Uplifting The Better Half
Gender equality, the world over is a serious concern that needs radical amends. Women all over the world have been subject to crimes such as human trafficking, sexual and domestic violence, and slavery. The roots of these evils are sown deep into a misogynistic, worldwide culture.
Half The Sky by Nicholas D Kristof addresses these gender-biased and inequality issues, how certain actions taken in the modern world actually worsen them, and what can be done to right the wrongs against women. It also outlines how women, the biggest untapped source in the world, can actually help in creating a better tomorrow, and what the world stands to gain from it.
The “Discounted humans”
The female gender has bared the brunt of centuries of inequality. The number of women trafficked into brothels every year keeps increasing, and is even higher than the 18th and 19th century Africans who were forced into slavery.
How is this possible in today’s modern world where education for all in most countries is a mandate, and perceptions surrounding women equality, seem to appear important?
Firstly, it is essential to understand the difference between sex slavery and prostitution. Prostitution is voluntary whereas sex slavery is forced. Prostitutes the world over are most commonly pressured into it due to economic and financial pressures, while sex slaves are physically forced. They are beaten, their spirits broken, and are subjected to about fifteen hours a day, seven days a week of unpaid, humiliating work – all to satisfy the needs of men.
While China has the largest number of prostitutes, India has the largest number of sex slaves. Sex slavery is an implicit contract to uphold the virtues of upper-class women by allowing men to trample on the virtues of the lower class.
The perception of women (especially lower class and peasant) as discounted humans causes border officers in India to allow slaves and their traffickers to get into the country. While there are tighter rules and stricter punishments for terrorism, smuggled weapons and private goods, the belief that prostitution is an inevitable cause that lets the men have an easy outlet for their physical needs and keeps good, middle and upper-class Indian girls safe by the sacrifice of these slaves, is the reason that people get away with these atrocities even today.
The Movement Needs Momentum
The very premise that prostitution is ok if it is legalized and regulated is wrong. Yet there are those who find it utterly and inherently degrading.
Zach Hunter, the leader of LC2LC – Loose Change To Loosen Chains – a campaign against modern slavery run by students, started the campaign when he was only in the 7th grade. The world needs more crusaders like Hunter.
However, the campaigns against sex slavery the world over need to be unified. Despite there being a consensus that forced prostitution is incorrect, opinions are still divided over consented prostitution among adults. There are laws of legalization and regulation to reduce the ill effects of prostitution such as AIDS and underage recruitment. However, the world needs to have stricter monitoring and crackdowns on brothels, provide victims with rehabilitation, opportunities to work and a more active part played by social services.
The worry isn’t rescuing victims of forced prostitution from brothels. That is the easier part. The challenge is to stop the rescued victims from going back. The social stigma that follows these victims once they are out and addiction to drugs are some of the major challenges that need to be addressed and rectified.
For example, a Cambodian brothel worker Srey Momm was rescued by the world Assistance for Cambodia many times. She would end up going back to a life of prostitution because she was addicted to the methamphetamine easily available to her there.
These women need a strong support system. To prevent them from getting back into prostitution the world has to firstly, invest in their education, and secondly provide them with a strong support system. This means that strong local women have to be educated and made capable of supporting the rehabilitated prostitutes. Most importantly, these women have to be able to let go of the belief that they are feminine only if they are submissive.
Sexism And Misogyny Are Deeply Rooted
The fact that misogyny is so deeply rooted in the weave of human culture, it is very difficult to bring about a meaningful change.
To sound off some facts –
- Girls aged 14 and 15 years get killed more by male violence than traffic accidents, war, malaria and cancer put together.
- Sexism is perpetuated not only by males, but by women in communities too.
- More brothels are run by women.
- In some communities, mothers feed their sons before their daughters, while in others, girls are genitally mutilated.
- Women themselves opine that they deserve to get beaten by male member of their family, if they are not obedient.
- In countries like Congo, young male soldiers believe that soldiers have a right to rape.
- Rape and violence towards women occur due to more than just opportunism and male libidos.
There are many such examples that prove how deeply misogyny is rooted in human culture. Misogyny can only be undone with education and strong local leadership. However, on the ground, it is easier said than done.
In one of the regions in Nigeria, it was a tradition that the males would manage cash crops and the women would look after the staples. A UN project gave the local women a new type of cassava that resulted in better yield and was a cash crop that helped them make more money. Soon, the men took over the crop sales and used the money for beer, leaving the women poorer than they were before the project started.
