Women’s Equality – The Global Challenge for Our Generation

By Jeffrey Imm • on August 25, 2009

There is no challenge or priority greater for our generation larger than the continuing global oppression of women, who represent half of humanity. This challenge for women’s equality and women’s freedom must be a concerted effort by men and women together for the futures of our daughters, our sisters, our nieces, and the billions of women who are counting on our courage to defend their universal human rights. We see the oppression of women on a daily basis around the world, including the pandemic rape and sexual violence in the Congo, so-called “honor killings,” and the religious supremacist and misogynist oppression of women.  We must stand united on all fronts challenging the human trafficking, oppression, sexual violence, and femicide against women around the world.

The key in this struggle for women’s equality remains consistency.

We cannot decide that women’s equality matters in some parts of the world, but not in others. Human equality is a universal human right – it applies everywhere and to everyone. We also cannot decide that we oppose women’s equality because we may not like some of the decisions some women may make if they have equality. Human equality is a universal human right – whether we like the decisions some people make as equal human beings is never an argument against equality itself.

Our hope for women’s equality lies in building communities that are willing to share our love for our fellow human beings, as well as share a consistent commitment to equality and liberty for women – in America and around the world.

Equality for Women Must Be Constitutionally Guaranteed in America

On August 26, 2009, Responsible for Equality And Liberty (R.E.A.L.) will be remembering “Women’s Equality Day” with a public awareness event on women’s equality at Washington DC’s Freedom Plaza. Women’s Equality Day commemorates the passage of the 19th Amendment, the Women’s Suffrage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave U.S. women full voting rights in 1920. But nearly 90 years later, it remains a disgrace that women have not yet been given full Constitutional equality, and that must change. In the United States, we must declare unequivocally and without reservation in our Constitution that all men AND women are equal under our national law.

Such fundamental issues of women’s equality must be not the choice of “interpretations” by state governments and changing legislatures, but must be a unequivocal, Constitutional right for all American women. Such human equality is fundamental to America’s very identity as a nation, and it is a universal human right.

Therefore, it is past time for the United States government to pass and endorse the Equal Rights Amendment (E.R.A.) to guarantee such Constitutional equality for women. Every day, women in our armed forces (over 200,000) and other branches of our government work to defend a Constitution of the United States, where their inherent equality is not guaranteed. The women of America deserve better and it is our responsibility to ensure their full Constitutional equality.

To those of you unfamiliar with the Equal Rights Amendment, I urge you to read what it actually states. It states that: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.”

The Equal Rights Amendment’s wording reflects the Constitutional language of the 19th Amendment which states: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

Some will continue to make arguments that such U.S. Constitutional equality for women should not be supported through the Equal Rights Amendment because they are concerned about the impacts of such an amendment on American society. We have heard this before. Arguments against a Constitutional amendment on women’s rights as a threat to American “civilization” have been made many times – as they were against the 19th Amendment to the Constitution – giving American women the right to vote.

Those who sought to deny women the right to vote claimed that the 19th Amendment would lead to war, would undermine America’s national security, would create “mental disorder” in women, would lead to voter fraud by women, and would undoubtedly threaten women’s health as they were too “fragile” to vote. Those who sought to deny women the right to vote claimed that the 19th Amendment “would produce a nation of transvestites,” and would result in the “resignation of manhood.” Despite the claims of those who opposed the 19th Amendment, America commemorates Women’s Equality Day on August 26, remembering those American legislators and states that had the courage of their convictions to act and ensure women the right to vote through the 19th Amendment, which was finally ratified on August 18, 1920.

It is past time to complete the unfinished business on women’s Constitutional equality in America. The 19th Amendment was first ratified by Illinois, yet the Equal Rights Amendment has still not been ratified by Illinois and 14 other states today, including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia. Women’s equality is a universal human right, under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the United States joined in adopting as part of the United Nations.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights specifically recognizes “equal rights of men and women.”  In recognition of these universal human rights, we urge our fellow Americans to support the Equal Rights Amendment. We ask President Obama to ask his fellow citizens in Illinois and around the country, when will they ratify the Equal Rights Amendment? In the interim, we urge President Obama to show historic initiative by declaring an Executive Order recognizing the equality of women in America.

