than ever.

So have we entered the “age of women”, asks Christia Freeland of the Washington Post? (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/01/AR2010070105218.html)

As the founder of Womenfound, I sure hope so. But I must refrain and observe that we’ve got a long way yet to go. The article above laments that it is not, indeed, the age of women because women have not yet made their way sufficiently into the hallowed halls of power and money. Christia Freeland declares that “[t]he areas where the real money and power reside are [still] occupied almost exclusively by men.” This may be true, but I see women’s inequality from a different angle, the angle seen when looking from the bottom up – not the top down.

From my standpoint, women remain on an unequal footing from men, not because they haven’t made phenomenal strides in business, politics, media and in the sciences, but because in the undeveloped or under-developed world they are still so far behind as to lack basic rights such as education, reproductive freedom, voting rights, inheritance rights, representation and even equal protection of the law in the face of abuse and criminal behavior perpetuated on them. This is why women remain unequal: because other than in the few developed pockets of the world, women remain largely oppressed, downtrodden and falsely persecuted throughout their lives. Sadly, they die silently knowing their daughters will live the same tragically restricted lives.

In some corners of the world women and girls are denied the right to gain an education. Similarly, in some countries physicians cannot be trained in the female anatomy and are incapable, as doctors, to render effective medical attention to women and their unique needs. No one needs me to tell them that the lack of education disables women from advancing in any field; but I will impart that the lack of medical attention reduces women’s life expectancy in many corners of the world to their 40′s. How much can any woman achieve without an education by the age of 40?

So no, its not that women don’t hold impressive positions of money and power in the Western world. The problem is that they haven’t even gotten started in most of the rest of the world.

Christia Freeland

Freeland concludes: “Feminists should applaud Kagan’s poised performance on Capitol Hill, but let’s not stop there. The job now is for women to accumulate their own capital.” I couldn’t agree more. Let’s nod at our collective strides – including Freeland’s – and keep nudging forward.

The Woman, The Politician…

 

Rebecca Latimre Fulton

In 1917 the first woman was elected to the House of Representatives. Jeanette Rankin served two terms and she was a Republican. In 1922 the first woman to serve in the US Senate was appointed. Rebecca Latimre Felton served for one day and she was a Democrat.  

In 1933 President FDR appointed the first female Cabinet Secretary, Frances Perkins, as Labor Secretary. 30 years later Margaret Chase became the first woman to have her name placed in nomination for President at the Republican National Convention of 1964; and 20 years later, in 1984 (a date that is clearly within my political memory), Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman on a major party ticket.  

Ferraro was Walter Mondale’s running mate in an election that captivated the nation’s imagination for so many reasons. It was the end of President Regan’s first term as America’s hero. His inauguration had ushered-in the release of American Hostages from Iran and he had presided over a re-habilitation of the American psyche from defeated to invincible – for Democrats and Republicans alike. 

 

Geraldine Ferraro 

 

Just 25 short years from those days we are witnessing a wave of women taking charge of state politics and energizing the electorate in a way that would make Ferraro (D) and Regan (R) both proud. 

Yesterday in South Carolina Nikki Haley (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikki_Haley) won the Republican primary for Governor in a contest that seemed unrealistically far fetched for her in the beginning, and a smooth win by the time it was done. 

 

Nikki Haley 

 

A few weeks ago in California, Meg Wittman (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meg_Whitman) , a celebrated business woman and former head of E-Bay, won the Republican primary as the candidate of choice for Governor of California. The same day, Carly Fiorina (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carly_Fiorina), another famed business woman turned politico, won her party’s primary as the candidate that will go up against the iconic Barbara Boxer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Boxer) in a California senate race that promises to be historic. Boxer herself was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992, and was only the second female Jewish U.S. senator there, after Sen. Dianne Feinstein (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dianne_Feinstein) who was also elected in 1992. 

 

Carly Fiorina 

 

Women are everywhere, and they don’t all look the same. Nikki Haley is of Indian origin born to Sikh parents who converted to Catholicism. Fiorina was born in Texas to professional parents and is a social conservative. Wittman was born on Long Island (NY) and has attended ivy league schools while she is a fiscal conservative. Three different characters navigating one landscape: American Politics – and they’re helping change our expectations. 

 

Meg Whitman

Today, according to the National Federation of Republican Women’s statistics, 90 women serve in the U.S. Congress. A record 17 women serve in the Senate, and 73 women serve in the House. The number of women in statewide elective executive posts is 72, which represents 22.9% of the 315 available positions, while 1,799 (24.4%) of the 7,382 state legislators in the United States are women. Women currently hold 435 (22.1%) of the 1,971 state-wide senate seats and 1,364 (25.2%) of 5,411 state-wide house seats. The number of women serving in state legislatures has increased more than four-fold since 1971. 

  http://www.nfrw.org/republicans/women/21.htm 

 

Margaret Thatcher

By the end of the next election cycle those statistics are sure to change.

Margaret Thatcher once famously said: “women are intensely practical” .  (http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/m/margaret_thatcher.html).

She attributed that practicality to their political effectiveness. Let’s see if in America, the appeal of women, their practical ways and their ability to rally a populous looking for new solutions can translate into meaningful gains at the polls. We will be watching, and we’ll post the new numbers as they rise.

  

Rarely has it been more appropriate to say: “you go girl(s)”…