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Every day is Women’s Day

March 10, 2016

I’m not good in keeping evidence of birthdays, anniversaries, and special events. I don’t use a calendar, I have all dates in my head. Accidentally I know that MLK day is on January 15.

I missed International Women’s Day. I could have made a link between this special day and the heinous murder of Berta Caceres, as so many other authors (and much better ones than I) did. But it doesn’t matter, and there will be another chance to condemn both the slaying of brave women activists and the oppression and exploitation of women.

There will be another chance because, sad as it is, heinous murders of women will happen again and gender inequality, discrimination, exploitation will persist despite grandiose speeches, token efforts, ambitious programs, and glossy brochures of governments and international institutions.

Women’s rights are an indispensable requisite of state and corporate public relation campaigns.

International Women’s Day was originally called International Working Women’s Day and it was first celebrated on February 28, 1909, in New York, organized by the Socialist Party of America in remembrance of a strike by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.

In Europe, the first International Women’s Day was organized by the German socialist Clara Zetkin together with 100 delegates from 17 countries in March 1911. This day was observed by more than one million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland, with hundreds of demonstrations across the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

On March 8, 1913, the first celebration of the “Day of International Solidarity among the Female Proletariat,” led by Alexandra Kollontai, was held in Russia.

womens day 20154

International Women’s Day 2016 was not organized by labor organizations, it was sponsored and organized by the accounting firm EV and some of its corporate partners.

EV is London based Ernst & Young, one of the worlds big four auditors with 212,000 employees and over 700 offices in 150 countries. EV has helped Walt Disney Company, Koch Industries, Skype, and other multinationals avoid taxes (as it came out in the Luxembourg Leaks), it was involved in huge accounting scandals (Informix Corporation 1996, Sybase 1997, Cendant 1998, One.Tel 2001, AOL 2002, HealthSouth Corporation 2003, Chiquita Brands International 2004, Lehman Brothers 2010, Sino-Forest Corporation 2011, Olympus Corporation 2011).

I’m glad that I missed the chance to improve EV’s image.

Taking stock

The Milennium Development Goals, declared by the UN in 2000, are unfulfilled.

One in three women worldwide (35 percent) experience sexual or physical violence, mostly from an intimate partner. In some countries this figure is 70 percent. An estimated 120 million (10 percent) of girls and women under the age of 20 have been subjected to forced sexual intercourse or other forced sexual acts. Convictions for rape remain very low.

More than 700 million women around the world today were married as children (younger than 18 years old). Of those women, 250 million were married before the age of 15.

On average, women worldwide get paid 17 percent less than men. The pay gap affects women from all backgrounds, at all ages, and of all levels of educational achievement. It grows with age (after 35) and it is even worse for women of color. One in 10 married women are not consulted by their husbands on how their own cash earnings will be spent.

Only 55 of the 500 richest people in the world and just 21.2 percent of board members of the largest publicly listed companies registered in the EU are women.

(If women don’t succeed in the trench warfare of todays workplaces, if they are not competitive enough to elbow their way up the career ladder and break the “glass ceiling,” it is not because something is wrong with them, it is because something is wrong with their workplace.)

Birth rate map

Women are affected disproportionally by climate change and the socioeconomic and environmental disasters it brings. In rural areas, women may spend hours each day collecting firewood and carrying water from far away wells. Worldwide, pollution in homes caused by the smoke from burning firewood kills about two million women and children a year.

Women in African and Arab countries have a high fertility rate, low literacy, and low life expectancy. These are patriarchal societies where the women are regarded as property of the men. Female genital mutilation is prevalent in Africa and the Middle East.

female genital mutilation

Women in Islamic societies

Every time I write about women in muslim countries and start to do some basic research to gather material, I have to ask myself: “is this for real, is it really that bad, is it maybe my personal bias and my distorted view of Islamic societies which make things look that bleak and hopeless?”

I leave it to the judgement of the reader and just present what I found.

The rape and sexual slavery of captive women is a still ongoing nightmare for the thousands of Yazidi women captured by IS (Islamic State). When in August 2014 IS attacked Sinjar, home to over 400,000 Yazidis, 5,000 men were executed and as many as 7,000 women and girls taken as sex slaves. This is well documented by UN organizations.

IS members have established an office in Gaziantep, Turkey, where kidnapped women and children are sold for high amounts of money. The German TV channel ARD aired footage documenting the slave trade being conducted by IS in Gaziantep.

In response to these reports, the Gaziantep Bar Association filed a criminal complaint against the MIT (Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization), but the authorities until now have taken no action.

Elsewhere in Turkey, this year all parades for Women’s Day in the southeastern province of Sanliurfa were banned. Ankara, Istanbul, and some other big towns announced similar bans. The official reason was, that the security of women demonstrators could not be assured.

When women gathered and marched, defying the ban, the security forces tried to disperse them and harassed them with slurs and sexually laden threats.