In our generational defiance of the misogynist hate against women around the world, America cannot afford to allow any exceptions, starting at home.  We cannot allow the continuing failure to have Constitutional equality of women in America as a rationalization to justify oppression of women in America or anywhere in the world.

A Global Defiance Against Misogyny – No Exceptions, No Excuses, No Rationalizations

Of all the forms of institutionalized hate that our society faces today, none is more self-destructive to the continuing survival of the fabric of humanity than the hatred of women, or misogyny.

Yet we see increasing misogynist murders, violence, hate, oppression, and intolerance growing around the world.  It is our responsibility to consistently and unceasingly defy such hate and violence against women.  We cannot leave such a world of misogyny as the legacy of our generation to our daughters, sisters, and women of the world.

If we continue to expect the least from others regarding hate and violence against women, that is precisely what we will get.  It is time to stop expecting the least from others in America and around the world regarding misogyny, and start demanding the most in terms of consistent equality, freedom, and respect for women.

How do we change public attitudes on misogyny?  We start with ourselves, our families, our neighbors, our cities, our nation, and then reach out towards the rest of the world.  We start by expecting equality for women in the workplace, in our Constitution, in our government, and in society.  We start by rejecting the idea that women are second-class citizens or second-class human beings in America or anywhere in the world.   We consciously choose a global defiance against misogynist hate – no exceptions, no excuses, and no rationalizations.  We recognize misogynist activities as precisely what they are – hate crimes.

We need to set a new standard of public rejection of misogyny as something that is always unacceptable, just as racism and any other form of institutionalized hate is always unacceptable.  In the United States, our national priorities, funding, and programs must be geared to promote equality for women and to consistently defy misogyny.

In our foreign relations, we must show a zero tolerance for misogyny, especially institutionalized misogyny.  Those nations whose leaders and governments tolerate or support hate and violence against women are rogue nations that are not, will not, and must not ever be viewed as “allies” of the United States of America.   Terrorism against women is nothing less than a declaration of war against half of humanity itself.

The New York Times recently reported that the “global statistics on the abuse of girls are numbing. It appears that more girls and women are now missing from the planet, precisely because they are female, than men were killed on the battlefield in all the wars of the 20th century. The number of victims of this routine ‘gendercide’ far exceeds the number of people who were slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century.”

U.S. taxpayer dollars and U.S. corporate investment must not reward nations with institutionalized hate against women.  But it does today and that must change.  While some may view such a change as “radical,” our generation must develop a culture that holds equality, freedom, and respect towards women as a basic standard of civilized human behavior.  We cannot continue to look the other way as women are murdered, mutilated, raped, and oppressed around the world.  We must develop a culture where such equality and liberty is a priority in who and what we are, not just as individuals, not just as a nation, but also in the way we relate politically and economically with the rest of the world.

Our tolerance of the oppression of girls and women in Communist China, in Saudi Arabia, and in too many nations around the world is a legacy that we must change.  In our international relations, too often we have allowed continued support of those nations that practice institutionalized hate against women, with the rationalization that we have had to make the best of bad choices.  But those bad choices set an example of how much misogyny we will tolerate, we will accept, and we will appease.   It sends a very clear message that human rights are not our top priority, and may even be our last priority.  Human rights are never our last priority; they are always are the first priority for humanity.  The dark chapter in our history that has consciously ignored such oppression of the world’s women, while doing business and funding some of the world’s worst oppressors of women’s rights must come to an end, so that we can forward together to bring equality and liberty to women around the world.

Men and women together must recognize that our “standard of living” is only as great as our “standard of human rights.”  It is our standard of human rights that defines whether we are or are not a civilized people.

We can’t buy back the human rights violations of women around the world.  No material creature comforts, momentary pleasure, or economic prosperity will ever justify one moment of inequality, degradation, oppression, or violence against women.  We need to come to the societal realization that we can’t put a price on hate and violence against women.  We need to come to the realization that no productive foreign policy, no productive national security tactic, and no political objectives of free people are ever advanced by ignoring hate and violence against women.

