Posts Tagged women’s rights
With extraordinary timing, just after last night’s post on high-powered career women, The Atlantic‘s July issue was released with a cover story addressing exactly that issue. In her essay, former director of policy planning for the US State Department Anne-Marie Slaughter has given her treatise on why she left that dream job after just two years in order to be with her family and how society can change our expectations in order to better accommodate work-family balance.
I can’t do her argument justice, so please go and read the essay (it’s very important). There is, however, one point that I would like to focus on relating my post yesterday (my bold):
Still, the proposition that women can have high-powered careers as long as their husbands or partners are willing to share the parenting load equally (or disproportionately) assumes that most women will feel as comfortable as men do about being away from their children, as long as their partner is home with them. In my experience, that is simply not the case. …
This supposition is the issue. Slaughter does give evidence later that is closer to my perspective, however it does not seem to change her perception from what she has encountered in her “experience” (my bold):
To be sure, the women who do make it to the top are highly committed to their profession. On closer examination, however, it turns out that most of them have something else in common: they are genuine superwomen. …
Seeking out a more balanced life is not a women’s issue; balance would be better for us all. Bronnie Ware, an Australian blogger who worked for years in palliative care and is the author of the 2011 book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, writes that the regret she heard most often was “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” The second-most-common regret was “I wish I didn’t work so hard.” She writes: “This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship.” …
What I glean from this type of thing is the harm that is genuinely being done by gender-normative assumptions — not just to women, but to us men as well. The assumption here is that men won’t care about being away from their family and will naturally just spend more time working.
It seems that people have been extremely reluctant to acknowledge the sacrifices that men at the top actually make in order to be there. It could be that this phenomenon that we’re seeing is not a case of society having created top-jobs that women can’t do because women care about family too much. Maybe it’s a case of society having created top jobs that are extremely difficult, and the women who were born into the egalitarian era are just beginning to discover how true this is.
I am a little offended by this idea that it is something reasonable to expect of men, but unreasonable to expect of women. Even Slaughter here has made the assumption that the men around her were not hurting just as much about the fact that they weren’t spending time with their family.
Maybe the difference was not that she had some kind of inherent need that they didn’t feel — maybe it’s simply that it is more socially acceptable for her to make the decision to sacrifice career for family because, while she may be seen as “betraying her feminist principles”, she will not face the stigma that the men would of being “weak”, “not dedicated enough”, or — dare I say — “girly”.
Of course, evolutionary psychologists would disagree with this idealised view that human nature is so malleable and would argue that men and women really are wired that way. Even accepting this as true, the furthest that this argument can go is to say that most women on average will be inherently more likely to want to sacrifice their careers for their families than most men. There would still be countless men and women who do not fit this characterisation.
Men have, of course, become much more involved parents over the past couple of decades, and that, too, suggests broad support for big changes in the way we balance work and family. It is noteworthy that both James Steinberg, deputy secretary of state, and William Lynn, deputy secretary of defense, stepped down two years into the Obama administration so that they could spend more time with their children (for real).
Going forward, women would do well to frame work-family balance in terms of the broader social and economic issues that affect both women and men. After all, we have a new generation of young men who have been raised by full-time working mothers. Let us presume, as I do with my sons, that they will understand “supporting their families” to mean more than earning money.
I don’t see why this needs to be a “framing” issue. Why can’t we just accept that work-life balance is important for everyone? This idea that it’s a “feminist” fight immediately isolates anyone who does not define themselves that way. This is not about making work easier for women or men, it’s about strengthening families, improving peoples’ working lives and improving the wellbeing of parents and children.
And where are the Unions on this one? It seems a hell of a lot more important than keeping those damn foreigners from taking our jerbs.
That said, I will end with the point made here by Rod Dreher — who, as he describes in that post, is a man who sacrificed his career to spend more time with his family.
Slaughter is still hanging onto the 1960′s feminist dream that women can “have it all” and that is what her solutions are geared towards. Her solutions would definitely help with peoples’ work/family balance in general, however they would not allow women to “have it all”.
