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Entries in women's rights (13)


Lifting the ban on women in combat

I remember the 1994 debate well. I was in DC at time working for the Center for Naval Analyses, and it was heated.  Many stated this would NEVER happen.

But even then, you just knew it would.  Ditto for gays in the military.

It's a tough life, and when people choose it, you have to respect that along all lines.  You cannot deny people the right to move up in rank, and combat duty is a big deal in that regard.

Plus, even then you could see the "linear battlefield" going the way of the dinosaur, so if anybody's there - in theater - combat is possible and inevitable on a long-enough time scale. 

So this was just policy catching up with reality - just like how doctrine gets changed (That used to be our doctrine, but then too many troops got killed that way, so now, it's no longer our doctrine and this is.)

So good stuff.  You want democracy?  You live with equality.


The feminization of politics


That picture of all the women in the US Congress (taken on the steps at the start of each 2-year session, very posed) gets bigger every time.  Europe (and especially the Nordics) beat us hand down - us being the collective United States.  But the real way to compare the US and Europe is to compare us in chunks with the corresponding chunks in Europe.  So we have our Mediterranean types (South) and we have our Nordics (Northern Midwest and New England) and so on.

Thus, no surprise to read how New Hampshire is setting US standard for state almost exclusively headed by women (two US congressional seats, both US Senate seats, plus governor and speaker of house and chief justice of state too).

You can see this trend coming many miles away by enrollment in US law schools and grad schools in general. 

Then there's the general demographic advantage (better health deeper into lives and longer lives in general).

By the time I die (hopefully late in the century ...), I expect politics to be a predominantly female occupation.

And yes, we will be the better for it.  More analytical, easier compromisers, less given to unreasonable stands.  

I say, bring it on ladies, because we are suffering the political leadership we have in this country.

Women will process the BS faster - you know, the stuff that's going to happen and gets interminably drawn out.

I remember coming to Harvard in 1984 and they were still fighting divestiture on South Africa, which my undergrad school, Wisconsin, had knocked in about an afternoon several years earlier. Harvard thought it was so cutting edge, but it was VERY male dominated (not sure about today). Wisconsin?  Less so.

So no surprise that New Hampshire has already dealt with gay marriage (and held off a repeal effort - truly impressive).

If the US is going to get its progressive era started and then processed with all speed, more women need to be at the helm.  So this is how I vote.



Indian women and the push against gender violence

NYT story on widespread protests in New Dehli over the apparent gang rape and (eventual) murder of a young female student (23) on a bus.  The woman died from her wounds, which included penetration by a metal rod.

Gruesome stuff, to say the least.

The nature of the violence isn't what catches my sense of historical timing.  Men in packs will do the most atricious things.  

What's interesting here (and it corresponds to a scenario proposed by a Wikistrat analyst at a recent sim we ran) are sociologists linking this growing pack violence against Indian women to a growing disparity in gender numbers - i.e., excess males after years and years of discarding female fetuses.  The result is an age cohort where there are too many guys, too few females to court, and a budding social anger among the males that translates into violence against women and implicit attacks on their rights and standing.  In short, too few women relative to men = social devaluation of females, making them "fair game" in the minds of angry young men.

I will tell you, I buy excess males turning against governments when jobs are not there, and I buy this too.  I've never bought, in the modern context, the bit about having to place excess males in the military and then going to war.  That's applying old logic to modern situations.

But the "war" does come, is the point.  It's just a war against women.

The upside?  It forces women to fight harder and more pervasively for their rights in society, and here the historical timing reminds me of the US in the 1960s and 1970s - a time of seismic and permanent change for women in American society.  I was born (1962) into one world regarding the role of women, but by the time I was a young male courting (1982, when I met my wife and started dating her), it was a very different universe. My wife was the only daughter of a woman who divorced her husband and left to pursue her PhD - I mean, really radical stuff in the early 1970s.  That experience made my spouse a very different person, and thus forced a different relationship (trivial but telling example:  my second middle initial comes from my taking my wife's maiden name of Meussling, thus rendering, in the eyes of the USG, my original name (Thomas Patrick Barnett) as my "maiden name" for all time).

It's a tiny example of how much change happened in the US on womens' issues across the short timespan of my first 25 years of life.  I can't possibly guess at the rate of change that older civilizations like India and China will enjoy/suffer.  I can just speculate that this awakening is coming, and that it's going to be huge.


