Women in Bahrain: Living and Working in this Part of the Middle East

BAHRAIN - It has always been believed that Bahrain is different from its other Gulf counterparts. It is true especially when it comes to women and their participation towards the economic growth of the country. According to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, Bahrain is counted amongst the fastest growing economies of the Middle East. This is due to the country’s emphasis on offering more opportunities for education and providing more rights to women.

The best example to support this statement is the Bahrain Economic Development Board that was established in the year 2000. Since its inception, the board has made significant strides in building capabilities of women including Bahrain’s increased investment in education, skills as well as labor market development that was introduced with an aim to increase the participation of the readily available domestic labor. Thus, the contribution of women to Bahrain’s economy can best be explained by the fact that 15% of Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry membership is represented by business women. Moreover, out of total Bahrainis employed with various financial institutions, 37% are women.

Outline of the Bahraini Society

Bahrain takes pride in being a progressive and open society of refined people who give due importance to education and employment for playing a significant role in the personal development of its people. The island kingdom has been considered a leader in the entire Gulf region in the education sector for being the first to form a public education system in 1919. Education is mandatory for children between the age group of 6 to 14 years. To further promote education, the Ministry of Education encourages improvements in the education system from time to time and offers free textbooks to the Bahraini citizens in the public schools.

The island country of Bahrain can be best explained as a satisfactory blend of modern infrastructure and typical Gulf nation. Even though Islam is the widely followed religion in the country, people show respect towards different religions also. The country expects the women to wear traditional clothes such as ‘hijab’ but is still very liberal as compared to other Gulf nations.

The Role of Women in the Bahraini Economy

Here are some interesting facts concerning the role women play in the development of the country’s economy:

  • According to the Economic Development Board, the contribution of women in the Bahraini economy is expected to increase by 5% annually until 2020. This means that by 2020, the percentage of women’s contribution to Bahrain’s GDP will comprise almost 45.6%.
  • It was also observed that the number of Bahraini women employed in the private sector in the year 2010 had gone up to more than 25,000 women as compared to what it was in the year 2002. The percentage increase is 73.5% in this particular area.
  • The increase in the women’s contribution in the private sector was much higher than their contribution in the public sector which was 45% in the same year.

Things are looking good in terms of wages for Bahraini women. The average wages increased to BD 457 in 2011 from BD 317 in 2006. They still have a long way to go as the difference between the average wages of men and women in the private sector was 30%. The gap must have improved slightly in 2016.

By the contrary, women’s wages are 10% more than the wages given to men in the public sector. The figures also suggest a positive increase in the number of women going in for academic certification after high school which is 17.1%. The percentage of men going in for higher education was 14.4%.

Unemployment rates among women also dropped drastically from 12% in 2002 to 3% in 2012.  If we talk about the share of Bahraini women employed in the financial sector, the same increased to 38.2% in 2016 from 37.4% in 2015. The total Bahraini workforce employed in the financial sector constitutes 70%.

These figures suggest a rise in the employment opportunities in Bahrain for women and will continue to rise even beyond the country’s vision towards 2020. The strides that the country has been making in the employment sector are instilling a feeling of immense confidence among the people, especially women and they are all hopeful of a better future.

U.S. Mandatory Prison Sentences, For Everyone Except Rapists

Former U.S. Senator Todd Akin, Photo Courtesy of Flickr/Chris

Former U.S. Senator Todd Akin, Photo Courtesy of Flickr/Chris

UNITED STATES - Americans tend to view the social deficits of other countries from a position of superiority. This precedence of acting as a moral arbiter sitting in judgment of rest of the world has become so prevalent as to seem deflective. A means to hide the necessity of dealing with systemic racism, sexism, and pedophilia which are a scourge upon our nation. However, these ills are not as obvious as abuses like China’s One Child Policy which officially ended earlier this year, but has not changed entrenched cultural norms which encouraged the killing of female children to make room for a possible male birth.

Or the practice of Leblouh (force feeding girls to make them obese) in Mauritania because men will not marry a skinny woman. Then, perhaps the greatest assault against a woman’s control of her body and sexuality, female genital mutilation (FGM). Because each of these practices are heinous it is easy to point to these abuses when judging those societies. In essence, the obvious barbarism of these practices overshadows the more pervasive, but pernicious abuse of women and girls in America through what has come to be known as 'rape culture.'

The 2016 presidential election has brought the systemic violation of women and girls to the nation’s and world’s attention. The sexism and misogyny of Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate was unequivocally exposed in an Access Hollywood show in which he was captured on tape vulgarly describing how he grabbed women by their genitals. He also described forcibly kissing women, trying to seduce a married woman, and lauding his ability to assault women because of his celebrity status.