The unfortunate reality is that no one can ever have it all. It is impossible to do everything. There is no conceivable way that someone can work a 60-hour week and still have a huge amount of time with their families and there is no way that someone who works less than that can compare with someone who does work that much. At some point, everyone has to make a trade-off: some will choose their family, and some will choose their career. We can try to ease the conflicts as much as possible, but they will never go away completely.
Our friend Joseph Kony totally overshadowed International Women’s Day yesterday — which is a horrible thing to do, add that one to the list. Also, a lot of people criticised me for being too negative about Kony because I was “trying to stop people to take action”. But more on that later. Anyway, I thought I would post a few items that would have been relevant yesterday while also making a few positive suggestions of campaigns that would help Africans more than wearing a Kony armband.
1. The “Girl Affect”
The crux of this is described in the following moving infographic:
Or much more eloquently by Nicholas Kristof in a recent New York Times Magazine article:
if the injustices that women in poor countries suffer are of paramount importance, in an economic and geopolitical sense the opportunity they represent is even greater. “Women hold up half the sky,” in the words of a Chinese saying, yet that’s mostly an aspiration: in a large slice of the world, girls are uneducated and women marginalized, and it’s not an accident that those same countries are disproportionately mired in poverty and riven by fundamentalism and chaos. There’s a growing recognition among everyone from the World Bank to the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff to aid organizations like CARE that focusing on women and girls is the most effective way to fight global poverty and extremism. That’s why foreign aid is increasingly directed to women. The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution.
And it can be found on Facebook.
2. Holding Islamists to account
The downside to that Kristof piece was this:
Yet another reason to educate and empower women is that greater female involvement in society and the economy appears to undermine extremism and terrorism. It has long been known that a risk factor for turbulence and violence is the share of a country’s population made up of young people. Now it is emerging that male domination of society is also a risk factor; the reasons aren’t fully understood, but it may be that when women are marginalized the nation takes on the testosterone-laden culture of a military camp or a high-school boys’ locker room. That’s in part why the Joint Chiefs of Staff and international security specialists are puzzling over how to increase girls’ education in countries like Afghanistan — and why generals have gotten briefings from Greg Mortenson, who wrote about building girls’ schools in his best seller, “Three Cups of Tea.” Indeed, some scholars say they believe the reason Muslim countries have been disproportionately afflicted by terrorism is not Islamic teachings about infidels or violence but rather the low levels of female education and participation in the labor force.
This almost certainly confuses cause and effect. The “Islamic teachings about infidels or violence” are, by and large, the reason behind the low levels of female education and participation in the labor force. I particularly dislike calling these teachings “Islamic”; they are not Islamic, they are Islamist. I have spoken to plenty of Muslims who have explained to me in detail why there is nothing Islamic whatsoever about not educating women and slaying the infidels.
Moreover, the denial of Islamist discrimination is an example of a third-worldist well-meaning condescension. This leads to the kind of situation described yesterday by Isobel Coleman, Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program at Council on Foreign Relations:
One theme is that women played an essential role in the Arab world’s uprisings, only to be marginalized once transitions began. Moushira Khattab, a former Egyptian ambassador to South Africa and minister of family and population, writes that women joined men in calling for freedom in Tahrir Square. Since then, though, “the train of change has not only left them behind, but has in fact turned against them…
Dormant conservative value systems are being manipulated by a religious discourse that denies women their rights.” Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights activist, says flatly that “the ‘Arab Spring’ is not an accurate description” of what has occurred. She notes that after Iran’s revolution, “a dictator fell from power, but a religious tyranny took the place of democracy.” The uprisings will only be fulfilled, she argues, “when women achieve their rights.” For many, the rise of traditional and religious-based politics is deeply harmful to women. Rola Dashti, a former member of the Kuwaiti parliament who lost her seat in the election last month (in which Islamists surged and no women were elected), says that “women’s presence and participation in public life–specifically in politics, decision-making positions, and state affairs–moved from marginalization during repressive regimes to rejection with Islamist regimes.” She pulls no punches when it comes to moderate Islamists: “the promotion of moderate Islamism by Islamists in power is nothing more than a hidden agenda of radical and extremist ideologies when it comes to social issues and citizens’ rights, especially as it concerns women.” Rend Al-Rahim, who served as the first ambassador to the United States in Iraq’s post-Saddam government and now runs the Iraq Foundation, says that “the retreat in women’s rights has more to do with the resurgence of patriarchal, narrowly conservative social mores embedded in ancient tribal customs than with religion. Sharia is only a convenient peg for the deeper instinct of male dominance.”
