WOMEN’S RIGHTS UN­DER AT­TACK

Fem­i­nists wor­ried about key is­sues such as abor­tion rights, pay eq­uity and vi­o­lence

New Straits Times - - World -

NO self-con­grat­u­la­tions, but calls to ac­tion will mark many cel­e­bra­tions of the 40th In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day to­mor­row, as the fight for equal­ity faces new threats.

Mur­ders of women in Latin Amer­ica, anti-abor­tion move­ments in Europe and machismo talk from men in power are among the grow­ing con­cerns that have brought mil­lions of women into the streets of world cap­i­tals these past few months to de­fend their rights.

“March 8 is not only to com­mem­o­rate suf­fragettes and cel­e­brate suc­cesses from the past, but more to re­flect on the present sit­u­a­tion,” said Bar­bara Nowacka, a Pol­ish politi­cian and rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the com­mit­tee “Save Women”.

“There is a lot to do con­cern­ing women’s role in the labour mar­ket, so­ci­ety and pol­i­tics,” she said ahead of the global day high­light­ing women’s rights started by the United Na­tions in 1977.

Some re­cent de­vel­op­ments have fem­i­nists wor­ried about key is­sues such as abor­tion rights, pay eq­uity and gen­der-based vi­o­lence.

In Nowacka’s own coun­try, the rul­ing con­ser­va­tive party is try­ing to cur­tail laws on abor­tion rights, al­ready among the most restric­tive in Europe — one of sev­eral signs of ris­ing anti-abor­tion move­ments across the con­ti­nent.

These groups “are unit­ing, very present on so­cial me­dia and have po­lit­i­cal weight”, said Chris­tine Mauget, in charge of in­ter­na­tional mat­ters at France’s Fam­ily Plan­ning agency.

“This year, there is still a ma­jor prob­lem of machismo. It is dif­fi­cult to move things for­ward, but we try to pre­vent them from go­ing back­ward.”

The wor­ries about women’s rights in the face of sex­ist male at­ti­tudes were on dis­play in the huge women’s marches fol­low­ing the in­au­gu­ra­tion of United States Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in late Jan­uary.

Two mil­lion women took to the streets in ci­ties around the globe, es­pe­cially in Wash­ing­ton, where pro­test­ers in pink “pussy hats” voiced their op­po­si­tion to Trump’s poli­cies and his some­times sex­ist and vul­gar com­ments about women seen on video­tape dur­ing the cam­paign.

Two days af­ter those marches, Trump acted on his anti-abor­tion stance when, sur­rounded by male ad­vis­ers, he signed a de­cree ban­ning the fi­nanc­ing of in­ter­na­tional char­i­ties that sup­port abor­tions.

“The prob­lem isn’t abor­tion but un­wanted preg­nan­cies,” said Mauget, call­ing for more ex­ten­sive sex ed­u­ca­tion to help pre­vent such cir­cum­stances.

When it comes to women’s pock­et­books, the strug­gle for equal pay still has a long way to go.

World­wide, women earned on av­er­age 23 per cent less than men. At that pace, it would take 70 years to close the gap, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­gan­i­sa­tion.

The statis­tics are also dire re­gard­ing vi­o­lence against women.

Ac­cord­ing to the UN, about 35 per cent of women around the world have been vic­tims of phys­i­cal or sex­ual vi­o­lence. Some 200 mil­lion women and girls have been sub­jected to a form of gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion and 700 mil­lion have been mar­ried be­fore the age of 18.

All over Latin Amer­ica, in Oc­to­ber, the move­ment #NiU­naMenos (Not one less) rose up against “femi­cide” and abuse of women af­ter the bru­tal mur­der in Ar­gentina of a teenage girl, who was drugged and gang raped.

Ari­adna Estevez, a univer­sity re­searcher in Mex­ico, de­scribed the mass women’s move­ment as “a wake-up call” in the re­gion.

For ac­tivists such as Nowacka, the mes­sage for women stand­ing up for their rights is: “We feel anger, but we know we are not pow­er­less.”

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