On August 19, 2012, then Missouri U.S. Rep. Todd Akin who is a Republican, expressed an erroneous but entrenched belief about rape during an interview in which he was discussing abortion. He claimed among other things that doctors told him if a rape is 'legitimate' then the woman will rarely become pregnant. His comments revealed a deep well of victim blaming and shaming, while casting aspersions on the truthfulness of some rape accusers.

"Well, you know, people always want to try to make that as one of those things, well how do you, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question. First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. It it's legitimate rape, the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume that maybe that didn't work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child." (KTVI)

In addition to being victimized by her attacker, in Akin's world a woman would be forced to bear the child of her rapist should she conceive. In essence, she will be victimized numerous times while trying to seek justice -- first by the rapists, then the justice system, the media, the medical community, and politicians.

This kind of ignorance and anti-feminist sentiment has manifested in repeated attempts to overturn Roe v. Wade as well as defund programs like Planned Parenthood which provides free or reduced services to millions of women who would not otherwise have access to HIV testing, mammograms, contraceptives, and other types of preventative screenings. This inherent sexism and bias has permeated our national awareness and elevated the discussion of women's rights, but in practical terms, has not resulted in any real change.

Trumps insult - “nasty woman” - hurled at Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate during a debate best sums up what American women and girls have been increasingly subjected to these past few years. Increased levels and frequency of being verbally abused, sexually harassed and assaulted. Even Mrs. Clinton is delegitimatized on a daily basis by both the media and her opponent's surrogates by stating that if she had been running against anyone except Trump, she would have been soundly defeated.

On a macrocosmic level the attacks against Mrs. Clinton's stamina, looks, capabilities, sexuality, and domestic troubles, are equivalent to the treacherous waters through which average American women try to navigate on a daily basis. Women walk the delicate balance of trying not to appear aggressive despite being competent, of dressing down to avoid being perceived as provocative, and sometimes sublimating their intelligence in order to spare the ego of an insecure coworker or manager. 

At a microcosmic level, the rise of prosecutors refusing to bring charges against rapists, male judges belittling women and girls, casting aspersions on their testimony, and eventually dismissing the charges is alarming. In some of the more egregious cases women and the families of young girls who have been raped watch in horror as their rapists were not sentenced to prison terms as prescribed by the U.S.’s ‘mandatory minimum sentencing’ laws.

In fact, these violators, rapist, and pedophiles receive less time if any, than the mandatory minimum sentencing of Black and Latino men who have committed petty offenses such as selling minuscule amounts of drugs, or have been convicted of other non-violent crimes, but receive life-sentences.  Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13TH” brilliantly illuminates the injustice of mass incarceration within the context of race and poverty, and the economic incentive the enforcement of mandatory minimums on this demographic group has created.

The disparity between the prison sentences handed down against the aforementioned group, versus those given to sexual predators, many of whom are white and male, is inequitable in the extreme. Trump, is the most high-profile sexual predatory, who despite being captured on tape discussing how he sexually assaulted women, has largely been exonerated by his supporters, while the women who have accused him of assault have been excoriated.

The double standard is the primary reason why so few sexual assaults are reported. Women who know that their lives will be examined with a fine-toothed comb, and that their lifestyles, mode of dress, career choice, and sexual history will be used to discredit them.

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), referenced the Criminal Justice Systems Statistics, which determined that out of the 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free.  The American Prosecutors Research Institute, created a comprehensive document which listed the minimum and maximum sentences for all classes of rape. To understand the gravity of the human rights abuses females in America are facing, three cases are presented below, but they are just the tip of the iceberg.

Delaware state statute requires a sentence of “Life in prison [without] probation or parole if: the victim under 16 and is seriously injured.” This sentencing however, was not applied in the case of the wealthy du Pont heir.

"Robert H. Richards IV was convicted of rape, the wealthy heir to the du Pont family fortune was spared prison by a Delaware court in 2009. [.....] Richards is a great-grandson of the chemical magnate Irenee du Pont. He received an eight-year prison sentence [...] for raping his toddler daughter, but the sentencing order signed by a Delaware judge said "defendant will not fare well" in prison and the eight years were suspended." (Source: CNN)

Texas state statute requires a sentence for “Aggravated Sexual Assault in the 1st degree to serve from 5-99 years; $10,000 fine.” That you can violently rape someone and spend less than 5 years in jail or pay a $10,000 fine is reprehensible, but the latitude of the interpretation of this sentencing structure by the prosecutor worked in favor of the man who raped a 2-year-old girl.

