For more information about a recent conference on the subject, check out this BBC article.
Women overtook men as the majority of people in the world living with HIV. They’ve held on to that majority and started to take over other areas as well: Young women ages 15-24 account for 75 percent of all new infections in sub-Saharan Africa. HIV is the number one killer of women in their childbearing years, and HIV was responsible for 60,000 maternal deaths in 2008. In the last two years, HIV infections have nearly doubled among African American women in Washington, D.C.
Our findings, detailed in our new book out this month, Sex and World Peace, echo those of other scholars, who have found that the larger the gender gap between the treatment of men and women in a society, the more likely a country is to be involved in intra- and interstate conflict, to be the first to resort to force in such conflicts, and to resort to higher levels of violence. On issues of national health, economic growth, corruption, and social welfare, the best predictors are also those that reflect the situation of women. What happens to women affects the security, stability, prosperity, bellicosity, corruption, health, regime type, and (yes) the power of the state. The days when one could claim that the situation of women had nothing to do with matters of national or international security are, frankly, over. The empirical results to the contrary are just too numerous and too robust to ignore.
But as we look around at the world, the situation of women is anything but secure. Our database rates countries based on several categories of women’s security from 0 (best) to 4 (worst). The scores were assigned based on a thorough search of the more than 130,000 data points in the Woman Stats Database, with two independent evaluators having to reach a consensus on each country’s score. On our scale measuring the physical security of women, no country in the world received a 0. Not one. The world average is 3.04, attesting to the widespread and persistent violence perpetrated against women worldwide, even among the most developed and freest countries. The United States, for instance, scores a 2 on this scale, due to the relative prevalence of domestic violence and rape.
68 percent prefer a pro-choice candidate, while just 23 percent prefer a pro-lifer, in one of the more reliably conservative districts in the country, which just happens to be GOP House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s district.
Very interesting. Polls generally show that abortion is a very nuanced issue. Most people admit it’s a regrettable act, but feel that, like many difficult decisions, it should be left to the woman to make. I’m inclined to agree.
Rape occurs in the military nearly twice as often as in the civilian world, and rates of sexual assault are even higher in war zones. According to Duke University law professor Madeline Morris’ landmark paper “By Force of Arms: Rape, War, and Military Culture,” soldiers are several times more likely to commit rape in war zones than during peacetime.
They’re not just attacking women in the military: They commit violence against wives, girlfriends and families at alarming rates when they return home from battle. One study by the Department of Justice found that a quarter of veterans in state prisons were there for sexual assault, compared to just 9 percent of the general prison population. Studies show that those traumatized by combat service are especially likely to use aggression and violence against spouses and families.
Despite the military’s attempts to address this crisis in its ranks, the problem persists. Not only do military personnel harm fellow soldiers, these men continue to abuse women even after they’ve hung up their uniforms.
While this is old news, it didn’t get as much coverage as it should have. By my understanding, the role that women play in the sex industry is a matter of contention among feminists, with some believing it is inherently oppressive and exploitative, others supporting it so long as women are empowered within that framework, and still others (like myself) falling somewhere in the middle. In any case, here’s the story:
Iceland is fast becoming a world-leader in feminism. A country with a tiny population of 320,000, it is on the brink of achieving what many considered to be impossible: closing down its sex industry.
While activists in Britain battle on in an attempt to regulate lapdance clubs – the number of which has been growing at an alarming rate during the last decade – Iceland has passed a law that will result in every strip club in the country being shut down. And forget hiring a topless waitress in an attempt to get around the bar: the law, which was passed with no votes against and only two abstentions, will make it illegal for any business to profit from the nudity of its employees.
Even more impressive: the Nordic state is the first country in the world to ban stripping and lapdancing for feminist, rather than religious, reasons. Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir, the politician who first proposed the ban, firmly told the national press on Wednesday: “It is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold.” When I asked her if she thinks Iceland has become the greatest feminist country in the world, she replied: “It is certainly up there. Mainly as a result of the feminist groups putting pressure on parliamentarians. These women work 24 hours a day, seven days a week with their campaigns and it eventually filters down to all of society.”
The news is a real boost to feminists around the world, showing us that when an entire country unites behind an idea anything can happen. And it is bound to give a shot in the arm to the feminist campaign in the UK against an industry that is both a cause and a consequence of gaping inequality between men and women.
According to Icelandic police, 100 foreign women travel to the country annually to work in strip clubs. It is unclear whether the women are trafficked, but feminists say it is telling that as the stripping industry has grown, the number of Icelandic women wishing to work in it has not. Supporters of the bill say that some of the clubs are a front for prostitution – and that many of the women work there because of drug abuse and poverty rather than free choice. I have visited a strip club in Reykjavik and observed the women. None of them looked happy in their work.
