THE DISENFRANCHISED WOMEN
compiled by Dee Finney
"Equal Justice Under Law"
|THE LAW - THE DREAM - 7-31-02
I was very upset that ' THE LAW' was different for men and women so I made preparations to get the law changed legally.
First I applied for a job, working for the judges office so I would know the law and that the judge would know 'me'.
Then I went home and prepared my case, making up examples to show the court what the differences were between men and women's law and they could see why they were unfair. These examples were made with knitted swatches in orange and yellow. The men's example was 3 times larger than the women's.
I took my examples to court and which I awaited my turn to present my case, I still had to show the unfair law.
Court was in session, but I had to watch the clock so that my case would be heard at the appropriate time, but I was conflicted because I still had to perform the duties I was going to complain about.
I knew this case was going to be difficult because the judge was a man and he liked the law the way it was.
|Only 25% of functionally illiterate women are in the paid labour force
compared with 60% of women as a whole;
Half of all female-headed families live below the poverty line. The rate of illiteracy in this group is much higher than the national average;
Jobs available to women with poor reading and writing skills are traditionally the lowest-paid jobs -- such as domestic work, sewing and machine operation;
The average woman of any educational status who works full time makes only 68% of what the average man makes. Women with less than grade 8 make an average only 69% of what men earn.
HAVE WE REALLY COME 2,000 OR MORE YEARS?
|Women in the Bible
Despite some dissenting voices, the dominant voice of Judaism disenfranchised women. Women had few rights: they could not be witnesses in a court of law they could not initiate divorce proceedings; they could not be taught the Torah. Both childbirth and menstruation was considered ritually impure.
In public life, moreover, women were as separated from men as they still are in parts of the Arab world.
Middle- and upper-class women did not go out of the house unescorted by a family member; adult women had to be veiled at all times when they were out in public.
Meals outside the family were male-only occasions; women were present, they were thought of as harlots or courtesans.
A woman's identity in the world derived totally from her husband or father.
Also, as in all patriarchal cultures, women were the victims of male projections.
In the Old Testament, it was Eve, not Adam, who was largely held responsible for the fall and the tragic suffering that consumed the human race because of it:
In patriarchal cultures, it is the woman's sexuality, not the man's, that is condemned. The entire situation is perverse, cruel, and unjust from the beginning
Why then are women made to bear the brunt of so much denial?
The sternness of the law made by a man to be implemented by men against women keeps men safe from self-knowledge;
|IT WAS DANGEROUS TO BE A WOMEN IN THE EARLY U.S.
Did the Massachusetts Puritans rely too heavily on works and not enough on grace?
Some early settlers thought so. Salvation was by grace for those who were filled with the Spirit, taught Anne Hutchinson and Mary Dyer agreed. To the Puritans this seemed antinomian, that is, opposed to law.
Mary Dyer was a "very proper and fair woman" according to Governor Winthrop. With her husband, William, she came to the New England colony in 1635 and joined a Boston church. At first all went well. But when Anne Hutchinson began to urge her views, Mary thought them right. William also adopted the ideas and was disenfranchised in 1637. When Anne was expelled from the assembly in 1638, Mary Dyer was the only person who would stand with her, accompanying her from the building.
Mary had brought to birth a stillborn child and the congregation cruelly suggested this was the hand of God punishing her. They rumored it to be a monster. The Dyers were expelled from the colony and helped found Plymouth, Rhode Island.
Mary Dyer traveled to England in 1650. The views of John Foxe, the Quaker, appealed to her and seemed the logical extension of what she already believed. She became a Quaker. On her return to Rhode Island she was arrested and jailed in Boston but released on her husband's entreaty. More and more she felt the need to spread the gospel as she saw it.
She made missionary trips into New Haven and Boston. In 1659 she visited Quaker friends already jailed in Boston and was warned by the authorities to get out and not return. Return she did, however, and was condemned to die in September 1659. She was given a reprieve while two Quakers who had traveled with her "to look the bloody law in the face," were executed.