"Thomas Boden, 29 raped his then girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter in front of her 4-year-old sister in 2015. The crime was discovered when the mother came home to discover her baby crying and screaming that he had cut her private parts, and when she examined her diaper it was full of blood. Despite Boden confessing to the rape, the hospital confirmation that the child had been violently raped, and the DNA evidence supporting the assault, the prosecutor offered Boden, and “he accepted a plea deal of 10 years probation.”

Which meant that he did not have to spend any time in jail,” and was ordered not to have contact with the victim. As part of the deal, Boden will not be required to register as a sex offender.”  (Raw Story)

Montana state statute sentencing requirements for perpetrators who have raped a “victim [who] is less than 16 and actor is 3+ years older or bodily injury results, then 2-100 years and fine of up to $50,000”

On 4 October 2016 "Prosecutors recommended that a 40-year-old unnamed Glasgow, Montana man who confessed to repeatedly raping his 12-year-old daughter be sentenced to 25-years imprisonment.

Instead, it was reported that Judge John McKeon sentenced the perpetrator to 60-days in prison, “plus a 30-year suspended prison term […] as part of a plea deal with prosecutors. The man also was ordered to complete community-based sex-offender treatment and register as a sex offender.

Amidst severe criticism and a Change.org petition signed by 14,000 people demanding McKeon’s impeachment, he defended his decision by asserting that a psychosexual evaluation finds that psychiatric treatment “affords a better opportunity for rehabilitation of the offender and for the ultimate protection of the victim and society.” (CBS News)

A discussion about the efficacy of treatment options for pedophiles has been demonstrated to be ineffective. According to Harvard Medical School, “Pedophilia, the sexual attraction to children who have not yet reached puberty, remains a vexing challenge for clinicians and public officials. Classified as a paraphilia, an abnormal sexual behavior, researchers have found no effective treatment. Like other sexual orientations, pedophilia is unlikely to change.”

In all three cases, the justification given to support the ridiculously lenient sentences were in some fashion related to the judges' belief that they knew what was best for these victims, and this did not include punishing their attackers. These paternalistic rulings have become a major contributing factor in the larger problem of the ‘rape culture’ assailing our nation today.

A mother or father deserves justice when their child has been raped and they should not have to fight with the courts to have the perpetrator sentenced as prescribed by the law. A single-mother should not be judged as somehow complicit in her child’s sexual abuse simply because she finds herself in the unfortunate position of having to work outside of the home to support her family.

A woman who is raped should not have to justify her life choices, her sexual history, her mode of dress, or anything else that lawyers of the defendants use to discredit them. We cannot expect that the election of Hillary Clinton to the presidency will result in a reduction in sexism, misogyny, gender bias, sexual assault or abuse, but her elevation will help to keep the issues of women's rights front and center.

A problem unrevealed will fester, but a problem uncovered is well on its way to potential resolution.

Murder Disguised as Honor: The Issue of Honor Killings in Pakistan (Qandeel Baloch)

Qandeel Baloch, from her official Facebook Page: "As women we must stand up for ourselves....As women we must stand up for each other....As women we must stand up for justice."

Qandeel Baloch, from her official Facebook Page: "As women we must stand up for ourselves....As women we must stand up for each other....As women we must stand up for justice."

LAHORE, Pakistan - Tasleem was a good Muslim girl living in the slums of Lahore, Pakistan, until she was seen with a Christian man. A young girl who behaves outside of the strict code of conduct placed on women in Pakistan brings great dishonor to her family, enough dishonor that family members often believe that the only option is death. According to her brother, Rajhu, she had brought dishonor to her family, but mostly to him, and because he had such thin skin and was unable to withstand the constant teasing at work, he decided the only course of action was to commit a barbaric killing.

He was not the only one at fault, because it was revealed that co-workers encouraged him to kill his sister for "being disobedient" and the only way to preserve his manhood was to take her life.  So, on  August 14 , 2016 Rajhu shot his sister in the head.

Tasleem tragic fate is not unique, since approximately 1,000 Pakistani women are murdered by members of their family in so called “honor killings” every year. Many experts believe that this is an under estimation because these killings are often unreported. Honor killing murders are widely accepted and encouraged to keep women from being disobedient. Women who bring dishonor to their family by having relations with men outside of her religion or doing anything outside of the enforced designated role of a woman are no longer deemed valuable to her family.