Why negotiating with the Taliban will backfire

Images of the stoning of a woman found here

NYT story on why we won't be able to stomach the prospective deal:

The Taliban on Sunday ordered their first public executions by stoning since their fall from power nine years ago, killing a young couple who had eloped, according to Afghan officials and a witness.

The punishment was carried out by hundreds of the victims’ neighbors in a village in northern Kunduz Province, according to Nadir Khan, 40, a local farmer and Taliban sympathizer, who was interviewed by telephone. Even family members were involved, both in the stoning and in tricking the couple into returning after they had fled.

Mr. Khan said that as a Taliban mullah prepared to read the judgment of a religious court, the lovers, a 25-year-old man named Khayyam and a 19-year-old woman named Siddiqa, defiantly confessed in public to their relationship. “They said, ‘We love each other no matter what happens,’ ” Mr. Khan said.

The executions were the latest in a series of cases where the Taliban have imposed their harsh version of Shariah law for social crimes, reminiscent of their behavior during their decade of ruling the country. In recent years, Taliban officials have sought to play down their bloody punishments of the past, as they concentrated on building up popular support.

“We see it as a sign of a new confidence on the part of the Taliban in the application of their rules, like they did in the ’90s,” said Nader Nadery, a senior commissioner on the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. “We do see it as a trend. They’re showing more strength in recent months, not just in attacks, but including their own way of implementing laws, arbitrary and extrajudicial killings.”

The stoning deaths, along with similarly brazen attacks in northern Afghanistan, were also a sign of growing Taliban strength in parts of the country where, until recently, they had been weak or absent. In their home regions in southern Afghanistan, Mr. Nadery said, the Taliban have already been cracking down.

“We’ve seen a big increase in intimidation of women and more strict rules on women,” he said.

Perhaps most worrisome were signs of support for the action from mainstream religious authorities in Afghanistan.

The Taliban are not going to change, not when they think time is on their side.  The only way to prevent an outcome we cannot abide--even if just on humanitarian grounds--is to convince them otherwise, and that means creating permanent connectivity between Afghanistan and the outside world that keeps the spotlight on such activity and penalizes for it in a way that makes it cost prohibitive to pursue.

And the ones who will never abide by such change?  Inevitably you hunt these men down and kill them all, with your justification being their sheer evolutionary backwardness.  They want no future in our globalized world and they deserve none.

There are graceful exits out of Afghanistan in the short run, just no shameless ones.


A defining indication of Old Core evolution: women PhDs outnumber males

image here

WAPO story on new report that says, for the first time in history, the number of PhDs being granted to women outnumber those of men.

I've made this citation in the past:  when women outnumber men in big industries (like the law or medicine), then your economy has truly reached the apex of mature development.

My mom was pregnant ten times in the first twenty years or so of marriage with my dad.  When the babies stopped, she went on to three sequential careers in county social services, then the law, and finally (and still at 85) as an author.  Now, her long life gives her that amazing productivity (on both scales) and that surprising balance (two decades of cranking babies and four decades of work), so she's an avatar of what comes next (and this is a great point that George Friedman makes in "The Next 100 Years"): women go from maybe 50-70% of their adult lives being consumed by children-making and rearing--in the blink of an historical eye--to a fantastically lower child burden (like maybe as little as 10% of their possible working life since they have 1-2 kids and work for so long into their later years).  Just releasing all that potential is a social revolution in and of itself, and American-style globalization has an amazing ability to trigger that development.  

Any smart economist will tell you that the "miracle" of any nation's rapid rise ALWAYS involves turning the women onto labor opportunities outside the home.  That process is the most comprehensive nugget of a social revolution tale that you can locate in modernization/industrialization/globalization.

And when you reach the far-side accomplishment like the one cited here, you know you've basically completed the journey in terms of making opportunity balanced by gender.

I keep having to tell my kids that women lived very different and subordinate lives from about 10,000BC until around the time of my childhood (early 1960s) and then everything changed!  That alone makes this the most amazing time in human history, and thus, the best time in human history to be someone who tracks systemic change and thinks systematically about the future.

As a side note, that's why I find watching "Mad Men" so fascinating, because it captures all this in the before and edge-of-transformation sense.

And that's also why I'm a happy guy with two sons and four daughters.  I've always said that there is nothing in this life (save lifting heavy objects and fighting) that I'd rather do with guys than with women.