Once more Mary Dyer put her life on the line. For the fourth time she defied the Massachusetts law. She was arrested and condemned to death, all pleas by family proving ineffectual. The authorities would not agree to let her go unless she swore never to return. This she would not do. "...in obedience to the will of the Lord I came, and in His will I abide faithful to the death."
On June 1, 1660, the authorities hanged her. To them she was simply a hard- headed heretic. Like so many of the early Quakers she was willing to pay the price for her faith.
Mary Dyer had longed for martyrdom. She left
behind seven children. Quakers eventually won civil
rights in America. Christianity, more than any other
single force, has extended the rights of man. Mary
Dyer, with her gospel of grace was an important
player in that battle.
|John Adams, who became second president of the United States,
wrote a revealing letter to a friend in 1776, the very year the Declaration
of Independence was proclaimed.
Adams explained to his friend why he thought voting qualifications should not be lowered in his home state of Massachusetts: "it is dangerous to open so fruitful a source of controversy and altercation as would be opened by attempting to alter the qualifications of voters; there will be no end of it. New claims will arise; women will demand a vote; lads from twelve to twenty-one will think their rights are not enough attended to; and every man who has not a farthing, will demand an equal voice with any other, in all acts of state. It tends to confound and destroy all distinctions, and prostrate all ranks to one common level. "
Concerning women, one must place in the context of the early nineteenth century, the words of Thomas Jefferson, principal author of the Declaration of Independence, later third president of the United States. Jefferson said in 1816: "Were our State a pure democracy . . . There would yet be excluded from deliberations . . . Women, who, to prevent depravation of morals and ambiguity of issues, should not mix promiscuously in the public meetings of men." Not until 1868, after the Civil War ended slavery, did the Constitution provide, as it has ever since, that no state "shall . . . Deny to any person . . . The equal protections of the laws." And women did not become a part of the U.S. political community until 1920 when, by constitutional amendment, they at last gained the right to vote.
The founding fathers rebelled against the patriarchal power of kings and the idea that political authority may legitimately rest of birth status. Their culture held them back from fully perceiving or acting upon ideals of human equality in rights, obligations, and opportunities, and of individual freedom to aspire and achieve. But they stated a commitment in the Declaration of Independence to equality and in the Declaration and Bill of Rights to individual liberty. Those commitments had growth potential. They received further expression in the nineteenth century, after the Civil War ended slavery, through the addition of the Equal Protection Clause to the Constitution, and again in the twentieth century, when women were made voting citizens.
A great American, Susan B. Anthony, made a prediction a century ago, bold for her time, but now, as the following chapters show, within hailing distance. She forecast a time when "[t]he woman . . . Will be the peer of man. In education, in art, in science, in literature; in the home, the church, the state; everywhere she will be acknowledged equal, though not identical with him."
The Tenth National Woman's Rights Convention
The Cooper Union, New York, N.Y.
May 10 and 11, 1860
"Can a woman be said to have a right to life, if all means of self-protection
Elizabeth Cady Stanton to the Tenth National Woman's Rights Convention
On the heels of a stunning legislative victory in New York, giving women
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Antoinette Brown Blackwell extended the
Royce Bernstein, Friend or Foe: Mormon Womens Suffrage as a Pawn in the Polygamy Debate, 1856-1896 (1999)
In 1830 Joseph Smith established Mormonism. Thirteen years later, he disclosed a revelation from God calling for polygamous marriage. For Mormons,marriage and procreation were central to salvation. Men were considered to be the spiritual centers of each household. Faithful women, believing that polygamy would free them from Eves sin and give them a chance to overcome their flaws, accepted their inferior place in this order. In accordance with the widespread nineteenth-century belief in womens pure nature, polygamy justified a limited sexual obligation for women and solved problems created by male sexual impulses. Polygamy also provided for poor women and allowed male missionaries to marry women they met in their travels. The high birth rates produced by the practice also supported an agrarian society and created a strong political base for Mormons to insist on a high level of integration between church and state. After Smith and his brother were killed in 1847, his successor, Brigham Young, led the Mormons to the territory of Utah away from persecution in the east.