I’ll also throw these two videos in while we’re at it:
A little less international relations focussed for a second (well not really, but anyway), some interesting ideas came to light in this post on the Council on Foreign Relations site:
There’s a gap in the types of tasks women and men are assigned early in their careers. Intentionally or not, women tend to given more administrative or support work rather than policy or research work; path dependence takes over from there. I recall a prominent scholar regularly asking his female research assistant (RA) to pick up his dry cleaning and take his car to the shop—things he didn’t ask of male RAs.
There’s also a mentorship gap. Young women have trouble finding men willing to act in that capacity because there are few mechanisms to develop the rapport that underlies a good, productive mentoring relationship. Conversely, men may be concerned about how a mentoring relationship will be perceived and shy away as a result. But mentors are vital for opening doors and offering suggestions and feedback about career choices—efforts that are particularly valuable in the foreign policy world.
Women could be the saviours of the Arab World
The Australian media this week has been intently focussed on how many women we have on corporate boards, why there aren’t enough and how to solve this. There was even an odd slip-up from shadow treasurer Joe Hockey, who in a complete break from the Liberal Party’s usual position, promoted the idea of gender quotas for corporate boards on ABC’s Q and A (this was subsequently rejected by Tony Abbot).
For the record, I am completely against the idea of quotas – I believe that it is dangerous and counter-productive. People promoted in order to fill a quota know that this is why they were chosen for the position and so do their colleagues. Not only is it extremely patronising to be told “we’d like to bump you up to management because we’re trying to put more [minority] there”, but the person will likely struggle with a position that they are not qualified for and they will be resented by their colleagues who had to work harder to get to the same place.
So now that I’ve finished that little rant, here’s a more interesting point. I was sent this article ages ago, but only just got round to reading it – it’s an interview with veteran Middle East analyst Bernard Lewis by David Horovitz for the Jerusalem Post. Lewis reaffirms a lot of what I’ve been saying about democracy in the Middle East, particularly the Western fixation on elections, but he adds some great insights. One thing worth reading the article for is his idea of consultative rather than electoral democracy as a model that would work in the Middle East.
The other thing that stuck out was what he said about women:
There’s one other group of people that I think one should bear in mind when considering the future of the Middle East, and that is women. The case has been made, and I think there is some force in it, that the main reason for the relative backwardness of the Islamic world compared to the West is the treatment of women. As far as I know, it was first made by a Turkish writer called Namik Kemal in about 1880. At that time an agonizing debate had been going on for more than a century: What went wrong? Why did we fall behind the West?
He said, “The answer is very clear. We fell behind the West because of the way we treat our women. By the way we treat our women we deprive ourselves of the talents and services of half the population. And we submit the early education of the other half to ignorant and downtrodden mothers.”
It goes further than that. A child who grows up in a traditional Muslim household is accustomed to authoritarian, autocratic rule from the start. I think the position of women is of crucial importance.
I’ve heard this argument before and it makes a lot of sense. The Middle East is being run by men who were raised by uneducated and subjugated women, in households where their fathers were unquestionably in charge. It does not require a huge amount of imagination to see how this would result in an autocratic culture.
The exclusion of women in the work force also leads to the extremely high fertility rate that is really the cause of all this Arab unrest – there are constantly more and more youth reaching working age and less and less jobs to acommodate them; this led to the anger that we saw exploding so vividly.
Growth rates are consistently too slow to keep pace with the population, and little space remains for private entrepreneurship. In its 2009 Arab Human Development Report, the United Nations found that, as of 2007, the Arab states as a whole were less industrialised than they were in 1970, with governments using revenue from oil, gas and other outside receipts to maintain the large public workforce and cheap goods.