Our Responsibility for Women’s Equality and Liberty

Let us not deny who and what we are collectively.  Collectively, we are the ones that create the governments of the world.  Collectively, we are ones that form the corporations of the world.  Collectively, we are the races, religions, conscience, and nations of the world.  This is not someone else’s responsibility.  This is our responsibility for women’s equality and liberty.  It is our personal responsibility to challenge those who would justify or rationalize hate, violence, and oppression against women.

But if we are not consistent in our defiance against misogyny, then we will simply tell those who hate women that we just don’t tolerate hate against women in SOME instances.  That is the societal change we must affect in our generation.  A zero tolerance policy against misogyny must challenge hate against women consistently and globally.

Without a culture of zero tolerance against misogyny where will our society end up?  Reports from around the world give us a preview of the inhumanity that continues to grow on a daily basis against women.  Misogynist hate seeks to dehumanize women either through acts of war or acts of oppression.

According to V-Day reports on the Congo war, “[a]n estimated 5 million people have died here since 1996, with over 250,000 victims of rape.”  U.S. Department of State Secretary Hillary Clinton recently reported from a trip to the Congo: “Women and girls in particular have been victimized on an unimaginable scale, as sexual and gender-based violence has become a tactic of war and has reached epidemic proportions. Some 1,100 rapes are reported each month, with an average of 36 women and girls raped every day.”  This misogyny against women in Africa includes the use of rape as acts of war by military and terrorist organizations.  Regarding the ongoing war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the United Nations reports that “the Congolese army, security sector personnel, and several armed groups still use sexual violence as a weapon of war in the DRC. Further, international actors, including UN personnel, have been implicated in perpetrating sexual violence in the DRC.”  While the United States is providing funding for medical care and support for rape victims in the Congo, it must also set expectations for President Kabila to prosecute Congo military involved in such sexual violence, and U.N. Secretary Ban to ensure action against any UN personnel involved in such sexual violence.  The violence in the Congo is linked to violence in Sudan (where a human genocide continues to rage) and Uganda on its borders.  In addition, these rapes are also performed by the Uganda rebel terrorist organization, the “Lords Resistance Army” (LRA).  The LRA terrorist organization claims to seek to create theocratic state based on the Ten Commandments, while murdering and raping other Christians and destroying their churches.  In addition to setting expectations for the Congo and U.N. leaders, we must have a continued commitment against the LRA Ugandan terrorist organization, and Christian organizations must publicly and aggressively reject the actions of the LRA.  The continuing conflicts in the Congo, Uganda, and Sudan must be a priority for Africans, Christians, Muslims and human beings around the world.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been described by one Muslim woman as the “world’s largest prison for women,” but the endless reports of misogynist abuses by government officials and Saudi clerics has not impacted our continuing trade or support for the misogynist government of Saudi Arabia.  Some human rights organizations even continue to seek funding from within Saudi Arabia, while Saudi Arabia continues to refuse to end its segregation and oppression of women and it refuses to end child marriages. Women who have managed to escape outside of Saudi Arabia file for asylum from Saudi Arabia’s misogynist laws, including their fear of being stoned to death.  The Saudi prison state is hardly unique in the Middle East and Asia in terms of oppression of women.  Iran continues to hold women in prison for their religious beliefs, allows raping of women prisoners, and has a long history of oppression and violence against women, including stoning, with women such as Sakine Mohammadi Ashtiani awaiting death by stoning.  Across the Middle East, so-called “honor killings” of women are rampant with limited punishment of those who commit such violence, with Syria recently deciding to increase the penalty for murdering of “honor killing” of a woman from 1 year to merely 2 years in prison.  In Iraq, women are not protected as rape victims, and the “honor killing” of an Iraqi woman is punishable by 3-6 months in prison, resulting in the creation of an “underground railroad” for Iraqi women to try to escape. In Afghanistan, the government recently adopted a law permitting starvation of a Shiite Muslim woman if she doesn’t provide sex to her husband, while one cleric in Afghanistan defends marital rape as a “democratic right.” We are told by the news media that women have been prevented from voting due to the absence of segregated voting booths, rationalized by one newspaper as merely “strict cultural norms.” Women continue to live in terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where women are routinely murdered, mutilated, sprayed with acid, and raped based on the rationalization that they deserved to die for committing some “offense” against Islam.  Generations of women have gotten so used to being beaten, abused, and killed, some don’t even know there is anything wrong with it.  The cancer of this misogynist hate has spread from Africa’s Somalia (where a 13 year old girl was stoned to death for the “crime” of being raped, while 1,000 watched) to Europe’s Turkey (where 25 percent of the population approves of “honor killings”).  Furthermore, such “honor killings” and violence against women has spread throughout all of Europe, the United Kingdom, and into the United States of America (Indianapolis, Atlanta, Dallas, Cleveland, Buffalo).   Nor is this violence restricted only to Muslim women, as Christian women in the Middle East and Asia are frequent targets of such hate.  Egyptian Christian women are kidnapped, raped, and forced to convert to Islam.  Pakistani Christian women are tortured, stripped, raped, and burned alive by Muslims in Pakistan.  This global violence against women must be a priority for Muslims, Christians, and human beings around the world.