For many Americans the politics of slavery and polygamy were linked. While Northerners wished to eliminate both, Southerners opposed measures to prohibit polygamy in the territories because they feared such measures would set a precedent to ban slavery. As a result, no anti-polygamy laws were passed before the Civil War. In 1862, the Morrill Act, the first federal law attacking polygamy, was passed. The act prohibited plural marriage in the territories, disincorporated the Mormon church, voided territorial laws that established or supported polygamy and restricted the holdings of religious organizations in the territories to $50,000.
Due to the Civil War, Utahs isolation, the difficulties of proving polygamy, and a three-year statute of limitations, the act was virtually impossible to enforce.
When the Morrill Act proved ineffective, people considered granting women suffrage in Utah to eliminate polygamy. Since Mormons approved of women suffrage, the Utah legislature enfranchised women in 1870. Contrary to the hopes of some legislators, women in Utah did not vote to outlaw plural marriage. The 1874 Poland Act gave federal courts more control over polygamy cases. This law and the Morrill Act were upheld in Reynolds v. U.S. The government bolstered its attack on Mormons with the 1882 Edmunds Act, the first law to link polygamy with the vote. The act made unlawful cohabitation a crime, disqualified polygamists and from jury service and disenfranchised them. The Utah Commission required voters to take an oath that they neither practiced nor supported polygamy. Such loyalty oaths were upheld in Murphy v. Ramsey and Davis v. Beason. The Beason court also ruled that disenfranchising polygamists and barring them from public service was a legitimate exercise of territorial legislative power.
Finally, the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887 declared wives to be competent witnesses against their husbands in polygamy and cohabitation trials, allowed the State to institute adultery prosecutions, required marriages to be certified and filed with the probate court, denied inheritance to illegitimate children, disenfranchised women in Utah and required loyalty oaths to vote. The act disenfranchised women but not men for polygamy, while denying political rights to all women, even those who did not practice polygamy. For the federal and territorial governments, woman suffrage was a pawn in the polygamy debate rather than a fundamental right.
In 1896, six years after the Mormon church banned polygamy, Utah obtained statehood. Its state constitution granted women suffrage.
The War, Civil Disobedience, and the Nineteenth Amendment
Alice Paul was the founder and driving spirit behind the Woman's Party. A Philadelphia Quaker and a veteran of the dramatic British suffragette campaign, Paul combined non-violence and militance in her leadership style. She led the Woman's Party's shift from an electoral strategy to one of civil disobedience. Years before, British suffragettes had gained international headlines when they where arrested and force fed for protesting parliamentary inaction. In January 1917, American activists began to picket the White House peacefully. Four months later, Congress voted to take the country into war. (The first woman elected to Congress, Jeanette Rankin of Montana, voted against the war resolution) At this point, peaceful picketing became treason.
Suffragists carried signs questioning whether the United States could could truly lead a crusade for democracy if its own women were disenfranchised for this they were assaulted by crowds and arrested by police. Ultimately almost three hundred women, representing a truly extraordinary range of individuals, from munitions workers to wives of Congressmen, were arrested for civil disobedience.
As the number of arrests and length of sentences increased, jailed suffragists fought back with hunger strikes and demands that they be treated as political prisoners. Prison officials responded with painful "forced feeding," using a tube running through the nose into the stomach. In November 1917, Alice Paul herself was arrested and placed in the prison's psychopathic ward. However, the arrests actually increased public pressure to solve the suffrage issue. By January 1918, the House of Representatives gave the women suffrage amendment the two thirds vote it needed to pass.