It feels really ironic that there has been such an outcry in a country with a female prime minister and a number of women in very high-profile positions. Obviously Australia has a lot to work on, but really we’re lightyears ahead of some parts of the world. Consider the problems we’ve been debating in our newspapers with the debate in Saudi Arabia. For example, Samar Fatani for the Arab News:
Economists stress that the high cost of living and inflation make it difficult for single-income families to provide the basic needs of the average family living in Saudi Arabia today. The participation of women in the work force is no longer a luxury; it has become an economic necessity. Therefore, it is crucial now to mobilize a more effective national program to tap women’s talent, enhance their skills and provide them with career opportunities so they may contribute equally in our nation’s social and economic development.
Women have every right to be provided with a healthy, civilized lifestyle more in tune with the 21st century way of life. We need to see women in the council of senior scholars or as advisers to the grand mufti to address their needs and grievances and have a say in decisions that affect their lives and their families. Women face injustice and discrimination because many judges and senior ulemas are unaware of the suffering.
Cultural limitations and tribal laws rather than religious rulings are the impediments that are strangling our country. It is time for the educated to boldly counter the vicious campaign of the extremists — men and women — who continue to attack progress. It is ironic how these “medievalists” so resistant to change adopt the Internet and modern media to attack the educated calling for the empowerment of women in Saudi society.
Of course, this isn’t absolutely true across the Middle East. Lewis points to Tunisia as the notable exception and Fatani also praises several of the smaller Gulf states, such as the UAE and Kuwait. Nevertheless, there are not only tribal regions and societies, but entire countries in the Middle East where a 7th century view on human rights, as well as women’s rights, is seen as the ideal – with social norms and legislation reflecting this. This attitude is detrimental to the whole society and is one of the key reasons for the backwardness of the region in relation to the rest of the world. If women take a leading role in these revolutions that are happening everywhere, there may be a chance of genuine progress in the Middle East.
Well, according to Carrie Wickham, some associate professor in political science from Emory University.
Although the Brotherhood entered the political system in order to change it, it ended up being changed by the system. Leaders who were elected to professional syndicates engaged in sustained dialogue and cooperation with members of other political movements, including secular Arab nationalists. Through such interactions, Islamists and Arabists found common ground in the call for an expansion of public freedoms, democracy, and respect for human rights and the rule of law, all of which, they admitted, their movements had neglected in the past
….The factions defy easy categorization, but there seem to be three major groups. The first may be called the da’wa faction. It is ideologically conservative and strongly represented in the Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau and local branch offices. Its main source of power is its control over bureaucratic operations and allocation of resources. Because it has also managed to control the socialization of new recruits, it has cultivated loyalty among the youth, particularly in rural areas. The second faction, who we might call pragmatic conservatives, seems to be the group’s mainstream wing. This group combines religious conservatism with a belief in the value of participation and engagement. Most of the Brotherhood’s members with legislative experience, including such long-time parliamentarians as Saad al-Katatni and Muhammad Mursi, fall into this category. The final faction is the group of reformers who chose to remain with the Brotherhood rather than breaking off. Advocating a progressive interpretation of Islam, this trend is weakly represented in the Guidance Bureau and does not have a large following among the Brotherhood’s rank and file. Yet ‘Abd al-Mun’em Abu Futuh, arguably the Brotherhood’s most important reformist figure, has become an important model and source of inspiration for a new generation of Islamist democracy activists — inside and outside the Muslim Brotherhood. Interestingly, Futuh first suggested that the Brotherhood throw its weight behind a secular reform candidate last February, prefiguring the Brotherhood’s support for Mohamed El Baradei, the opposition’s de facto leader, today.
Sounds great right? Pragmatic conservatives, weakly represented reformers. They are even altruistic apparently – they are more concerned with bringing freedom to Egypt than with gaining power themselves:
The Brotherhood knows from experience that the greater its role, the higher the risk of a violent crackdown — as indicated by the harsh wave of repression that followed its strong showing in the 2005 parliamentary elections. Its immediate priority is to ensure that President Hosni Mubarak steps down and that the era of corruption and dictatorship associated with his rule comes to an end. To achieve that, the Brotherhood, along with other opposition groups, is backing El Baradei. The Brotherhood also knows that a smooth transition to a democratic system will require an interim government palatable to the military and the West, so it has indicated that it would not seek positions in the new government itself. The Brotherhood is too savvy, too pragmatic, and too cautious to squander its hard-earned reputation among Egyptians as a responsible political actor or invite the risk of a military coup by attempting to seize power on its own.