Turkey ranks 130th out of 145 countries in the Global Gender Gap Report 2015.

Female labor participation is only 33.6 percent and the literacy rate among women remains a fifth of that among men. In 2014, 9.2 percent of women could not read or write, versus 1.8 percent of men.

A study of Kadir Has University showed that 64.8 percent of the surveyed women were unemployed and of these 70.2 percent had never held a job. 72.2 percent didn’t work because they were not allowed by father / husband / family (47.9 percent), had low education (41.5 percent), or couldn’t find a safe working environment (27.9 percent).

The same study showed that the most pressing issues for women are male violence (77.8 percent), inequality (41.8 percent), lack of education (34.8 percent), peer pressure (30.7 percent), and family pressure (26.5 percent).

In 2014, no less than 297 women were killed, 60 percent of them perished at the hands of husbands and boyfriends. The perpetrators don’t have to fear a harsh sentence, if they behave properly, they can receive amnesty in a year or two.

The public outcry about rising violence against women in Turkey boiled over in February last year after the charred and mutilated body of Ozgecan Aslan was found outside the southern city of Tarsus. Aslan, 17, was the only passenger on a privately operated minibus, whose driver attempted to rape her and, when she resisted, stabbed and battered her to death before cutting her hands and burning her body with the help of accomplices.

Islam women protesters

In Egypt, sexual harassment of women is part of daily life. A survey by the UN in 2013 found that 99 percent of Egyptian women are victims, 83 percent said they feel insecure when they have to go out of their home.

Women are verbally and physically abused on the street, in public transport vehicles, in parks, shops, libraries, and all other public places. Police officers usually refuse to accept complains and tell the women to go home and make no further troubles. The officers deter victims from pressing charges because they often are perpetrators themselves.

Pink taxis with women drivers have been introduced, carrying female customers to their destinations safe from sexual harassment or attacks. There is also a subway service with women-only cars during rush hour.

In June 2012 Natasha Smith, a British journalist, was brutally sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square as thousands of Egyptians gathered to celebrate the nation’s presidential election results. She found herself being dragged aside, groped all over with increasing force and aggression, and then stripped naked.

A friend eventually reached her and managed to guide her to a medical tent. Local women helped protect her as she put on a burka and clothes. When the male crowd attempted to attack the tent, those inside began making a barricade out of chairs. Natasha Smith finally could escape by posing as the wife of one medic and walking out hand-in-hand with him.

Smith was not the first Western woman to be assaulted while working in Egypt. CBS News correspondent Lara Logan was attacked in February 2011 at a demonstrations in Tahrir Square (discussed in the blog post GANG-RAPED). She finally disclosed that men in the crowd had raped her with their hands.

In Iran, unlike in Saudi Arabia, women are allowed to drive and to move with relative freedom. There are no restrictions on female primary or secondary education and more than 60 percent of all university students are female, but women are forced to navigate a web of restrictions, imposed by law and custom. Wearing a headscarf and a long overcoat are legal requirements, punishable by fines or imprisonment for repeat offenders.

Women are generally accepted in the workplace, although, under Article 1117 of the Civil Code, an Iranian man can ban his wife from working if he believes this would be “incompatible with the interests of the family or with his or his wife’s dignity”.

Women are allowed to run for parliament and the 290-seat House currently has nine female members (3 percent). President Hassan Rouhani has made an important gesture by appointing a handful of female ministers: the most senior, Masoumeh Ebtekar, serves as one of Iran’s 12 vice-presidents.

And yet, Nader Ghazipour, newly elected member of the Iranian parliament, publicly stated that the legislature was not a place for “children, donkeys, or women. … It is a place for men.”

Women in politics

As of August 2015, not more than 22 percent of all national legislators and members of parliament were female and only 19 heads of state out of a possible 196 were women. Only 17 percent of government ministers were women, with the majority overseeing social sectors, such as education and the family.

The USA, presumed leader of the free world (whatever that means), ranks 98th globally for representation of women in the national legislature, down from 59th in 1998, behind Kenya and Indonesia and barely ahead of the United Arab Emirates. There are just 104 Congresswomen (19.4 percent), 84 Representatives and 20 Senators.

Only five governors are women, including only one Democrat, twenty-four states have never had a female governor. The percentage of women holding statewide and state legislative offices is less than 25 percent, which is not much higher than in 1993. Locally, only twelve of the 100 largest cities have female mayors.

The Latin American countries Bolivia, Cuba, Mexico, Ecuador, Nicaragua, the African countries Rwanda, South Africa, Namibia, Senegal, and the European countries Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Belgium are leading the ranking list.

Political and social activism is life threatening in some places, as the killing of Berta Caceres just demonstrated.

In January Gisela Mota, mayor of Temixco, a city south of Mexico’s capital, was shot dead the day after taking office. Maria Santos Gorrostieta Salaza, another Mexican politician and mayor, was kidnapped and murdered in 2012.