Only after the war ended did President Wilson come out in favor of woman suffrage. He hoped that women voters would give him support for his vision of a League of Nations. Even with Wilson's prodding however, the Senate was extremely slow to act on the amendment. Senate opposition to woman suffrage came especially from southern Democrats, who feared the enfranchisement of any more African Americans. Neither the radicals of the Woman's Party nor the more conventional suffragists of the National American Woman Suffrage Association challenged the racism of the southern Democrats. Instead, they argued that the enfranchisement of white women would guarantee white supremacy in the South. Even so, many African-American women were suffrage activists. After the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, large numbers attempted to use their new votes, only to run up against the same de facto disfranchisement used against black men.
The Senate finally acted eighteen months after the House in June 1919. The final obstacle in the difficult process of passing a constitutional amendment was ratification by thirty-six of the nation's forty-eight state legislatures. This took another fifteen months. California was the eighteenth state to ratify. When the Tennessee legislature ratified the amendment by one vote in August 1920, woman suffrage became the law of the land. It had been seventy-two years since the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848.
After the Nineteenth Amendment was finally ratified in 1920, Alice Paul began to pursue another constitutional amendment to ensure full equality for women before the law. This became known as the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Paul led the fight for this amendment from 1923 until her death in 1971. In 1972, the U.S. Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment, but it was never fully ratified.
VERMONT SECRETARY OF STATE
Deborah L. Markowitz
Women's History Month
I was pleased when I was asked to speak to you as part of women's history month. One of the wonderful aspects of my job is that I administer the state archives. The archives are like a government time machine. It allows you to travel through the two hundred-twenty plus years we, as Vermonters, have governed ourselves. Captured in records are the events, great and small, that have shaped our government and society. What better place to travel in pursuit of women's history?
So I asked the state archivist to fire up the time machine.
The first place we alighted was in 1921 to look at Act 218. Now, in the scheme of things, Act 218 isn't much. It amended the law "relating to aid to widowed or deserted mothers." Specifically, it provided child support for women whose husbands have become "incapacitated by an incurable disease." Child support meaning, in 1921, two dollars a week.
What makes Act 218 remarkable is it was the first bill sponsored by a woman. That woman was Edna Beard, who in 1920, became the first woman elected to the Vermont General Assembly.
I confess an ambivalence about "firsts." Is Rep. Beard simply notable for being first? I like to believe she would not be any happier with that thought than I would be if I simply became known as the first woman elected secretary of state. (Helen Burbank was appointed to secretary of state in 1947 to complete the term of Rawson Myrick.)
For me, it is not Edna Beard's election, but what she did once elected, that is significant. By introducing the bill that became Act 218 Edna Beard became more than a historical curiosity; became something greater than an entry on lists of Vermont firsts. She recognized the needs of families broken, not by desertion or death, but by catastrophic illness. In doing so she gave clear notice that a new perspective had been added to the deliberations of government; for the first time women now had a direct and undiluted voice in the Statehouse.
Is a direct voice important? Let's return to the time machine and visit the Vermont senate of 1900. The Vermont Woman's Suffrage Association petitioned the senate to pass a law releasing women "from all taxation...until representation was granted them." How did the all male senate respond to the petition? They sent it to the committee on the insane.
Is a direct voice important? Let's go to the 1884 state senate; again, the all male senate. The Vermont Woman's Suffrage Association, among others, had petitioned the General Assembly to raise the age of consent, as applied to statutory rape, from eleven to eighteen.
Senate opponents argued: "It is conceded on all hands that girls reach the age of physical and mental maturity earlier than boys. If every act of carnal knowledge, after that age is reached by the girl, makes the act a high crime on the part of the older but less mature boy, it shifts responsibility on to the shoulders that ought not bear it alone, and wrongs the weak boy who falls before the temptations thrown in his path by the more mature and often more wicked girl..." Keep in mind they are talking about 12 year old girls.
Indeed, the senators reminisced that "The members of your committee are able to recall instances where girls of fifteen have been happy wives and mothers, and who became and remained as useful [!], healthy and respected as those contracting marriages at a more advanced age." These senators managed to block the eighteen year old threshold. The final version of the bill raised the age of consent from eleven to sixteen
Is a direct voice important? I think so. Let me put it this way, would a 1999 senate debate over the age of consent be couched in the same terms as it was in 1884? If it was, can you imagine the responses from the ten women currently serving as senators?
