Three Women’s Rights Battles to Watch in 2011

While reading HuffPo, I stumbled across William F. Schulz’s great post ““ “Human Rights 2011: These Tests Will Tell.” Reading his list–which ranges from the individual struggles of activists like Aung Saan Suu Kyi to the broader implications of the International Criminal Court’s rulings–got me thinking about issues that specifically affect women and are gaining activist support right now. Below are three major fights I hope we win in 2011.

1. Ratifying the Child Marriage Act

Just when you think a bill could not be any less of a no-brainer, Congress decides to reject it. Namely, last month House Republicans killed the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act of 2010, on the basis that the bill:

…authorizes $108 million over 5 years without sufficient oversight of the taxpayers’ money … [and] there are also concerns that funding will be directed to NGOs that promote and perform abortion and efforts to combat child marriage could be usurped as a way to overturn pro-life laws.

Wow. Though the memo those quotes are pulled from purports that Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R, Fl.) has introduced a similar bill concerning child marriage that the GOP will support, “which would result in no more than $1 million in potential costs, while making it clear that child marriage is a violation of human rights and that its prevention should be a goal of US foreign policy,” I wouldn’t hold my breath (emphasis on the apparent price of childrens’ freedom is mine). They had the chance to spend a measly $20 million a year improving the lives of women and girls and they chose not to.

Just in case any Congressional member is reading this right now (because I know you Perseph readers don’t need convincing), here’s CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere)’s take on the global child marriage crisis:

More than 60 million girls ages 17 and younger–many as young as 10–are forced into marriage in developing countries. Many of these girls are married to men more than twice their age. Not only does this unacceptable practice thwart a girl’s education, it endangers her health and often locks her into a life of poverty.

So what happens to the Child Marriage Act now? Googling didn’t reveal any new politicians who had taken up the cause, so I’m not sure when or if we’ll see a similar bill passed. I’m going to send a letter to my representative about it though, and I’d encourage any of you who feel the same to do so as well.

2. Preventing the “Corrective Rape” of Lesbians in South Africa

Cape Town, where, according to Change.org's petition, more than 10 lesbians are raped a week.

This issue came to my attention through an email from Change.org:

Several weeks ago, survivors of “corrective rape”–a heinous practice in South Africa where lesbians are raped under the guise of “curing” them–started a petition on Change.org to ask the Minister of Justice to declare corrective rape a hate crime.

It has since become the largest-ever petition on Change.org, and the Chief of Staff at the Ministry of Justice has repeatedly contacted us to complain that they are overwhelmed with the messages coming from every part of South Africa and every corner of the globe. But the minister still refuses to meet with the activists who started the campaign — Ndumi Funda and the women of the non-profit Lulekisizwe.

The fact that “corrective” rape is still happening anywhere in the world, particularly in a fairly developed country that has access to education, is appalling. According to Funda and Lulekisizwe, the way the South African justice system handles these crimes is far from just. Specific aspects of the problem Lulekisizwe  would like to see addressed include “how ‘corrective rape’ victims are treated, the lack of police response, how long the court cases take, why so many of the dockets get ‘lost’ and why the rapists get out on such low bail.”

You can sign the petition (which currently has over 105,000 signatures) and learn more about the cause at Change.org. Trigger warning: there is a graphic picture of a woman who’s been assaulted at the top of the linked page. Unfortunately, I could not figure out a way to view the text without the picture.

3. Escalating Women’s Involvement in Iraqi Government and other Public Spheres

An Iraqi woman after voting in the city of Nasiriyah.

Addressing this issue is decidedly murkier than the previous two–there’s no petition to sign, and I’m not sure how human rights organizations could effectively intervene without prompting possibly severe repercussions for the women in Iraq.

Shashank Bengali and Sahar Issa for McClatchyDC.com have written an article titled “2011 looks grim for progress on women’s rights in Iraq.” They report that not only does Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki’s 42-person cabinet only include one woman in a low-level position (and the previous cabinet included only four women), but women in Iraq are facing increasing pressure from powerful conservative parties to opt out of work and involvement in civic duties.

While the oppressive environment may appear fairly “normal” to outsiders unfamiliar with Iraq’s history, it’s actually a significant regression:

For decades, Iraq led the region in promoting women’s rights, beginning in 1959 with the passage of an extremely progressive civil liberties law and the appointment of the first female minister in the Arab world. Even Saddam was a friend to women in the 1970s and 1980s, passing strong legislation against sexual harassment and bringing huge numbers of women into the workforce as part of a drive to industrialize Iraq.
Bengali and Issa stress the importance of acting to curtail the recent strangling of women’s rights:
Whether this fledgling nation becomes a liberal democracy or an Islamist-led patriarchy might well be judged by the place it affords its women.
Again, it’s difficult to think of a way to combat these prejudices from halfway across the world, but I would hope that American officials and ambassadors who are involved with Iraq would encourage the government there to respect the voice of women.
If you have any more issues you’d like to discuss, feel free to add them in the comments!

One thought on “Three Women’s Rights Battles to Watch in 2011”

  1. I still cannot wrap my head around corrective rape. And truth is I’m too squeamish to read the articles. It’s to punish these “defective women”, right? It isn’t going to convert them to heterosexuality or that they will enjoy p in v intercourse, right? It’s purely punitive, to traumatize these women in to disappearing by hiding from society or worse, killing themselves.

    The adjective, corrective, is heinous. It’s as fitting as the word comfort in “comfort women”, the Korean women who were enslaved by the Japanese military during WW II.

    Thanks for the round up, Meghan.

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