Thirty Years and Counting

Consider the CEDAW (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination of All Forms Against Women), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, which includes an article encouraging nations to ensure that women are participating in policy-making and are holding government office. Most nations have since ratified the CEDAW (excluding the United States), yet the world average for women participating in parliament is 20%. Why is it that, while women are half of the world’s population, only one out of every five representatives is a woman?

I know Margaret Thatcher was a pioneer in the political arena, as seen in this picture of a G7 summit, ( )

but why, three decades letter, at a G8 summit, is Angela Merkel also the only woman? (BBC News),

Next, consider these facts presented in The New York Times Magazine Special Issue: Saving the World’s Women:

  • 130 million women around the world have been subject to genital cutting
  • 1% of the world’s landowners are women
  • 21% of young women interviewed in Ghana said their sexual initiation was rape
  • The U.N. has estimated that there are 5,000 honor killings a year, the majority in the Muslim world

Reading these statistics makes me wonder why we are so worried about women in government representation when it would be a feat for millions of women just to be able to live decent lives. Why are women treated this way?

As coders at the WomanStats Project, we ask ourselves these questions every day. For me, the answer to the lack of female political representation and the reason for the deep, horrible plight of women in the developing world (not discounting that of men) boils down to each society’s cultural attitude toward women. In a given country, is a female considered to be property or is she treated as a citizen?

There’s a movie I watched in the International Political Economy of Women (a class at BYU taught by Professors Bowen and Hudson) in which a man explained to the camera operator that it would be easier to lose his wife than his goat because he could always get another wife but it was not so easy to obtain a new goat. We scoff, but does not our own culture, in a place even as close as Nevada, foster a business which considers the value of a woman as breasts and a vagina?

Until we take a serious look at the cultural basis attitudes concerning women, we will not be able to afford millions their basic human rights, let alone achieve such “lofty” goals as equal representation.




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