To sum up:  the journey from the Gap to the Core is one of demographic aging and feminization of leading service industries (like law, education, medicine).


The Gap's most cruel--and irreversible--chastity belt

Economist story that neglects the Kurds still doing this in northern Iraq.

Some stunning facts:

Cutting girls’ genitals is still common in 28 mostly African countries and among their migrants abroad. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 100m-140m women have been subject to the practice and thinks that some 3m girls are at risk each year of one of four forms of cutting, ranging from the symbolic to life-ruining. In countries such as Somalia, Egypt and Guinea, over 95% of women have undergone some version of it.

Some see it as a matter of hygiene, others as a rite of passage into womanhood. Its Muslim, Christian and animist defenders all cite religious grounds. Where the practice is a prerequisite for marriage, economic factors play a role too.

Attempts to stamp out the practice have gathered pace since the 1980s. Now 18 African countries have banned it, although laws are patchily observed. Nawal El Saadawi, an Egyptian who suffered mutilation and has campaigned against it for more than 50 years, says that education is needed, not just prohibition. A mixed approach probably works best. Burkina Faso has a hotline to the police for girls who feel they are in danger. Tasaru Ntomonok Initiative, a group in the Narok district in Kenya, has a safe house for girls fleeing their families. Maendeleo ya Wanawake Organisation, a Kenyan women’s NGO, offers “circumcision through words”, an alternative rite of passage without the bloodshed.

A bigger trend is medicalisation. In the past the procedure was typically performed by a local woman using anything from a razor blade to a piece of broken glass, sometimes even using battery acid to stop the bleeding. More families now ask doctors to carry out the cut, in the hope that this will make it safer. A study in Kenya in 2000 showed that using sterile razors, anti-tetanus shots and antibiotics cut the risk of immediate complications by 70%. Such thinking led to the debate in America about whether using doctors was the lesser of two evils. But campaigners against cutting say the use of professionals undermines efforts to end the practice, as making it safer may encourage more parents to inflict it on their daughters.

The weird argument is hygiene, because the comparison to circumcision is bizarrely inappropriate.  It's also strange to see it justified by multiple religions.

To me, the whole thing seems like an crude attempt to control the sexuality of women (Ayaan Hirsi Ali's point), by essentially depleasurizing it.  To call it anything else seems like a lie.

I always have a hard time convincing my kids that women basically had no rights in human history until very recently (with most coming in my lifetime, frankly).  I also have a hard time convincing them that such conditions are basically unchanged still today in many parts of the world--all Gap. 


Ella . . . enchanted but protected

WAPO story on the next-generation morning-after contraceptive that's been available in Europe for a while and now looks to hit the street in America as a extending capability to the Plan B product we've already got.  FDA just approved, safety-wise.

Plan B, which works for up to 72 hours after sex, was eventually approved for sale without a prescription, although a doctor's order is required for girls younger than 17. The new drug promises to extend that period to at least 120 hours. Approved in Europe last year, ella is available as an emergency contraceptive in at least 22 countries.

This is a powerful and empowering product for women.  It would be a different world if this were available throughout the Gap, but at least we'll have it here--after the usual fight.


'It was my decision to die. I was getting beaten every day'

Brutal stuff from Japan Times via WPR's Media Roundup.

Picture found here, along with the quote above.

No surprise:  where you find the Taliban you find one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman. An old theme for me: given the choice, most women would prefer living in the Core to the Gap; hence, they welcome globalization's embrace far more than men inside the Gap, because it liberates them disproportionally.

The usual details on the plight of women in Afghanistan, but then this jumps out at you:

It is not surprising, then, that the average life expectancy for a woman in Afghanistan is only 44 years.

Women don't fare any better in education. It is estimated that 87 percent of Afghan women are illiterate. Many girls fear going to school for lack of security. Although some aspects of their lives have improved, women are still at a clear disadvantage with men.

"Women who try to advocate for their rights in public life are subject to violence and physical attacks," said Zia Moballegh, acting country director for the International Center for Human Rights and Democratic Development.

"Violence against women and girls is widespread and deeply rooted in society," Norah Niland, chief U.N. human rights officer in Afghanistan, said last year.

"Our field research finds that rape is under-reported and concealed, a huge problem in Afghanistan," Niland added. "It affects all parts of the country, all communities and all social groups."