Could there be a downside? Well, of course they are a little bit racist sometimes and they have a tiny history of violence before massive crackdowns on their movement, but you can’t just look at the small picture! There’s more to them than violence and hatred, you see:
Those who emphasize the risk of “Islamic tyranny” aptly note that the Muslim Brotherhood originated as an anti-system group dedicated to the establishment of sharia rule; committed acts of violence against its opponents in the pre-1952 era; and continues to use anti-Western, anti-Zionist, and anti-Semitic rhetoric. But portraying the Brotherhood as eager and able to seize power and impose its version of sharia on an unwilling citizenry is a caricature that exaggerates certain features of the Brotherhood while ignoring others, and underestimates the extent to which the group has changed over time.
Ah wait, it goes deeper than this. Turns out there are a few little…sticking points, shall we say, in the Brotherhood’s ideology:
Still, it is unclear whether the group will continue to exercise pragmatic self-restraint down the road or whether its more progressive leaders will prevail. Such reformers may be most welcome among the other opposition groups when they draft a new constitution and establish the framework for new elections, but they do not necessarily speak for the group’s senior leadership or the majority of its rank and file.
It remains to be seen whether the Brotherhood as an organization — not only individual members – will accept a constitution that does not at least refer to sharia; respect the rights of all Egyptians to express their ideas and form parties; clarify its ambiguous positions on the rights of women and non-Muslims; develop concrete programs to address the nation’s toughest social and economic problems; and apply the same pragmatism it has shown in the domestic arena to issues of foreign policy, including relations with Israel and the West. Over time, other parties — including others with an Islamist orientation — may provide the Brotherhood with some healthy competition and an impetus to further reform itself.
What was that about human rights? So apparently these “reformers” are not all that influential amongst the leadership or the membership (so where exactly are they?) and may not influence the Brotherhood to abandon its own ideology and accept things like women’s rights, freedom of expression and not attacking Israel. In fact, numerous spokesmen (and I use the gendered term purposefully) have said or implied that they will abrogate the peace treaty with Israel and return to a state of war:
Rashad al-Bayoumi said the peace treaty with Israel will be abolished after a provisional government is formed by the movement and other Egypt’s opposition parties.
“After President Mubarak steps down and a provisional government is formed, there is a need to dissolve the peace treaty with Israel,” al-Bayoumi said.
Wickham seems to spend most of this essay clutching at the straws of a minority faction of reformers in the Brotherhood with no real influence in order to gloss over the Brotherhood’s less “savoury” policies and sit there with fingers crossed, hoping somehow that outside influence will change the way the Brotherhood operates. The reality is that while they have been muted by vicious government crackdowns, the Brotherhood is still the Brotherhood – their core ideology is Al-Banna’s literalist Islam which is extremely racist, sexist, violent and intolerant. If they gain power, they wouldn’t just be “less open to US and Western interests”, they would aggressively oppose any and all Western Interests and create a more violent and chaotic Middle-East, while supporting terror groups such as Hamas and helping the Brotherhoods in other countries overthrow the regimes there.
To illustrate my point, I’ll end with a poem that Egyptian Brotherhood luminary Sayed Qutb wrote about America after he spent a few years there:
Its shaky religious convictions. Its harmful social, economic and ethical condition. Its notions of the Trinity, sin and sacrifice, which do not convince the mind nor the conscience. Its capitalism, with its monopolies, its usury and its ugly sombreness. Its selfish individualism, which lacks solidarity except when forced by law. Its materialist, trifling and dry conception of life. Its beastly freedom, which they call ‘the mingling of the sexes.’ Its white slavery, which they refer to as ‘the emancipation of women.’ Its stupid, clumsy, aberrant and unrealistic marriage and divorce laws. Its harsh and evil racial segregation.