Women do not want to be treated in a special way, they don’t way special rights; they just want the same rights that men enjoy around the world. On all 5 continents of the world, women struggle every day under the burden of discrimination. Women face discrimination in education, in the workplace and in society in general. They are denied basic human rights in many places. These shackles are placed on women in the name of ‘tradition’, ‘culture’, ‘the law’ and ‘religion’.
Such justifications for treating women as second class citizens are clearly ahistorical because they assume that culture does not change. All traditions change over time. Oppressions start at a specific date in the past, and they will surely stop sometime in the future. All the great religious and political leaders in history sought to bring change to the mainstream ways of thinking: Gandhi, Martin Luther King; even Jesus and Mohammed challenged orthodoxy. We the International Council of Women also seek change. We want women to enjoy the same civil rights as men.
Here is a brief list of discrimination against women in the world:
Lebanese women married to foreign nationals cannot pass on their nationality rights to their children or spouses. Thus, the husband of a Lebanese woman who is not Lebanese cannot gain an automatic spouse visa to work in the Lebanon.
At present there is no law in America stopping young girls being taken out of the country and being subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM). This is a serious issue in several places in the world where a girl’s genitals are sewn up to guarantee their virginity on their wedding day. This operation is often done with unsterilized equipment and leads to infertility or serious infection.
Women in Saudi Arabia are not permitted to drive. Many women have protested this discrimination by illegally driving and filming their actions. Those women caught could be punished with flogging.
Girls in Saudi Arabia are sent to sex segregated schools where they receive an inferior education to boys. Under the male guardianship system in Saudi Arabia women must have forms signed by their male guardian before they are able to study abroad. Thus, women are completely at the mercy of men when it comes to their education.
Girls in Saudi Arabia have no rights to refuse marriage in the country. It is common practice for the male guardian to marry off girls as young as 12 to old men for financial gain.
In Iran, women can still be stoned to death for adultery. Naturally (or unnaturally) the same law does not apply to adulterous men.
According to a UN report there are 12.3 million adults and children in forced labor and forced sexual servitude. More than half of the people in the above figure are women and children. 79% of human trafficking cases involve sexual exploitation.
- In Chile, when a woman marries she automatically forfeits her rights to any property she has inherited.
- Despite the new Afghanistan constitution which gives women equal rights to men, in many areas of the country Sharia law exists that prohibits a woman from leaving the house unaccompanied by a male relative.
- In Japan, an 18 year old man may marry a 16 year old woman, but not vice versa. Furthermore, a woman in Japan may not remarry until 6 months have passed since the dissolution of the last marriage. No such law applies to men.
- In China, women are prevented by law from doing jobs that are labeled as ‘Grade IV physical labor intensity’ despite Article 48 of the Constitution of China which grants women equality with men in all spheres of life.
- In the USA a person born out of wedlock and out of the USA can only gain automatic American citizenship if the father is American, not if the mother is American.
These are just a few brief examples of the injustices women face. Most of the examples are of discrimination founded within the law. This discrimination is not confined to developing countries or to extreme religious positions. That Japan and America have not repealed clearly sexist laws reveals a lot about the inherent patriarchal values that still dominate the status quo in those countries. We must challenge leaders to change unfair laws that discriminate against women. We must lobby governments to do more to stop the sex tourist trade that fuels human trafficking and bonded sexual slavery.
We must start dialogues with communities that still practice FGM and protect girls from being kidnapped and subjected to this mutilation.
We must set up support groups to give adolescent girls a means of escaping childhood marriages; and men must be shamed into stopping the exploitation of female members of their family for financial gain.
What is required is an international effort to bring to light cases of abuse against women. Peaceful demonstrations and petitions must be organized to ameliorate the inherent sexism in many laws. Although constitutions around the world talk of the equality of men and women, particular laws contradict this aim.
The articles contained in icw-cif.org are about equality, about the sexism inherent in laws and cultural practices. It is only by making more people aware of the issues that the cause of justice can be moved forward.