It is estimated that one in three Afghan women experience physical, psychological or sexual violence at some point in their lives. Paradoxically, shame is usually associated with the attacks, and the victims often find themselves prosecuted for adultery rather than the perpetrators. While adultery is punishable by jail sentence, no provision in the Afghan penal code criminalizes rape.

A sad result of this oppressive atmosphere is that an increasing number of women in Afghanistan are choosing suicide as a way to escape the violence and abuse in their daily lives, according to a human rights report prepared by Canada's Foreign Affairs Department. "Self-immolation is being carried out by increasing numbers of Afghan women to escape their dire circumstances, and women constitute the majority of Afghan suicides," states a report completed at the end of 2009.

Something to remember as the Long War proceeds.


The ultimate in disconnectedness

Excellent reportage by Elisabeth Bumiller in the NYT.

Some Afghan women are so conditioned to fear outside males that it limits the ability of the US military to provide to their medical needs.

The killer (literally) quote:

Corporal Gardner, a helicopter mechanic who was working with the female Marines from Pendleton but had not trained with them, found herself as the lone woman dealing with five ailing Afghan women. There was no female interpreter or medical officer — there are chronic shortages of both — and the Afghans refused to leave their compound or let the male interpreter and medical officer come to them. Corporal Gardner devised a cumbersome solution. “Some of these women would rather die than be touched by a male,” she said. “So we’ll diagnose by proxy.”

The quote misleads a bit:  the women have been conditioned into accepting this restriction.  The people who would rather see them die before being touched by a male doctor are their husbands and fathers and brothers and sons.

Such is the level of gender control:  their health is sacrificed to the honor of their males.

It does get any more backward than this:  my pride before your pain.


Inside the Gap, birth control is much harder to find

The gist from NYT's Nicholas Kristof (via WPR's Media Roundup) as he crosses central Africa, a place I'll be visiting soon enough:

Here in Kinshasa, we met Emilie Lunda, 25, who had nearly died during childbirth a few days earlier. Doctors saved her life, but her baby died. And she is still recuperating in a hospital and doesn’t know how she will pay the bill.

“I didn’t want to get pregnant,” Emilie told us here in the Congolese capital. “I was afraid of getting pregnant.” But she had never heard of birth control.

In rural parts of Congo Republic, the other Congo to the north, we found that even when people had heard of contraception, they often regarded it as unaffordable.

Most appalling, all the clinics and hospitals we visited in Congo Republic said that they would sell contraceptives only to women who brought their husbands in with them to prove that the husband accepted birth control.

Condoms are somewhat easier to obtain, but many men resist them. More broadly, many men seem to feel that more children are a proud sign of more virility.

So the pill, 50 years old this month in the United States, has yet to reach parts of Africa. And condoms and other forms of birth control and AIDS prevention are still far too difficult to obtain in some areas.

Corollary to reality that abortions are far harder to receive inside the Gap--and often illegal:  it's much harder for women to get birth control inside the Gap, as a rule.

Speaking of which, a map:

Legend comes from an anti-abortion site, so the purplish prose is likely overstated, but it's the most detailed map I could find of any decent size.:

Green: Abortion never legal, or legal only when necessary to save the life of the mother or protect her physical health

Yellow: Abortion legal in "hard cases", such as rape, incest, and/or deformed child.

Red: Abortion legal for social reasons (e.g. mother says she can't afford a child), or to protect the mother's "mental health" (definitions and requirements vary).

Purple: Abortion legal at any time during pregnancy for any reason.

Where the Core-Gap map fails:  highly Catholic LATAM.  Otherwise it matches up quite nicely, suggesting that women's reproductive rights and economic development go hand-in-hand.


Qatar as a Singapore-like, progressive model for the region?

Hopeful trend described in WSJ piece.


A seven-year school revamp spearheaded by this gas-rich emirate's first lady is emerging as test case for radical education overhauls in the Mideast.

The United Nations and World Bank have long blamed low educational standards for contributing to economic stagnation and instability across the region, which faces the highest rates of youth unemployment in the world and the threat of growing religious extremism.

Schoolteachers across the region have been bound by entrenched programs that emphasize religion and rote learning, often from outdated textbooks. Qatar, with a tiny population and outsize natural-gas export revenue, launched a new system in 2004 that stresses problem-solving, math, science, computer skills and foreign-language study. The final slate of new schools in the program was approved last month, giving Qataris over 160 new schools to choose from when the next school year begins in September.