The biggest issue with these murders is that historically the killers face little to no punishment, and this has led to the systemic belief by families and many in society that this type of murder is acceptable. In the cases that are reported there are few legal ramifications because of loopholes in Islamic law, including Qisaas and Diyah. These two remedies allow for a family member of the victim to 'kill the killer,' or accept Diyah, 'blood money' as recompense in lieu of judicial punishment.

The practice of Diyah further dehumanizes women and diminishes their role and worth in society. As such, they become little more than chattel to be abused, sold, or otherwise disposed of as the owner desires.

In an article by Dr. Mohammed Rateb Nabuls, title “Islam and equality between men and women,” he clearly articulates with supporting exegesis the equality of women and men in Qur'an.

The texts which follows are Dr. Nabuls' words and interpretations and should not be considered our opinion.

"Women are human exactly like men, and the Prophet PBUH said in this respect:"

Women are twin halves of men.

"And He [the Prophet, Peace Be Upon Him (PBUH)] said also:"

Every new-born child is born in a state of fitrah (innate). Then his parents make him a Jew, a Christian or a Magian, just as an animal is born intact. Do you observe any among them that are maimed (at birth)?

[Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmizi, Nasaee, Abu Dawood, Ahmad, and Malek]

"This new-born indicates male and female. Any inferior look at the woman as less human than man is a Jahilyya (pre-Islamic) consideration that is not admitted in Islam. Better yet, Islam came to fight such consideration as a form of discrimination."

Despite the above admonitions to not define women as less than human, Pakistanis and others continue to do so. Then, when the male, and sometimes female members of the woman’s family murder her in an honor killing, instead of seeking justice, these perpetrators are quickly forgiven and given money. Rarely, if ever, does anyone call for the ultimate penalty of 'killing the killer' as one of the three remedies for murder in Islamic law.

Compounding the issue, everyone in the community, including her family feels justified in their actions of killing a human being who has done nothing other than being born female. This abhorrent practice of honor killing cloaked in the guise of Islam is absolutely misogynistic, and has been codified into traditional practice versus righteous behavior.

In the case of economic gain, the killing is also contrary to Islam. This is particularly true if it is deemed that imprisonment of a brother or father for an honor killing would result in their inability to earn income or support their family. This further incentives the community not to punish them . Yet, the killing of a woman due to poverty or simply because she is female is considered sin. Again, according to Dr. Mohammed Rateb Nabuls:

 "The Prophet PBUH was asked once:"

 What is the worst sin in the sight of Allah?........He said: “And to kill your children for fear of poverty.” [Agreed upon]

 "And Allah says in the noble Quran:"

 (And when the female (infant) buried alive (as the pagan Arabs used to do) shall be questioned. For what sin she was killed?)     [Al Takweer, 8-9]

"Man and woman are created so as to know by innate nature what is wrong and what is right, and to know when they do wrong and when they do right.

This is the real Islam according to its origins and resources. It is not what Muslims do nowadays; it is rather the great principles established by the noble prophet (PBUH)."

 Allah says:

(Indeed he succeeds who purifies his ownself (i.e. obeys and performs all that Allah ordered, by following the true Faith of Islamic Monotheism and by doing righteous good deeds). And indeed he fails who corrupts his ownself (i.e. disobeys what Allah has ordered by rejecting the true Faith of Islamic Monotheism or by following polytheism, etc. or by doing every kind of evil wicked deeds))     [As-shams, 9-10]

"This Ayah addresses both men and women. Saving one’s life is like saving all mankind, and killing one person is like killing all mankind.

Dear brothers, woman is equal to man as a human being, and as a person who has the ability to transcend, sublime, excel, and to be looked up to." (Dr. Mohammed Rateb Nabuls)

Unfortunately, Dr. Nabuls' voice of moderation is drowned out by the preponderance of ideologies espoused by those who refuse to learn, feel disenfranchised and powerless, or simply like to murder women who they feel have aggrieved them. Pakistani women from all walks of life continue to be murdered, and even fame does not protect them. In countries around the world, even in the United States, aberrant interpretations of Islam have radicalized uneducated people who then chose to follow the fallacious teachings of ‘man,' and perpetrate all manner of violence.

In the case of women, men who ascribe to these teachings and beliefs subjugate the females in their inner circle, their communities, and under these conditions women’s rights are minimal and dependent upon their obedience to men. Specifically, women in Pakistan are unable to do anything about their situation because as soon as they speak out against their oppression they are immediately in risk of death.

