equal rights amendment, gender, gender gaps, women in politics, Women's rights

equal means equal – right?

It’s been a good month for equality in the United States. The country celebrated transgender rights and threw Caitlyn Jenner the nicest coming out party ever. SCOTUS handed down a landmark decision to make gay marriage legal in all 50 states. And there’s a woman running for president.

Granted, transgender rights still have a long way to go – check out John Oliver’s segment on the issue. He really exposes the ways in which we currently view transgender people – most of us seem confused, and the rest want to ask them about their privates. Legally, they still have an uphill battle with many States viewing transgender identity as a lifestyle choice. and they still face higher rates of poverty, suicide and violence than the general public.

The gay movement is celebrating marriage equality and everyone is changing their Facebook profile photo. however, a moving piece by Darnell Moore exposes the ways in which the LGBTQ+ movement has failed to include him ‘under the rainbow’. he writes: ‘the “movement” might care about my queerness, but it certainly does not value my blackness’. this sentiment is one that the gay movement will have to address very soon if it wishes to stay true to its cause.

Historically, the feminist and gay movement have not always gotten on well. Feminists see the inclusion of gay women’s issues as a distraction from issues faced by all women regardless of their sexual orientation, and gay women see the feminist majority as trying to erase their experiences and unique challenges. The PBS documentary ‘Makers: Women Who Made America‘ takes a good look at the cost of this struggle. The schism has been so great that to this day you’ll find countries like Ireland, where gays can get married but women can’t get a legal abortion.

But here’s the thing –

Equality is for everybody. discrimination on the basis of sex or sexual orientation is unjust and it should be illegal. How those two have managed to be separated in the eyes of the public and of legislators is a question for another day. But for now I think the time is right for the feminist movement to reclaim this space and leverage the current public support for equal rights to fight for what we deserve.

rosie era

and thankfully – I’m not alone in my convictions.

On June 23rd, Meryl Streep sent five hundred and thirty-five letters to each and every Member of Congress urging them to support a constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal rights for women. Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment stalled in 1982 as it was ratified by only 35 states, three states short of the 38 required to put it into the Constitution. The ERA has been introduced in Congress every year since, with little result. the ERA, together with much of the feminist movement, seemed stuck.

But the tide is turning. a new generation of feminists have taken up the call. a slew of girl’s empowerment campaigns have emerged, some led by civil society and some by large brands (#likeagirl, this girl can, Dove real beauty to name a few). they have both capitalized on the renewed feminist energy and also been instrumental in creating an added momentum. and with the wind of civil rights victories at our back, and a female presidential candidate with an outstanding record on advancing women’s rights at our lead, we might just make the ERA happen before I’m gray and old.

era

Jessica Neuwirth is the Founder and President of the ERA Coalition which is working to create a broad base of support for the ERA across America. ‘Equal Means Equal’ is a documentary produced by Patricia Arquette which takes a long hard look at the reality of women’s lives without the ERA and the personal cost to their freedom and civil liberties. Issues that have been getting more attention lately, from the pay gap and paid family leave, to domestic violence and trafficking, are all linked to the unequal treatment of women under the law and the continued discrimination they face in the United States in 2015.

I can only hope we have the courage to come together with the support of our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ+ community, and demand an end to discrimination against women with a constitutional guarantee.

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women in politics, Women's rights

The Old (Israeli) Boys’ Club

20C-120131201164521~1I recently had an Op-Ed published in the Jerusalem Post! Both in print and online. check it out!

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-Ed-Contributors/The-old-Israeli-boys-club-332164

 

or read the full article here:

The Old (Israeli) Boys Club

 

When Tzipi Livni took the stage at last week’s conference marking the launch of a plan to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in Israel, the audience, predominantly feminist activists, gave her a lukewarm reception which was swiftly followed by back-row heckling. The Justice Minister, and former Foreign Minister, who also head’s up the negotiating team currently involved in high level talks with the Palestinians, was there to deliver a speech on the importance of including women in peace and security processes, but was stopped a number of times by disgruntled comments. Feminists, it seemed, weren’t happy with Livni who has throughout her career  purposely distanced herself from women’s issues, claiming she was ‘man’ enough for the job of Prime Minister.

 

Next in line to share her thoughts was Zehava Galon, head of the left wing Meretz party, who took the stage with gusto and reminded the audience that mainstreaming gender equality in policy making is about more than just ensuring equal numbers of both sexes are present at a committee meeting. Rather, it is concerned with substantive participation in decision making which provides women with an opportunity to influence key political processes.

 

The 1325 Action Plan claims that the inclusion of women in peace negotiations and in decision making bodies, committees and policies that deal with security issues, is a critical step in ensuring not only a more equal representation of the sexes in politics, but for guaranteeing these important decisions are not being made by former army generals alone. Only last week the Israeli Knesset approved 2.75 billion shekels to be added to the already monstrously large security budget, literally ignoring their election-time promises and the fact that each shekel given to security is one less shekel spent on education and health. One can’t help but wonder whether the inclusion of more women in this decision would have produced a vastly different outcome.

 

Those opposed to measures that seek to legislate equal representation claim women should not be seen as a unified category, and that being a woman doesn’t automatically qualify one to be a representative of women’s issues. Looking at examples such as Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher and even the current German Chancellor Angela Merkel, does raise ones doubts as to the ability of women to actively promote other women or bring a softer tone to politics in general. In fact, many believe once women enter the political arena they adopt ‘male’ traits in order to succeed, and upon reaching the top, tend to attribute their success to their own individual abilities rather than those stemming from being a woman.