Was the all male government completely incapable of articulating the perspectives of women? Of course not. Some of the most articulate statements on equal rights in Vermont history were made in 1869 by the all male Council of Censors.
Is there a monolithic "women's" perspective? Of course not. Some of the most vocal opponents to women's suffrage in Vermont were women. Were women politically passive prior to attaining the vote? Of course not. Among the most fascinating records in the Archives are petitions from Vermonters to the General Assembly. Most of these records are from the 1770's to 1840's, long before women's suffrage. Even though women were disenfranchised and did not enjoy the full benefits of citizenship, they were active petitioners of government. They petitioned for the rights of citizenship, against slavery, and for temperance. They petitioned as individuals and as groups. Their experience organizing petitions drives created the networks and skills that would eventually be applied to the suffrage movement.
Those organizational skills continued after women attained the franchise. Early women legislators formed OWLS--the Order of Women Legislators (whose records are in the Archives). Later women formed the Women's Legislative Caucus. Both groups helped move popular perception from the idea of women legislators to our more current understanding that there are legislators, some of whom are women. Our changing political dialogue is perhaps best captured in the renaming of the Governor's Commission on the Status of Women to the Governor's Commission on Women. (Again the Commission's records are at the Archives).
Women's history is, of course, more than a political history. My comments are shaped in part because of the accessibility of government records in the Archives. They are also shaped by another of my major responsibilities--that of being Vermont's chief elections officer.
The value of having as many citizens participate in our political dialogues as possible is amply demonstrated by the results of the suffrage movement. I am committed to keeping those opportunities to participate as open as possible. These opportunities, as heard by my office, range from the simple, but precious act of voting, to the right to participate in and review the actions of government. These opportunities should be available to all eligible Vermonters, regardless of gender.
I hope, within the limits of my authority to make the ballot and the government as accessible as possible. I want to help create an environment in which Vermonters not only can participate to the fullest of their abilities, but also one in which we want to participate. When people disparage these efforts; when they question why we should make an effort to involve those who feel disenfranchise, as well as those routinely participate, I can think of no better answer to give than the women's suffrage movement. Their efforts were disparaged as well. Yet I think all of us agree that society as a whole has gained through their success.
That is why during women's history month we should not simply celebrate the historic struggle for suffrage. We should also reflect on the importance of having a direct say in our government and how we can preserve and enhance that right. Thank you.
Remarks of U.S. Delegate Ellen Sauerbrey to the U.N. Commission on the
Status of Women Regarding Poverty Eradication
Nancy M. Pfotenhauer, President of IWF, is currently representing the United States as a delegate to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, along with Ellen Sauerbrey. Ms. Sauerbrey delivered the following remarks to the Commission.
One of the panelists quoted World Bank statistics that one sixth of the worlds population produce 78% of the worlds goods and services and get 78% of the worlds income. Additionally, one of the panelists said that poverty does not just happen. I think the reverse is also true. Prosperity does not just happen. It is not accident. It is not even related to the abundance or the lack of natural resources. Rather, it is built on foundations of government policy.
People thrive and prosperity flourishes when government policies ensure individual freedom and stable societies.
Women, like men, need the freedom that comes with equality in the eyes of the law and the confidence that their rights will be upheld and protected because their nation is governed by the rule of law.
Women and girls need access to education that enables them to make informed choices and gives them the confidence to demand political reforms.
Women, like men, need a society that is built on stable families, stable communities, and stable countries where the legal and cultural barriers to health, education, and full political and economic participation are lifted, and where people are free to choose their own occupations and sell their products, secure in their right to keep the fruits of their labor.
Women, like men, need personal safety, savings, investments, access to credit, and ownership of property protected by law.