The consistent denial by world governments on such misogynist threats against women can be seen this week in Russia, where on Monday, August 24, 2009, Reuters reported on Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s visit to support Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov.  Kadyrov has been denounced by human rights organizations for Chechnya’s history of killings and kidnapping of human rights activists.  Responsible for Equality And Liberty has criticized Kadyrov since our March 2009 protest at the U.S. Capitol on International Women’s Day for his support for “honor killings” of women in Chechnya.   On February 28, 2009, AP reported that “the bullnecked president of Chechnya emerged from afternoon prayers at the mosque and with chilling composure explained why seven young women who had been shot in the head deserved to die. Ramzan Kadyrov said the women, whose bodies were found dumped by the roadside, had ‘loose morals’ and were rightfully shot by male relatives in honor killings.”  On April 7, 2009, Interfax reported that Kadyrov justified murdering women who were “promiscuous.”  Yet Russian Prime Minister Putin openly and publicly supports Ramzan Kadyrov, with no visible outcry from international women’s groups, no denunciations by the U.S. government, and no protests (yet) at the Russian Embassy.  Some view supporting Kadyrov as the best of bad choices.  But if we believe in women’s equality and liberty as a priority, we must always and consistently object to institutionalized and government support of misogyny. Turning a blind eye to hate and violence against women will never ensure security for Russia or any nation.

The magnitude of this problem cannot be effectively communicated in this brief article.  At Responsible for Equality And Liberty’s website on such violence, I was recently asked for the web link on the initial report on Buffalo’s Aasiya Zubair Hassan in mid-February and I discovered that we have 12 pages of headlines on such attacks in the past 6 months alone.  These are more than merely tragic statistics of a continuing horror story of institutionalized misogynist violence against women. Each attack was against a unique and individual girl or woman who was someone’s mother, daughter, sister, and they were loved, special human beings.  But this consistent, global war against women has yet to be prioritized by the national news media.  Such hate crimes against women are not yet a consistent priority of much of the mainstream news media.  This is precisely what we must change in being responsible for women’s equality and liberty.

Empowering Each Other to Stand United for Women’s Equality and Liberty

The problem we face in challenging misogynist hate demands accountability from the governments we elect, and the nations, races, and religious organizations we belong to.  We can bring change to our culture in support of women’s equality and liberty, but we must expect a “standard of human rights” that respects women’s equality, liberty, and dignity from all of the organizations that we are part of as individuals.

Women deserve better than this.  On this Women’s Equality Day, we must resolve to make such hate and violence against women a consistent priority for human rights groups, for women’s groups, and for each other as individuals.

We must remember that our struggle against misogynist hate and violence is based on our love for one another as fellow human beings, and not become desensitized and demoralized to believe that misogynist terrorism is nothing but statistics that we feel hopeless to change.  We must remember who and what we are working for – equality and liberty of women and each other as individual human beings.  But most of all we must work to build communities of love, building relationships with others to share our commitment for equality and liberty for women and each other.  People empower us – people inspire us – and people move us to action.  This is why we must work first in building communities of those who share our love for humanity to organize our efforts and keep working towards defending the human rights of women and all people.

Together, we can be Responsible for Equality And Liberty.