Activist groups have stepped in as a voice for voiceless, and Pakistani female activists have been advocating for stricter punishments for those who commit honor killings. Finally, on 6 October 2016 their voices were heard, largely as a result of the media coverage given to the murder of Fouzia Azeem (فوزیہ عظیم‎;) who was also known as Qandeel Baloch, (قندیل بلوچ‎)‎.

According to news reports, Baloch was a Pakistani model, actress, feminist activist and social media celebrity. She was only 26-years-old when her brother murdered her on 15 July 2016 in an honor killing. Her death was the impetus needed to finally push forward legislation to eradicate this practice and reform Pakistan's Penal Code. The bill unanimously passed through Pakistan’s parliament, and closes the qisaas loophole by no longer allowing perpetrators of honor killings to be set free because they have been granted forgiveness from the family.

Additionally, those accused of honor killing will be given a minimum of 25 years in prison. This amendment is meant to change the culture of honor killings in Pakistan by showing that honor killings, no matter the circumstances or reason behind it, is now punishable in secular court.  The bill is the first step to enacting a long list of reforms that need to occur before the oppression of women stops.

Passing these laws will not result in an immediate change in the long tradition of female oppression, but it does send the message that the government is finally willing to reform Pakistan's laws to protect women from their own families.

As the Pakistan's prime minister, Muhammad Nawaz Sharif said, there is no honor in honor killing.

Sexual Abuse in Peacekeeping: A Not So Simple Answer

37-Year-Old Rape Victim, Mali, IDPS Bamako, Photo by Voice Nature World Plus

37-Year-Old Rape Victim, Mali, IDPS Bamako, Photo by Voice Nature World Plus

CENTRAL AFRICA - Since late March, the United Nations (UN) has come under fire on allegations that peacekeepers committed acts of sexual violence against civilian populations. The advocacy group, AIDS-free-world, made several leaked documents public in March of 2016 which implicated French soldiers and UN peacekeepers in acts of sexual abuse against the populations they were sent to protect. A large portion of these claims come from the Central African Republic, where French soldiers were deployed to help quell internal violence that began in 2013. The first allegations pre-date the establishment of the UN sanctioned peacekeeping mission, known as the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), which was authorized by the UN Security Council in April of 2014. Most of these were directed against French military personnel who were assisting African Union regional stabilization forces. Accusations of sexual abuse against peacekeepers from France, Gabon and Burundi were, however, reported after the establishment of MINUSCA and implicated the UN and its administration. Though many of these accusations are still under investigation, this information highlights the structural flaws within the UN that would allow such heinous acts to happen in the first place.

The current reports of sexual abuse are not the first the international organization has had to address. Sexual abuse on peacekeeping missions has been an ongoing problem within the UN system dating back to stabilization efforts in Cambodia during 1992. Most subsequent missions have also had at least some reports of misconduct, rape or abuse. With few exceptions, most accused perpetrators receive little to no punishment. This is because the UN itself, being an international organization, lacks any sort of power to legally prosecute individuals. Prosecution of criminal acts must be done by individual countries, and peacekeepers on a mission cannot be prosecuted by the host country in which they serve due to diplomatic immunity. Peacekeepers can only be prosecuted by their home country from which they originate. Most troop contributing countries for peacekeeping operations have, however, been reluctant to investigate and prosecute accused soldiers.

This leaves two questions regarding the widespread misconduct and sexual abuse. First, why has the UN been ineffective in addressing the structural challenges that allow such acts to manifest? Second, why are troop contributing countries reluctant to punish their own soldiers, especially in instances where misconduct is clear? The answers to these questions can come from current UN officials themselves. Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, UN Special Representative to the Central African Republic, said in an interview with Foreign Policy Magazine that “countries aren’t exactly queuing to contribute troops to peacekeeping missions.” This means that any measures that the UN might put forth, such as expelling contingents of troops with multiple allegations, would cause a backlash from those who provide troops and cut off a much needed resource. Thus politics often comes into play when addressing these types of allegations at the New York Headquarters.

In terms of holding soldiers accountable in their home country, we often see a lack of political will and capacity. Less than five percent of allegations end up with the home country of the soldiers legally prosecuting them. There has been a long held observation that those countries that do contribute soldiers often prioritize domestic legal matters as opposed to those that happen in a different country. Likewise, most troop contributing countries are unwilling to admit any wrong-doing or are unable pursue trial because the evidence collected by the UN does not meet national standards needed to prosecute. Thus, we are left with a situation where soldiers know they practically have immunity in certain cases of rape and other human rights abuses. Lewis Mudge of Human Rights Watch himself said: “They know very well that, legally, the hands of national authorities and the United Nations are tied.”