So how has Iceland managed it? To start with, it has a strong women’s movement and a high number of female politicans. Almost half the parliamentarians are female and it was ranked fourth out of 130 countries on the international gender gap index (behind Norway, Finland and Sweden). All four of these Scandinavian countries have, to some degree, criminalised the purchase of sex (legislation that the UK will adopt on 1 April). “Once you break past the glass ceiling and have more than one third of female politicians,” says Halldórsdóttir, “something changes. Feminist energy seems to permeate everything.”
Johanna Sigurðardottir is Iceland’s first female and the world’s first openly lesbian head of state. Guðrún Jónsdóttir of Stígamót, an organisation based in Reykjavik that campaigns against sexual violence, says she has enjoyed the support of Sigurðardottir for their campaigns against rape and domestic violence: “Johanna is a great feminist in that she challenges the men in her party and refuses to let them oppress her.”
Then there is the fact that feminists in Iceland appear to be entirely united in opposition to prostitution, unlike the UK where heated debates rage over whether prostitution and lapdancing are empowering or degrading to women. There is also public support: the ban on commercial sexual activity is not only supported by feminists but also much of the population. A 2007 poll found that 82% of women and 57% of men support the criminalisation of paying for sex – either in brothels or lapdance clubs – and fewer than 10% of Icelanders were opposed.
Jónsdóttir says the ban could mean the death of the sex industry. “Last year we passed a law against the purchase of sex, recently introduced an action plan on trafficking of women, and now we have shut down the strip clubs. The Nordic countries are leading the way on women’s equality, recognising women as equal citizens rather than commodities for sale.”
Strip club owners are, not surprisingly, furious about the new law. One gave an interview to a local newspaper in which he likened Iceland’s approach to that of a country such as Saudi Arabia, where it is not permitted to see any part of a woman’s body in public. “I have reached the age where I’m not sure whether I want to bother with this hassle any more,” he said.
Janice Raymond, a director of Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, hopes that all sex industry profiteers feel the same way, and believes the new law will pave the way for governments in other countries to follow suit. “What a victory, not only for the Icelanders but for everyone worldwide who repudiates the sexual exploitation of women,” she says.
Jónsdóttir is confident that the law will create a change in attitudes towards women. “I guess the men of Iceland will just have to get used to the idea that women are not for sale.”
Birth control and motherhood may appear to be competing goals. But studies show that the typical American family today wants two children and, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, women typically must use reliable contraception for three decades to achieve this goal. Consequently, over 99 percent of women age 18-44 who have been sexually active have used contraception at least once. Today, among the 43 million fertile, sexually active women who do not want to become pregnant, 89 percent are using contraception. Aside from condoms, women bear most of the out-of-pocket costs for contraception.
Some individuals hold strong personal beliefs about the use of birth control and should not be required to use it. But the costs of contraception–or of discouraging its use–need to be well understood.
The National Bureau of Economic Research recently reported that the pill is responsible for the narrowing of the gender wage gap by 10 percent in the 1980s and by 30 percent in the 1990s. Moreover, reliable birth control contributed to economic development by reducing women’s risk of dropping out of school associated with early childbearing and high fertility rates, contributing in turn to increases in women’s labor force participation, the continuity of their careers, and the standard of living of women, children and families.
Recent studies by the Guttmacher Institute and Brookings Institution demonstrate that every public dollar invested in contraception saves roughly $4 in Medicaid expenditures–or $5.1 billion in 2008–not to mention the broader health, social and economic benefits. A 2010 California study found that every dollar spent on a Medicaid family planning program saved the public sector more than $9 over the next five years by averting costs on public health and welfare that would have otherwise been incurred. In the private sector, over two decades of research has shown that the availability and use of highly reliable birth control reduce employee absences and turnover, particularly among women who would otherwise face unintended pregnancies. Indeed, it costs insurers and employers more not to provide contraceptive coverage.
And yet, for the first time in two generations, contraception is becoming harder to obtain. State and federal policies that reduce access to family planning services and contraception mean that individual women bear the cost for birth control–an additional $500 or more a year in the case of women with no insurance.
1. Lack of Paid Parental Leave. You would think given the Romney camp’s manufactured outrage over Hilary Rosen’s comments that Ann Romney “hasn’t worked a day in her life,” that issues of parenting and economics would be at the top of everyone’s political to-do list. Not so much. The United States is the only industrialized nation without mandated paid parental leave—leaving American parents, mothers especially, in a terrible financial bind. Parents spend tremendous portions of their income on childcare, so much that some women have found that it makes more financial sense to go on welfare and stay at home than to have a job in which the bulk of their income goes to childcare. If motherhood is a “real job” or “the most important job in the world”—let’s treat it as such.