 

However, looking at women’s entrance into other male dominated areas, such as the business sector, has been shown to bring significant advantages to both sexes. Last week the World Economic Forum, a Geneva based think tank, published its annual Gender Gap Index which seeks to rank countries according to levels of gender equality in four categories including health, education, politics and economics. The Index creators claim that  gender equality increases a country’s and a company’s competitiveness, leading to economic prosperity and growth.

 

Unfortunately, over the past 7 years since the Index was introduced, Israel has fallen almost twenty places, from 35th to 53rd place. This is mainly due to the gap in political participation, with Israeli women missing almost entirely from parliament and ministerial positions (ranking well below Angola, China and Georgia to name but a few). In fact, our neighboring countries who aren’t well known for their support of women’s rights, have taken more legislative and policy led actions to close gender gaps over the past half decade than Israel. In addition, Israel scored quite badly on wage equality, confirming that women’s contributions in both the political and the economic spheres were undervalued.

 

It seems that even in a country that was founded on socialist ideals, where women and men serve in the armed forces side by side, true equality is still a distant dream. When it comes to Israel’s peace and security, it’s still very much the same boys from the same old military club patting each other on the back.

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gender, gender gaps, women in politics, Women's rights

progress at last?

There are very few reports on the state of women in the world that manage to generate interest from more than just us gender geeks. The World Economic Forum‘s annual Gender Gap Report is one of them. It provides solid analysis of reliable data, and cleverly packages this in a framework that makes perfect sense and manages to be useful at the same time. The 2013 edition is being launched today and as the WEF was kind enough to send me an advanced copy, I have had time to comb through the report and here are my insights. 

For those who are unfamiliar, the Gap Report is predicated on the assumption that gender equality progress can be measured through the narrowing of gaps between men and women in certain areas, including the economy, education, health and political participation. Meaning, if female literacy goes up, the levels of gender equality go up. Within each of these categories we find the usual suspects, like primary, secondary and tertiary enrollment rates, life expectancy and female seats in parliament. These stats are widely cited when discussing low income countries (as they form MDG targets), but since the Gap Report is global, we get to scrutinize medium and high income countries which is a nice change.

The Gap Report pulls these together to create a rating system that uncovers difference between countries and progress made over time. For instance, country A will score highly on political participation if women hold half of the seats in parliament, but might get a low score in education as there are more males than females in tertiary education. The report takes into consideration only the outcome of these measures, rather than inputs that may vary between high income and low income countries. So you might expect the UK to do really well as it has a lot more money to spend on education than Lesotho, but in terms of the gaps between boys and girls in educational attainment in absolute terms, Lesotho is doing better than the UK. The final ranking takes into account all four indexes and churns out a total rank.

look they made this lovely interactive widget too.

Unsurprisingly, the Nordic countries have jealously kept the top 4 places in the Gap Report rankings to themselves for the past 6 years. A newcomer to the top five this year is the Philippines, who’s up from number eight last year. A closer look reveals that Philippines has made some progress on closing the gap between men and women in terms of political participation and holding decision making positions. New Zealand, now at number seven, has slipped down a place due to a decrease in wage equality and Switzerland moved up a spot due to improvements in women’s estimated earned income. Nicaragua, remains the only Latin American country in the top 10 and made huge progress between 2011 and 2012, jumping from the 27th to the 9th place, mainly due to increases in women’s political and economic participation rates. Another newcomer to the 2013 report is Lao PDR, which ranks 60 overall (not bad!), but interestingly rates quite highly in terms of women’s economic participation.

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Countries that have done really well over the past year include Bangladesh, which currently ranks at 75, a rise of 10 places. This is mainly due to a significant narrowing of the gender gap in education and an increase of women in the political sphere. Countries that continue to do badly include Israel, my home country, which has slipped 20 places in the past six years. oy vey.

According to the 2013 report, looking at the rankings of the past six years reveals that: ‘the 136 countries covered in the Report, representing over 90% of the world’s population, have closed almost 96% of the gap in health outcomes between women and men and almost 93% of the gap in educational attainment. However, the gap between women and men on economic participation and political empowerment remains wide: only 60% of the economic outcomes gap and only 21% of the political outcomes gap have been closed”.

To my mind, what is really striking about the Gap Report rankings is the correlation between countries with economic prosperity and higher levels of gender equality. And considering the audience of this report, which really aims to engage the businesses and corporate executives in an issue that is still firmly viewed as a ‘third sector’ issue, it really serves its purpose well.

The Gap Report’s ability to provide a global ranking system that scores countries according to progress towards gender equality is very interesting, but it fails to provide the reader with an understanding of how these processes have occurred and whether there is any connection between closing gender gaps and reducing gender inequality. The report doesn’t set out to do these things and the disclaimer on the first page makes this very clear. But I for one would like to perhaps see a spin off publication that delves deeper into a number of countries that have made significant progress in their rankings, and look at whether this correlates with other human development and women’s rights indicators. Otherwise it all seems like a pointless exercise.

I’m unclear as to whether women’s political participation, i.e. holding more seats in parliament, has actually translated into policy decisions that have benefited women? and anyone who knows anything about education figures will gleefully inform you that enrollment data is a terrible indicator because it is collected usually once a year on the first day of school and provides no indication of whether the pupil then actually attends school. Not to mention the fact that it doesn’t give you a clue as to whether this enrolled pupil who may or may not be attending school regularly, is actually learning anything at all.

That said, the attempt to provide a global index on gender equality that appeals to people other than those who think UN document serial numbers are cool,  is a blessed endeavor and i do encourage the WEF to continue their good work!

Keshet Bachan

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