We are left with a sensitive political situation that may threaten the efficacy of current and future peacekeeping operations. While certain solutions, such as the suggestion to collect DNA from all soldiers for paternity testing might have some impact, the international community is still faced with the lack of political will, mostly on the part of troop contributing countries. Pressing or coercing such countries to prosecute their soldiers might backfire, and peacekeeping missions could end up understaffed. Again, this result could actually do more harm than good and might potentially destabilize the country in which justice is sought. The international community might be better served to address these problems by better connecting troop contributing countries to potential solutions. One such example is Hervé Ladsous’s proposal for a specialized military court in countries hosting peacekeeping operations. It was not said who should staff these theoretical courts, but perhaps allocating spots for those who contribute the most soldiers to the host country might create political will to hold peacekeepers who commit heinous acts of abuse accountable.

Contributing Journalist: @AdamWolf
LinkedIn: Adam Wolf

Are Women Considered Equal to Men in the Real World? Not Yet

U.S. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi

U.S. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi

UNITED STATES - For those who are following the United States' election cycle, Donald Trump’s misogyny brings to the forefront of the national stage an often convoluted and hidden issue of anti-women’s rights sentiment. Trump is not unique in this sentiment, he simply doesn’t care enough to hide his negative opinion of a woman’s worth. He constantly assigns women to lower positions, and has asserted that women are incapable of operating at a high-level in any field, and deserve be judged upon their physical appearances versus their abilities.

 Is he alone in thinking this way? Not at all. Despite the fact that women’s role in society has exponentially improved compared to the rigid roles that were afforded to them in the last century, there is still a vast gap in access to higher education. Education is a prerequisite to securing high-paying jobs that would afford women the financial freedom to achieve upward mobility for themselves and their families.

EDUCATION

In fact, data shows young girls are routinely steered away from STEM education curriculum.  In 2012 an article written by Erik B. Robelen for Education Week, statistics indicated that “Despite the gains, experts say some gender divides are still apparent, especially with participation in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.” His articles continues by stating that “Concern remains widespread about the relative lack of women pursuing advanced study and careers in STEM fields. Recent federal data show just one-quarter of people working in those fields are women; one in seven engineers is female. Also, women trailed men in earning doctorates in many STEM fields, as of 2009, including computer science, engineering, chemistry, and math.”

"Computing has one of the worst gender representations of any STEM discipline," said Lucinda M. Sanders, the chief executive officer and co-founder of the National Center for Women & Information Technology, based in Boulder, Colo. "When you do find computing in high school, and it is rigorous, girls are very seldom represented in the classroom." (Source: Education Week, Gender Gap Persist in STEM Subjects

Three years later in an article written by Janine Ingram, “IX Reasons STEM Needs Title IX: Lessons from Center Court,” listed ten reasons why girls participation in STEM based curriculum is important, of those, the two below are most applicable to this article:

  1. Although women fill close to half of all jobs in the US Economy, they fill less than 25% of STEM jobs. So why is that a big deal? Read #2 …
  2. Women with STEM jobs earn 33% more than women with non-STEM jobs (.92 cents for every male dollar compared to .77 cents for every male dollar in non-STEM jobs).

Now I’m not thrilled to know I am being out-earned by 8 cents simply by virtue of a missing ‘y’ chromosome — but it beats 23 cents." (Source: Huffington Post)

Thus, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics courses, are necessary to succeed in the increasingly, sophisticated technological world. Even though this is common knowledge, girls and women continue to be unfairly steered into educational opportunities that make them less competitive and less likely to secure scholarships to top-tier universities. Without scholarships post-secondary education is increasingly outside the grasps of the average American for whom the specter of huge student loans represents a deterrent because of the reality of being unable to pay these loans back given the current job market and the opportunities afforded women who graduate with less competitive degrees.

JOB MARKET

According to Inter-Parliamentary Union research data, There are only three countries in the world where female representation equals or is more than males. These are Cuba (49 percent), Bolivia (53 percent) and Rwanda (64 percent). Though these figures are high, the average representation of women in parliaments globally tops out at about 22 percent. It is worth noting that there are countries with no female representation in their parliament. But, even more unjust is the fact that there are still countries where women cannot even vote.