2. Shackling of Pregnant Women. Giving birth is no walk in the park—now imagine doing it while in leg restraints and waist chains. Over thirty states still allow the shackling of pregnant women in prison during labor and delivery, despite numerous human rights campaigns to ban the practices. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Public Health Association oppose shackling pregnant women, noting that is a danger to both women’s and fetal health. The practice has been particularly targeted and immigrant women and women of color.
3. Abstinence-Only Education (yes, it’s still around). Many Americans are under the mistaken impression that since Obama took office, abstinence-only education went the way of the dodo. Not so. While federal funding for misleading and dangerous abstinence-only education has been cut significantly, abstinence-only classes are still alive and well. Obama’s health bill allocated $250 million for abstinence-only education programs in 2010, and thirty states received funding for abstinence-only education programs the same year. Mother Jones also noted this week that “the HHS Office of Adolescent Health lists the Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education as one of the 31 ‘evidence-based programs’ that ‘met the effectiveness criteria’ for preventing teenage pregnancy” (first reported at RH Reality Check). Abstinence-only education isn’t just dangerous for young people’s health (a Congressional study found that the vast majority of programs teach false and misleading information) but is also incredibly sexist. Young women are taught that premarital sex makes them dirty, that boys can’t control themselves and that “good” and “natural” young women don’t like sex at all.
4. Poverty. Let’s say this once and for all—women are not “the richer sex.” Despite the current trend pieces suggesting that women are actually out-earning men (they’re not), women are actually much more likely to be poor than their male counterparts, and women over 65 are twice as likely to live in poverty as men. The latest Census numbers show that women’s poverty rate is at 14.5 percent, the highest its been in seventeen years. So please, no more arguing that the pay gap doesn’t exist.
5. The US War on Women Abroad. As news of the Secret Service prostitution scandal in Colombia broke, I couldn’t help being frustrated at the never-ending stream of jokes and—even more baffling—the surprise over the incident. After all, women’s bodies and sexuality have long been a part of the way the United States—American men, in particular—functions abroad. But instead of looking at how women’s sexuality is used in international politics or the way in which racism and the hypersexualization of certain women impacts how US men behave abroad, the most gendered mainstream media analysis was a shallow “we need more women in the Secret Service” argument. Perhaps the worst offense US treatment of women internationally, however, is the way the United States has continually used rhetoric of freeing oppressed women in certain countries to justify bombing and killing these women and their families. (Not to mention the incidents of sexual violence perpetrated by some in the military.)
The war on women is real, but it doesn’t stop with abortion and it doesn’t stop at home. It’s not a flash in the pan or a particular political moment—it’s a central part of the way the United States functions. And until we own that misogyny is as American as apple pie, women around the world will continue to suffer.
In December 2010 Shuai was running a Chinese restaurant in Indianapolis with her boyfriend, Zhiliang Guan, by whom she was eight months pregnant. Just before Christmas, he informed her that he was married and had another family, to which he was returning. When Shuai begged him to stay, he threw money at her and left her weeping on her knees in a parking lot. Despairing, she took rat poison and wrote a letter in Mandarin saying she was killing herself and would “take this baby with me to Hades”; friends got her to the hospital just in time to save her life. Eight days later her baby, Angel, was delivered by Caesarean section and died of a cerebral hemorrhage within four days. Three months later, the newly elected prosecutor, Terry Curry—a Democrat—brought charges, claiming that the rat poison that almost killed Shuai had killed her baby. If convicted, she faces forty-five to sixty-five years in prison.
It is hard to know where to begin listing what’s wrong with this case. Consider the health ramifications: attempting suicide is not a crime in Indiana. It’s the tragic result of mental illness, depression and extreme emotional distress; and it’s not uncommon for pregnant women to seriously consider it, or even try it. According to a 2010 study in Obstetrics & Gynecology, suicide is the fifth leading cause of death among pregnant women. Pregnant women in crisis need and deserve compassion and treatment. But if Shuai is convicted, what pregnant woman will seek help? “Every major medical and public health organization that has considered the issue has concluded that it is dangerous for maternal and fetal health to hold women criminally liable for their pregnancy outcomes,” says Emma Ketteringham, director of legal advocacy for National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), which is co-counsel to Shuai’s defense. Eighty such groups and experts—including the National Perinatal Association, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Nurses Association—have filed amicus briefs.