Such initiative, unfortunately, end up doing more harm than good, as foreigners do not know or understand these local traditions.
Socio-Biological Reasons For Maternal Mortality
Maternal mortality is a bigger concern than it is projected. In fact, an alarmingly large number of women world-over die due to childbirth.
While many effective solutions to avoid maternal mortality are cheaper and even less complicated, in many cases, they are not even implemented because people aren’t aware of them.
A study conducted revealed, that by simply providing girls with a $6 uniform every 18 months, chances of staying in school and thus, chances of pregnancy decreased. Furthermore, keeping these girls in school for longer delayed chances of early marriage, enabling them to bear children at an appropriate age and more safely.
In Ethiopia, a 21-year-old was left crippled with a fistula, leaking faeces and urine during childbirth. She lost her baby, and her husband and parents had no money to treat her condition. Though they had saved some money to take her by bus to a hospital, the passengers refused to let them on due to the smell. For two years she was left curled up in a separate hut. Eventually, her husband left her. The parents then sold all their belongings and managed to save $250 to hire a car to take her to the hospital. She underwent painful therapy and surgeries to correct her bent legs and fistula.
Lack of education, infrastructure, rural health regards and the general disregard for women are some of the main causes for maternal mortality. Had Segaye, and the people surrounding her been educated and had more respect for women, she would not have been in pain for two long years.
How Religion Affects Gender Inequality
The religions of the world have equally contributed to gender inequality. While they aren’t misogynists in particular they do not have any measures in place to address the rising gender inequality all around the world.
For instance, in many Christian countries, the ‘God Gulf’, or the secular liberals and conservative Christians that square off abortions shapes family planning amongst the Christian population. Moreover, the ban on abortion and lack of funding lead to unwanted and unsafe pregnancies and illegal and unsafe abortions, increasing the death rate among women and girls. This is true for all religions that denounce abortions.
For instance, in Sub-Saharan Africa, one out of 150 unsafe abortions result in death. In Islamic countries, women have to endure honour killings, which adds to the skewed gender ratios.
A surprising fact is that when Muhammad introduced Islam in the 7th Century, it was more progressive than Christianity was. The fact that the Quran reads more literally than the Torah or the Bible, it is harder for Muslims to shrug off gender inequality and discrimination in their Holy Book than it is for Christians or Jews.
The earlier deep-rooted ties that Islam had to slavery, were eventually eradicated. Similarly, it is possible for Muslims to offer women complete emancipation. Islamic feminists thus argue that the religion can continue its progressive spirit and help women rise. Albeit slowly, the Muslim leaders are now realizing that discrimination against women prevents them from tapping into a formidable, unexploited resource – women.
Education Is The Only Way
There is a lot that needs to be done in order to eradicate gender inequality and empower women all over the world. While education is a vital necessity to empower women and ensure that they get integrated into the economy of the world, education involves more than simply putting up more schools for women.
Studies have found that iodine deficiencies among children can actually take off 10-15 points from a child’s IQ. Ensuring that children get iodized salt can prevent brain damage. Moreover, the reason that girls drop out of school after puberty is due to the use of cloth pads, which increase the risks of spotting and possible leaks. Such girls get embarrassed to attend school and skip it altogether. Providing them with better feminine hygiene products such as tampons and pads can reduce the school drop-out rates among girls. These simpler solutions can be easily implemented along with education.
Movements for improving gender equality need to follow certain guidelines.
- The gap between the conservatives and the liberals needs to be bridged to link the God gulf with the need for gender equality.
- Humanitarian communities should stop exaggerating their findings. This has led to other being sceptical of what they have to say.
- Financing local projects and women volunteers needs encouragement.
- The narrow-mindedness with respect to human life has to be eliminated. If there is a value to the life of unborn foetuses, there has to be a value for the life of those young mothers who are at risk of sex-slavery. Women, whether in the US or in Asia, should have the same status.
These are just a few ideas. The impact of media – television and advertising – can be used to educate women, improve children health and even create a just society.
The evils of gender inequality and oppression against women are still by and large prevalent in the world today. Women are subjected to sex slavery, trafficking, and violence.
It is thus necessary to empower women through education and other means if the human potential of women is to be harnessed to make the world a better place. There has to be equality for all – men and women.