The right policy foundation is key, or we will remain trapped in a situation where we minimize pain and suffering at the margin, while at the same time violence against women, corruption among those charged to protect, and clashes among people who are legally disenfranchised keep women trapped in poverty.
When government policies guarantee individual freedom, the rule of law, transparency in financial institutions, private propertyincluding the right to inheritand a strong commitment to human rights and the provision of basic needs, such as education and health, then we can work together to eradicate poverty in every region of the world.
Globalization is here to stay.
Trade and technology are helping people see they do not have to live in a state of ignorance and oppression.
Our challenge is to ensure that countries adopt policies that allow them to fully benefit from the opportunities inherent in globalization.
The United States pledges to continue to provide assistance to governments that are committed to the eradication of poverty, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, observance of core labor standards, property rights, democratic governments, and the rule of law.
All roads lead to the franchise
by Haya al-Mughni. . Haya al-Mughni is a Kuwaiti sociologist and author of Women in Kuwait: The Politics of Gender (London: Saqi Books, 2001).
Since the end of the Gulf War, Kuwaiti women have stepped up their campaign for the right to vote. Even the most ardent Islamist activists espouse the cause, touting a different vision of womens role in Muslim society Fifty years ago, few Kuwaiti women received more than a basic religious education. Those from wealthy households were confined to their courtyards, in a section of the house without windows so their voices could not be heard from the outside. Women from more modest households fared slightly better: some worked as midwives, marriage brokers, dressmakers and Koranic teachers who used their homes as schools, while others were peddlers or market traders. In public, however, all women had to cover themselves in long black cloaks (the abbayat) and veil their faces with thick black cloths, the boshiat.
Change was prompted by Kuwaits transformation from a small seafaring community relying on maritime trade to a major oil producer after 1945. Such rapid economic expansion created a demand for an educated workforce and the state made education available to all Kuwaiti citizens. The educated woman became a symbol of modernity, an icon of the modern state. The new generation removed the traditional black veil, enrolled in higher education and competed with men in the labour market. By the 1990s, Kuwaiti women made up 35 percent of the workforce, with a vast majority employed as teachers, doctors, engineers and lawyers. Despite these strides, Kuwaiti women continue to be legally defined as family members, whose rights and responsibilities are circumscribed by their roles as mothers, wives and daughters. Although the constitution does not discriminate between women and men with respect to their citizenship rights, a number of laws passed since its adoption are discriminatory. The 1962 Election Law, for example, restricts the right to vote and run for office to Kuwaiti men.
After the Gulf War, the Kuwaiti womens movement brought the voting issue to the forefront, providing the ground for an alliance between Islamist and liberal women activists. Suffragists invoked the heroic roles of women under Iraqi occupation, the sacrifices of female martyrs and wartime hardships as justifications for gaining political rights. Women inside Kuwait had participated in armed resistance and risked their lives smuggling food, money and medicine through military checkpoints. Many were caught, tortured, and killed. But whatever the sacrifices made and stereotypes challenged, the all-male parliament remained reluctant to extend to women full citizenship rights, theoretically guaranteed by the constitution. In November 1999, an Islamist-tribalist coalition succeeded in defeating a decree issued by Kuwaits ruler, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah, which would have granted women the right to run for office and vote in parliamentary and municipal elections.
Opponents appeal to narrow interpretations of religious law to justify the denial of citizenship rights to women. But the real impetus for their actions is a deep anxiety over a sluggish economy and changing gender roles. Climbing unemployment among Kuwaiti youth has raised questions about male identity as a breadwinner.
