Many places in the world, March 8 was marked as International Women’s Day, with many different level of debate, acceptance, indifference or protest (whether for or against).
Speaking on women’s rights, it may seem over-dramatical to start by quoting from the events on April 17 in the court in Oslo, Norway where Anders Behring Breivik stands trial for the mass murders on Utøya July 22, 2011.
When I claim that the connection is there and is relevant, it is because Breivik as part of his reading of a 13-page long document to give background and framework to his actions, put forward the point that “it is best for society if women take a secondary position to men.” While that quote is not verbatim, as it’s based on live blogging via newspapers, in the manifesto that Breivik made before committing the atrocities, he did indeed call for a strongly increased influence to patriarchy. Among his claims are that abortion should only be allowed in case of rape or health risks for mother or child, access to contraceptives should be severely limited, and sexual education should be rolled back to Western Europe standards of the 1950/60s (1).
Sound familiar? Only because this is the agenda of all extremist and extreme orthodox religious movements. That their agendas seems to be one and the same was summarised eloquently by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Women in the World summit, March 2012 (2)
This extremist focus on controlling women ranges from “merely” having men passing or suggesting legislation to control women’s health care decisions or advocating that women does not need to have legal support for obtaining equal pay over a spectrum of increasingly stern controlling actions to actual physical punishment and killing of women.
The list is, sadly, endless – but here are just two of the darker spots in recent history:
- March 2012, 16-year old Amina Filali kills herself with rat poison after being pressured to marry the man who raped her – so that, by the marriage, he can avoid prosecution and eviction, Because so is the law in Tunesia and salafists, trying to gain influence after the revolts in 2011, try to keep it so.
- January 2012, Israeli orthodox Jews stone a woman after attacking her car – because they disapproved of the Western style clothing she was wearing. Increasingly, such groups try to force their views on morality and lifestyle on the Israely society, through a variety of means, including violence.
In the Western hemisphere, there has been a lot of discussion of the view of women in Islam – or, at least, in very patriarchal cultures in some Middle Eastern countries. But, sadly, we do not need go that far away. In the last year or two, Republican politicians in the US have proposed a long list of legislative measures on both state and federal levels that all seem to be aimed at limiting women’s freedoms in terms of deciding about their own bodies and their own healthcare.
Using religion – ironically, religious freedom is being used with one hand to take away personal freedoms with the other – or moral arguments, most often those of not accepting abortion, a long list of other women’s rights are being affected. In some cases, the laws suggested or passed goes as far as
- Allowing doctors to deliberately withhold information to women in order for the women not to choose abortion and further ensure that those doctors can not be sued for malpractice due to those actions (link). In some cases, doctors are even being told, by legislation, to inform women that having an abortion increases the risk of breast cancer (link), regardless of the fact that this is being refuted by the medical community.
- Removing funding for breast and cervical cancer screenings and other essential women’s health activities from organizations such as Planned Parenthood (PP) based on an argument that funding these activities may allow PP to use other funds, legally obtained, to perform abortions (link). In other words, they seem to say “we do not care if women get cancer as long as we make absolutely sure that they cannot get abortions.”
- Whether medically required or not, a number of Republican control states now requires that a woman has an ultrasound – in some cases, even transvaginal ultrasound – before being allowed to have an abortion. The doctor’s or the woman’s consent is specifically not considered relevant.
In the most extreme end, Republicans have even suggested that abortion should not be allowed even in case off rape or incest and in another case that abortion should be illegal to obtain an abortion after 20 weeks even if the woman is known to be carrying a stillborn fetus or the baby is otherwise not expected to live to term (link).
When the statistics on new legislation introduced by Republicans about – or, rather, against – women’s reproductive rights in 2011 reached 162 proposals across the United States, more than twice the highest number ever seen before, it seems quite logical to conclude that the US Republicans have indeed decided that women no longer need to be able to make their own, personal, free choices. Thus, it seems more important for these Republicans to impose their own religious and moral views on the women of the United States than it is to secure the same women’s rights to freedom of choice.
Grave as these matters may be, maybe especially as they arise in a country where the debate on abortion rights, access to contraception, and freedom of choice for many seemed to have been settled decades ago in favor of women’s freedom, let us just remember that while definitively a backlash, it is still not comparable to atrocities such as female genital mutilation (“all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” WHO), which is carried out by some communities who believe it reduces a woman’s libido. As many as 140 million women and girls around the world may have been mutilated in the name of social control.
So while some columnists or political commentators in Denmark concluded after this year’s March 8 that women had already won everything they could ask for and there was really no more reason for feminism – I would argue that it is high time indeed to really, really start considering a new, global manifesto on women’s rights. The tide of backlashes may still turn and die out – even if I am a man, I would certainly hope so – but whether it is to secure the rights women have obtained in many countries or work relentlessly to make sure that they get and keep those rights in the many places where they are just a far away dream, there should be a global movement to create such a manifesto and to cast it in concrete.
Of all places, one such manifesto has been proposed in Iran by a handful of women who, given the regime there, must be applauded for their courage. This manifesto is of course directed mainly against traditions and Islamistic practices in Iran – but this slightly generalized version of the manifesto’s point 2 could be a good starting point:
Abolition of all laws that discriminate against women; complete equality of women and men in all economic, political, cultural, social and family spheres.
It’s quite simple, actually. Women are as much human beings as men – and the other way around. From that, it obviously follows that women should have exactly as much to say as about their life, their choices, everything as men have about theirs. And women are perfectly capable of making their own choices and decisions and there is no reason in the world why anybody else should do it for them.
Updates: – just keeping on piling up the evidence that this is just needed:
Fundamentalist, black preacher, May 7 2012 (no, not 1812 or 1912):
“I think that one of the greatest mistakes America made was to allow women the opportunity to vote. We should’ve never turned this over to women,” Peterson complains. “And these women are voting in the wrong people. They’re voting in people who are evil who agrees [sic] with them who’re gonna take us down this pathway of destruction. And this probably was the reason they didn’t allow women to vote when men were men. Because men in the good old days understood the nature of the woman. They were not afraid to deal with it. And they understood that, you let them take over, this is what would happen.” Say what? (link). Thanks, Melissa(1) “2083 – A European Declaration of Independence”, Anders Behring Breivik. Not linked; findable by Googling. (2) Hillary Rodham Clinton at Women in the World Conference, New York, March 12, 2012 Links updated May 2014
Image courtesy of Peace Education Center on Flickr