One would think with a former female Senator, Secretary of State, and First Lady, Hillary Clinton running for president, that America is doing better when it comes to women in elected positions, especially in the U.S. House and Senate. With 88female members in U.S. House of Representatives, and 20 in the U.S. Senate, the United States takes the 95th place on the IPU’s women in Parliaments list, since female representatives only comprise about 20 percent of the Congress which is slightly below world average.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, of the data collected from individuals over 16-years-old, 57 percent of women participate in the workforce in the United States, yet women comprise only 46 percent of the total work force. Additionally, though the member countries of the European Union are considered as having one of the most developed and progressive economies only 62 percent of the women were employed in 2012, by comparison of 74 points for men.  According to research results from National Bureau of Economic Research, in 1990 the United States was identified as number one in terms of women in the workforce. This figure has declined to17th among the world’s 22 richest countries.

The predominance of men in both the public and private sector in senior management and executive positions continues to be the norm. Though there are many powerful women who are heads of major organizations like Christine Lagarde, the CEO of the International Monetary Fund, Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany,  Carly Fiorina, former 2016 U.S. presidential candidate, and Oprah Winfrey, American billionaire media mogul, to name a few. However, by and large the average woman lacks access to the finances, education, social contacts to push through the discrimination that persists and hinders their advancements despite many gains in women’s rights.

WOMEN’S HEALTH AND FAMILY LIFE

According to Laura Bassett in her article titled “The U.N. Sent 3 Foreign Women to the U.S. To Assess Gender Equality. They Were Horrified.”  A delegation of human rights experts from Poland, the United Kingdom and Costa Rica spent 10 days touring the United States so they can prepare a report on the nation’s overall treatment of women. The three women, who lead a United Nations working group on discrimination against women, visited Alabama, Texas and Oregon to evaluate a wide range of U.S. policies and attitudes, as well as school, health and prison systems.

The delegates were appalled by the lack of gender equality in America. They found the U.S. to be lagging far behind international human rights standards in a number of areas, including its 23 percent gender pay gap, maternity leave, affordable child care and the treatment of female migrants in detention centers.” (Source: Huffington Post)

Their  3 women delegation’s overall negative assessment of the treatment of women was punctuated by a disturbing experience at an abortion clinic. They recounted how women who had chosen to exercise their reproductive rights afforded them by Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision were verbally berated, spit upon, and physically blocked as they tried to enter abortion clinics. The United States Supreme Court ruled 7–2, on January 22, 1973 that a right to privacy under the due process clause of the 14th amendment extended to a woman's decision to have an abortion. The right must be balanced against the state's two legitimate interests in regulating abortions: protecting women's health and protecting the potentiality of human life.

But, women continue to be systematically denied the right to exercise control of their reproductive rights. Now, in addition to making one of the most difficult decision of a woman’s life, the decision to terminate a pregnancy, they are increasingly at risk of losing access to securing abortions in safe, clean, medical facilities with trained practitioners. According to NARAL Pro-Choice research, in 2015, 22 states enacted 41 anti-choice measures.

“Arkansas enacted the most anti-choice legislation in 2015, with seven measures. Indiana and Texas followed, enacting four anti-choice measures each, and Oklahoma enacted three anti-choice measures. Since 1995, states have enacted 876 anti-choice measures.”

On the contrary, 19 states and District of Columbia passed 31 pro-choice measures in the same year. Currently, across the United States, religious conservatives have successfully waged battle against Planned Parenthood, one of the only organizations which provides free wellness care to women - including annual breast exams, pap smears, contraceptive, and STD treatment and awareness.

Planned Parenthood, dating back to 1923, has been one of the unique organizations in the United States, providing contraception and other health services to women and men, funding research on birth control and educating specialists; and educating the public about the results of advancing access to family planning. As the presidential election cycle took off, the organization has become one of the main targets of the Republican presidential candidates after the Center for Medical Progress released its video footage of its undercover investigation on selling the human body parts by Planned Parenthood officials.

In many cases, although these services are not as widespread in many countries other than United States, there are other organizations such as International Planned Parenthood Federation continue to educate and help people in need.  

A woman’s right to control her reproductive rights is not the only area in which women are routinely discriminated against because of their sex. According to a report from International Labor Organization, United States is one of only the three countries in the world that does not guarantee paid maternity leave for the working women. The other two are Papua New Guinea and Oman. Most of the developed countries mandate by law that employers grant maternity and paternity leave without risk of losing their jobs. In addition, employers must provide latitude to employees in cases where a family emergency arises by guaranteeing job security for employees who may require time off for illness. Some companies must also provide stipends to help employees more easily support preschool education for their children.