Masculinity appears to be in crisis. Women are not only beginning to dominate some sectors in the labour market, they are also moving into positions of power in government and industry. The president of Kuwait University, the under-secretary in the ministry of higher education, and the managing director of the oil industry are all women. Female suffrage would not only undermine male supremacy, but also strengthen womens power in the public sphere. Hence, throughout the 1990s, Islamists and their Bedouin supporters used different rationales to confine women to their traditional identities. They blamed rising divorce rates, child delinquency and declining family values on womens departure from their traditional roles. This Islamist-tribalist coalition even managed to force parliament to pass a law allowing working mothers early retirement in an attempt to make more public-sector jobs available to Kuwaiti men. Nevertheless, Kuwaiti women are not willing to give up their gains, nor to end their movement for political rights. Following the defeat of the decree, female activists filed six court cases against the ministry of interior for not allowing them to register to vote, a move intended to force a ruling on the constitutionality of the Election Law.
Education has changed womens perceptions of themselves and their role in society. Even the most ardent Islamist women activists advocate the extension of the franchise to women and their participation in the public domain. Unlike liberal women activists who forged alliances with mens democratic groups, Islamist women have opted to work from within religious movements. For almost two decades, they have played the role of day`at (preachers), converting young women to Islam and extolling the virtues of a moral society. They succeeded in changing Kuwaiti women and popularizing the wearing of the Islamic veil.
Involvement in Islamist movements has actually given women new forms of power and prominence. The idealization of the role of mothers as educators has increased their authority in the home. At the same time, by elevating the importance of female modesty, Islamist women have acquired a dignified and respected position in the public arena.
Empowered Islamist women activists share with their male counterparts the same dream of achieving an Islamic society ruled by religious idioms and norms. However, their ideal society appears to differ from the masculinist, hierarchical, ethical order in which women are disenfranchised and confined to roles dictated by their biological constitution. Islamist women activists are today embracing a more autonomous vision of an Islamic society and gender roles. Working from within the religious movements has given them the chance to engage in a dialogue over womens rights issues and create a new model of Muslim womanhood.
Womens gender activism in Kuwait is as diverse as it is complex, and highlights the ambiguity of their social status in a rapidly modernizing country. Most importantly, it reflects the variety of womens choices and aspirations in their struggle for gender equity.
The Hidden World of Muslim Women
by Geraldine Brooks
February 26, 1996
Why are modern, educated Muslim women turning to fundamentalist Islam? Geraldine Brooks, a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal and now a freelance writer, explored this question at a recent event in the Morris Sidewater Lecture Series.
Perceptions of Muslim women. Arriving in Egypt in 1987 for her first assignment in the Middle East, Ms Brooks believed women to have a secondary and subservient role in Middle Eastern society. She especially pitied the women under the black shroud, "the uniform of orthodox Islam." But, learning more about the women in the "uniform," she realized that a surprising number of them are professionals, including doctors, lawyers, engineers, and diplomats.
Why would a woman wear the Islamic dress, signifying acceptance of a legal code that "values her testimony at half the worth of a man's, an inheritance system that allotted her half the legacy of her brother, a future domestic life in which her husband could beat her if she disobeyed him, make her share his attentions with three more wives, divorce her at whim, and get absolute custody of her children"?
Explanations. Ms Brooks found three explanations for women's adopting fundamentalist Islam.
(1) Pragmatics: The Middle East is a society where women at work are not readily accepted as peers. Veiling permits a woman to be more accepted in the workplace because, as a colleague of Ms Brooks explained, "men have to deal with my mind and not my body." In addition, an Islamic women's sisterhood exists, a sort of "old-chador network" that furthers the careers of fundamentalist women.
(2) Politics: Past experimentation with socialism and capitalism in the Middle East had failed. Socialism under Gamal Abdel Nasser and the free market under Anwar as-Sadat each created a large and disenfranchised lower class. Many now sought to achieve order and prosperity by abandoning these imported ideologies and adopting one with indigenous roots--namely, Islam.
(3) Women's rights: In its early days, Islam's messages about women were uniformly positive. But as Islam moved out of Arabia and came in contact with other cultures, it adopted the anti-female customs of those societies (such as seclusion and genital mutilation). Strict adherence to Muslim law provides women with a "high ground" from which they can argue their case for reclaiming the rights and safeguards of women provided under the original teachings of Muhammad.