Gisela Mota murdered

In Bolivia, Councilwoman Juana Quispe was pressured to resign after helping female colleagues file complaints of harassment. When she refused, other council members blocked her from attending sessions and suspended her from office. She was reinstated after a legal battle, but one month later her body was found dumped near a river in La Paz. She had been strangled. Another local councilwoman, Daguimar Rivera, was working to expose corruption when she began receiving anonymous threats. Shortly thereafter, she was found dead — shot three times in the face.

In June 2014, right after she cast her vote for the new Council of Representatives, Salwa Bugaighis, Libya’s most prominent female lawyer, was murdered at her home in Benghazi. In February 2015, Intissar al-Hasaari, another well-known Libyan political activist, was killed at a busy road west of Tripoli’s city center.

January this year in Silopi, a besieged town in Turkeys Sirnak province, three female Kurdish politicians have been shot and killed by Turkish soldiers. They were unarmed and just trying to cross to another district.The women are DBP Parliament Member Seve Demir, Free Woman Congress member Fatma Uyar, and Silopi People’s Assembly Co-Chair Pakize Nayır.

After they were hit the women phoned for help and told that they were loosing blood and an ambulance should come urgently to save them, but no ambulance was allowed into the area by the military.

Nayir Uyar Demir

Women have undeniably a different attitude to life, as they give birth and nurture their children for at least some month. Becauses they give birth under pain, they know that life is precious and should not be wasted or endangered. They understand that life should be lived meaningful, that the good times should be cherished and the bad times endured with dignity.

Mothers will try to raise their children with love, give them joy and happiness, make them laugh or at least smile, avoid or at least ease pain. They will do this even in a war zone, they will do this even if they are indoctrinated by hateful religions or driven by racist resentments and burning desire of revenge.

Most mothers will forgive their children, they will not forsake them, they will accept their limitations and handicaps, trying to make the best out of it.

Imagine, that this sentiment, this mood, this disposition of the mothers toward their children would be the basis of all human relations — it would result in a society of compassion, kindness, respect, cooperation, sharing, and caring.

Why don’t we learn from the mothers, why don’t we apply their attitude as the guiding principles of society? This is not impossible, in human history there were always stable and peaceful societies, there were matriarchal societies, there were societies who were harmoniously integrated into nature and who could have been sustained indefinitely.

The peaceful and harmonic matriarchal societies existed, but the warrior societies, the hordes of barbarian tribes (Huns, Genghis Khan/Kublai Khan), the conquistadors of Spain and Portugal, rampaging armies, and military expeditions of colonial powers overrun them and destroyed them.

Will it always be that way? Or will the minority of men (a sizable minority hopefully), who are able to control their testosterone fueled aggressions and jump over their shadows, one day collude with the women of the world to establish this ideal society of compassion, kindness, respect, cooperation, sharing, and caring?

Needless to say, that women don’t need a special “Women’s Day” or any kind of affirmative action. Women just need respect, a fair chance, and the acknowledgment of their special contribution to society as mothers, educators, counselors, social workers, artists. Women can do things that no man can do, and they do many things better than most men.

Despite Golda Meir, Margaret Tatcher, Madeleine Albright, Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton, I’m still convinced that the world would be a much better place if women would rule it.

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Appendix

In a far away place in the province of Yunnan in China, about 450 km from the world famous city of Li Jiang is a mountain lake called Lugu Lake. It is not a big lake, just about 130 square kilometers in size and 2690 meter above sea level. The water in this lake is very clear and the visibility to the bottom is a few meters, since there is no pollution.

The people that live around the lake are called Mosuo people. This is the only ethnic group in China and perhaps in the world that is still organized in a matriarchal system. The head of the family is the mother or grandmother. All other members in the family are either her siblings, her own children, nieces or nephews. She is the only one that controls the family’s financial situation. Men and women here do not get married. They have only lovers or “Achia’s” which means “the dear one”. When the boy or the girl find their “dear one,” they will signal each other. The boy will visit the girl at her house and spend the night there, then go back to his home in the morning and continue living there. In the evening, when the boy is on the way to his “Achia’s” house and people ask him where he is going, the answer usually is “I go for a walk” therefore the Chinese call these relationships “Walking Marriages”.

The children born out of this relationship are the girl’s responsibility and the children get their mother’s last name. The children know who their father is but there is no close relationship between a child and its father; the children are closer to their uncles. The boy’s responsibility is to take care of his sister’s children. When the relationship ends, the boy will not be welcomed at the girl’s house any more. There is no divorce and there are no legal or financial matters to discuss. Both sides have the right to seek a new “Achia”.

In the house, the main room belongs to the mother and all the family functions are held there. When the girl comes of age, she will be given a room called “The Flower Room” where she can meet her “Achia”. There is no room for the men in the house as they are expected to spend the night at their dear one’s house. If they have to spend the night at their own home they will sleep with the children or another place that is just available.

One comment

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