by Jennie S. Bev
An Athenian tragedian Euripides (480 BC-406 BC) said, “Equality will never be found among humans.” Some 2,500 years later, women are still struggling for their equal position in society.
Speaking from experience, living in the United States as a minority woman is one of my greatest blessings. On an episode of her talk show, Oprah Winfrey said, “The United States is the best country to live in for women.” While I agree with her to some extent, it might have been an overstatement because, apparently, the United Nations Development Program does not concur with her. The United States was ranked just 12th in 2007-08, behind countries like Iceland, Norway, Australia, Ireland, Switzerland, Japan, Netherlands, France and Finland in a survey of women’s rights.
Indonesia only ranked 107th, in between Palestine and Syria. While such rankings are based on multiple indicators, the list provides a glimpse of each country’s quality of life and how women are treated generally.
Human Rights Watch claims that even in a developed country like the United States, domestic violence and other sex-related abuse has increased by 42 percent and 25 percent, respectively. According to a national crime victimization survey, 248,300 individuals were raped or sexually assaulted in 2007, up from 190,600 in 2005. It is also common knowledge that one in four women in the United States has been sexually assaulted at some point in her life. In Russia, more than 12,000 to 14,000 women are killed every year by their husbands, thanks to a belief that if a man beats his wife, it means he loves her.
Prior to being born, many female fetuses receive inhumane treatment, especially in countries where males are perceived as the favorable sex. According to a UNICEF study in December 2006, approximately 7,000 fewer girls are born in India every day due to sex-selective abortions. Similar occurrences also occur in China and South Korea. According to World Bank demographer Monica Das Gupta, “The grown woman can be useful as she can work in the fields and be a good mother, but the fact that she’s educated and employed doesn’t change her value to her parents, who won’t benefit from all that.” On top of that, there is a proverb, “Eighteen goddess-like daughters are not equal to one son with a hump.”
As if this wasn’t humiliating enough, the International Organization for Migration estimates that 120,000 females are trafficked into Western Europe each year. “Taken,” a recent Hollywood movie about a father attempting to track down Albanian sex traffickers who have kidnapped his 17-year old daughter in Paris, is a good illustration of how girls and women are sold as prostitutes and sex slaves. According to the United Nations, such human trade is worth approximately $7 billion annually, with 900,000 people trafficked across international borders every year. And this is a topic that is very close to home. In fact, it might hit right at our own homes.
Most people think that it is the job of feminists and human rights activists to work toward achieving equality between genders. But we all need to put an end to the misconception that girls and women are “supposed” to play certain roles based on society’s expectations, most of which are influenced by male dominance.
The primary argument on why patriarchy needs to be counterbalanced with the right dose of feminism is not because it is archaic. Instead, it is time to realize that being gender conscious in choices of words and behavior is the beginning to systemic change. Mary Joe Frug, a forerunner of postmodern feminism, said that language can be used to shape and restrict reality, or it can be used to resist it.
Today, the so-called “fourth wave of feminism” refers to spirituality and a social justice movement that liberates women physically, psychologically and spiritually in a joyous manner, not with anger. In the “first wave,” women’s suffrage was fought for. The “second wave,” led by Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, saw the fight for economic and legal rights and the “third wave” advocated women’s rights with a tinge of individualism.
We have come a long way, yet we haven’t come far enough to depose Euripides’s adage that equality cannot be found among human beings. We must keep marching until women no longer fall casualty to our own society.
The Jakarta Globe, March 11, 2009