Conflicts within Islam. The task before educated Muslim women remains daunting, for Islamic laws concerning their role and rights are ambiguous. Examining the Qur'an, Ms Brooks notes that statements concerning women are enigmatic. One verse reads, "respect women who had borne you," while another passage asserts that "the good wives are the obedient, as for those from whom you fear disobedient--admonish them--send them to their depart and scourge them." Laws based on these textual interpretations are also contradictory. Women are forbidden to divorce under Islamic law; however, a woman can procure the right to dissolve her marriage if she stipulates this prerogative in a prenuptial agreement.
To Western women, "it is easy to see these grim figures in their heavy shrouds as symbols of what's wrong rather than what's right with women and Islam." But, as an integral part of Muslim culture, these women are in a position to challenge old precepts and encourage reform. The voice of change for women in an Islamic society, therefore, may lie under the dark veil previously thought to silence their aspirations.
This summary was prepared by Erika Triscari, an intern at the Middle East Forum.
|Below is a sampling of the types of egregious discrimination charges
which EEOC received in 1999 or is currently litigating:
Black employees were intimidated and harassed on a daily basis, subjected to the use of racial epithets by co-workers and managers, and threatened with hangman's nooses on the job. Twenty lawsuits alleging this same scenario have been either filed or resolved recently by the Commission.
Twenty-two women all recent immigrants from Central America who spoke limited English were employed at a food processing plant. The women were subjected to unwelcome groping and requests for sexual favors by male managers and co-workers for several years. One woman was locked in a freezer by her supervisor after she turned down his request for sexual favors. Two women who were pregnant at the time were demoted and eventually fired when they refused to comply with the sexual advances. Other women were given menial or difficult work assignments in retaliation for rejecting requests for sexual favors by plant managers.
Applicants were denied employment opportunities by a temporary staffing agency in Detroit, which routinely acceded to employers' requests not to refer "Detroit residents" a code the agency used to identify black applicants, individuals with accents, and females. EEOC recently won a preliminary injunction to block this unlawful screening policy.
A class of approximately 20 applicants and employees were denied employment opportunities by the owner and publisher of a secular daily newspaper company who used the newspaper as a means of promoting his religious beliefs. To this end, the charged employer prayed with employees during work hours, questioned individuals about their religious beliefs, disciplined and discharged employees because of religious differences, and otherwise imposed his religious views on applicants and employees.
Since its inception in 1917, the Canadian income tax system has evolved into much more than a revenue-raising instrument. Over the years, it has become a most powerful social and economic tool, one that is increasingly implicated in the delivery of social programs. Just as the role of the tax system has shifted, so have some of the social and economic realities of women's lives. For example, more women than ever are working in the paid labour force, more women are living alone and fewer women are in relationships with men. Yet some things remain the same. Women's work in the home remains undervalued and is not considered productive work, women remain the primary caregivers for children, and a disproportionate number of single women live below the poverty line. To date, the issue of the impact on women of using the tax system to deliver social programs has not been analyzed in any detail. There is virtually no research in Canada that evaluates the effectiveness and fairness of using the tax system to subsidize social programs. The government publishes tax expenditure accounts that quantify the cost of each tax measure that is considered to be a spending measure rather than part of the normative tax system. A normative tax system comprises those rules that are viewed as part of the basic revenue-raising components of the tax system, such as the tax rate and tax unit. Other measures that depart from that normative base, such as tax deductions, credits and exemptions, are in fact spending measures. However, one major problem is that the tax expenditure accounts do not include any gender breakdown.
WHAT'S IN THE COURTS TODAY
ALASKA'S WOMEN'S NETWORK
PROSTITUTION RESEARCH AND EDUCATION
EMPOWER WOMEN TO REDUCE HUNGER, UNFPA SAYS AT FOOD SUMMIT
IN ALL FAIRNESS TO DISENFRANCHISED MEN
OTHER POLITICAL DREAMS AND INFORMATION ON THIS SITE
DREAMS OF THE GREAT EARTHCHANGES