"The old system churned out obedient but passive citizens. What good is that for a global economy?" says first lady Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al-Missned.

The daughter of a renowned Qatari democracy activist and the mother of seven children, including the crown prince, Sheikha Mozah cites personal and national reasons for the overhaul of the education system. "We don't want passive citizens. I didn't want passive children either," she says.

By the end of this year, officials say all Qatari children will be taught at new schools under the new system, and the nation's teachers will have been re-trained or forced to retire.

The transition hasn't always been smooth. Like its neighbor Saudi Arabia, Qatar lists the conservative Salafi school of Islam as its official religion, and radio talk shows and imams here have held fiery discussions about whether the schools are "un-Islamic" for teaching some subjects in English, not Arabic, and for providing music classes.

Yet rising test scores among Qatari children enrolled in the new schools suggest a potential model for other Arab education officials struggling to raise standards to those comparable to the U.S., Europe and Asia. According to a recent, two-year study funded by Qatar and conducted by the Rand Corp., children enrolled in the fourth through sixth grades in the new schools outperformed peers who attended the old Education Ministry-run schools in mathematics and science and language skills.

"Qataris value education … [but] we are a society that respects tradition," says Sheikha Mozah. "We've had to find the right pace to accomplish our goals."

The passive theme is huge:  that's how you keep women down and men stupid, with religion filling the gaps.

Rest of the piece focuses on the replicability of Qatar's experiment across the rest of the region.  The usual "uniqueness" argument is cited, along with the fact that Qatar is such a stunningly globalized little space (1m outsiders and 300m actual citizens) and so damn rich (per capita at $121k!).

Still, the whole deal with Singapore was the demonstration effect--not to be underestimated.


Telling Kenya how its constitution should handle abortion

Doves released at a pro-new-constitution rally in Kenya

The gist from a NYT story:

The push to pass a new constitution in Kenya, a cornerstone of the effort to correct longstanding imbalances of power and prevent the kind of upheaval that followed deeply flawed elections here, has attracted some unexpected interference — from more than 7,000 miles away.

Before Kenyan lawmakers had even finished drafting the proposed constitution, American Christians organized petition drives in Kenya against it, objecting to a provision recognizing Islamic courts.

Now that the draft is done, three Republican members of Congress contend that it significantly expands abortion rights, and are accusing the United States Embassy in Kenya of openly supporting it in violation of federal rules.

It is the latest battle in the American culture wars playing out in Africa. Last year, American Christians helped stoke antigay sentiments in Uganda; later, Ugandan politicians proposed the execution of some gay people. That debate is still raging, though it looks as if the Ugandan government is backing down and will not pass the antigay bill after all.

Old theme of mine:  we hamstring ourselves diplomatically and security-wise when we let our strategic choices be unduly influenced by internal social debates like abortion.  Especially sad:  by and large, it's easy to get an abortion across the Core but much harder throughout most of the Gap, where women's rights lag.

I am profoundly pro-choice.  Until you give women control of their bodies, economic takeoff is far harder to achieve.  Development is mostly about liberating women, not men.

Meanwhile, a NYT editorial notes that Core spending for AIDS relief/prevention across the Gap is wavering after the big plus-ups of the Bush era.  Everybody cites the economy.


Women in the kingdom: at least the debate is picking up steam

Piece in The Economist is the latest in a recent string of MSM articles about things opening up--ever so slightly--in the Saudi kingdom with the blessing of 85-year-old Abdullah, who is living up to expectations of being a consistent-if-gentle reformer.

Story leads with the apparent survival-in-his-job of Ahmed al-Ghamdi, head of the Mecca vice squad.  He recently came out for the innocent mixing of sexes, a notion that elicited many calls for him to be sacked.  In late April he was, only to have the official state news agency story rescinded two hours later.  So he remains in his post and the debate continues, apparently with some shielding from above.

The telling stat:  60% of college students are women.  For now they're a small bit of the workforce, but it grows with time.  Iran has this "problem" in a much worse fashion.

It's an old story:  educate a man and you've got yourself a productive head of household, but educate a woman and you're got yourself a transformed household.

The Saudi household is being transformed.  The government can pave the way for what must come next, or try to bar the door.  Abdullah sees that but will only rule for X many years longer, thus the great importance of who comes next.