OpinionsGender BenderWomen’s status: A concern everywhere

Women’s status: A concern everywhere


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ZURICH, SWITZERLAND — One serious concern in relation to the current upheavals in the Middle East, apart from the likelihood of worsening instability in the region or global economic repercussions, has to do with impacts on the status of women.

In such countries as Iran, Iraq, and also Afghanistan, it was noted that women’s rights took a serious downturn after political battles brought about regime changes.

In many instances, not only were rights curtailed, harsh systems of oppression of women were put in place that persist to this day.

Many may tend to ascribe such treatment of women to cultural and religious biases, and specifically to Islam, or at the very least to social backwardness, since presumably, women fare better in modern Christian countries or in advanced economies.

It is conveniently forgotten for example, that women are lower status persons in the Catholic Church that denies them the right to be priests.

The fact is, women’s rights and status were and remain areas of struggle everywhere.

I’m here in Switzerland at the moment, among the Top 6 or 7 richest, most well-governed countries in the world, and am reminded that as late as 1966 when I first came, a firm patriarchal system was in place that refused women the right to vote!

Women’s campaigns for suffrage had started as early as 1886 but in this direct democracy, referendums, among men, of course, repeatedly said no to women’s suffrage.

In 1966, one canton or state allowed women to vote on local matters. But it wasn’t until 1971 that women finally obtained the right to vote in local and national (federal) elections, and even then, only 66 percent of voters approved this right (a good percentage remained opposed.)

And by the way, two cantons at the time refused to conform to the decision.

The first woman federal councilor was elected in 1984, and it wasn’t until 2004 that a law gave women paid maternity leave.

Why, that all seems like just yesterday, doesn’t it, that women got their due?

Today, only a fourth of elected politicians are women, and there is still a pay gap of about 26 percent even for women with university degrees and in higher managerial positions.

Women are trafficked into this country for prostitution since there is a market of men who believe in their right to buy the use of women’s bodies, and domestic violence happens here as it does elsewhere.

Even in advanced countries, therefore, women’s rights and equal status are not automatically assured.

Just last month, a new United Nations structure started its work, the UN Entity for Gender Equality & the Empowerment of Women (UN Women for short), headed by former president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet. Top of its list of focus areas is violence against women, one of the most telling signs of gender inequality.

UN Women and everyone concerned about women’s rights must pay attention to the events now unfolding in Egypt, Tunisia, and other countries in the region so that in future political arrangements, women’s rights and status are protected.

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