With regard to recognizing the importance of family, and that the quality of work and happiness quotient for employees is very much lacking in the United States. It is so rare that in 2015 Forbes featured the Top 10 Companies Doing the Most to Make Their Employees Happier. Some of the benefits afforded to these companies employees are common in the E.U., but so foreign in the U.S. workforce as to be noteworthy. A research conducted by White House showed in today’s America, in 60 percent of the families, both father and mother are working. In 1965 this was 40 percent. Despite this increase in 50 years, The United States failed to develop policies to enhance family unity as well as providing healthcare, the smallest unit of the society. On the other side, many of the European countries have started the basics of health insurance as early as 19th century. A World Health Organization report on transition towards universal health care coverage shows Austria resolving the issue as early as 1967, Belgium by 1969, Germany by 1988.

Until two years ago, national health insurance wasn’t easily available or affordable, and not guaranteed to every individual in the United States while in the E.U., U.K., and Canada, a national healthcare system provides mandatory care to the citizens. Although Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, has provided health insurance to many people who has never had insurance before, a recent Gallup Poll showed that 12 percent of the American people were not covered as of the end of the first quarter of 2015. It is an unfortunate fact that despite the spirit of the law, employers found ways to exploit the loopholes that exists in the law to justify not insuring their employees. Though the law has provided insurance for many people who were previous unable to secure coverage, it continues to be criticized for weakening the workforce indirectly. Many of the reasons pointed out that it is causing undue economic burden on small businesses, causing employers to decrease their workforce or reduce the hours their employees work so that they are considered part-time and therefore ineligible for company provided insurance coverage. Secondarily, because it mandates that all Americans have the right to have adequate health insurance coverage which was denied to many prior to the legislation, it has unfortunately ended up penalizing individuals for a failure to maintain health insurance by increasing their tax burden and forcing them to pay monthly premiums.

One of the main problems with not having insurance, especially for women is the consequences. National Center for Biotechnology Information has studied employer's’ benefits from workers’ health insurance. According to several studies, poor health can be related to increased absenteeism. Accordingly, poor health reduces earnings significantly, when compared to workers with access to health insurance, hence good health. In many cases, women have the double responsibility for household work and outside work. According to another study on health and productivity, poor health means, in many cases, loss of income for the female body of the family as well as additional expenditure to fulfill the commitments of the women. As a result, in order to keep an equal status to men, women end up sacrificing a part of herself most cases her femininity in order to eliminate additional responsibilities that comes with being a woman, and not being compromised for it.

Inequality against women is not limited to health issues. Gender inequality, like in the rest of the world, exists in the United States in many levels. Women in the U.S. get paid significantly less than their male counterparts for the same work they do. At a roundtable event on April 12, Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton questioned the lower pay U.S. women soccer team members are receiving when compared to male soccer team, even after winning the World Cup and Olympics.

“We cheered when they won the world cup, and we cheered when they won the Olympic gold medal. And, we noticed that our men’s team hasn’t yet done that. Yet somehow, the men are making hundreds of thousands of dollars more than the women,” she said.

There is no question why U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a speech during the dedication of the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument in honor of Equal Pay Day. Though not directly tied to pay, the event highlighted the gains realized after the passing of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women’s suffrage, or the right for women to vote. The monument paid homage to activist and suffragist Alva Belmont, who was a major benefactor of the National Woman's Party, and Alice Paul, who founded the Party and was the chief strategist and leader in the Party’s ongoing fight for women’s political, social, and economic equality. (Source: The White House)

President Obama stated that “I am not here just to say we should close the wage gap. I am here to say, we will close the wage gap. If you don’t believe me, If you don’t believe that we are going to close that gap, you need to come visit this house,” he said in alluding the all of the women who work in his administration, as well as a nod to the First Lady, Michelle Obama.

According to a census survey the gap between the wages paid to women and men has not improved for 11 years as of 2013. According to this data, women gets paid about 25 percent less than their male counterparts working full time, year round jobs. This fact was so apparent that since taking office, President Obama has made equal pay a top priority and “has taken a number of steps to fight for pay equity. In addition to signing his first piece of legislation as President, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, President Obama has created the National Equal Pay Task Force, called on Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, issued an Executive Order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against employees who discuss or inquire about their compensation, and worked with the Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to better target enforcement of equal pay laws though enhanced employer reporting of pay data.” (Source: The White House)

In the light of the data, it is safe to say gender equality is a complex issue of social-economic dynamics, stereotypes, and overt efforts to impede women’s equality. Without addressing all of the problems, one cannot hope to achieve comprehensive improvements. Though this is a gargantuan task, and one that cannot be solved by one stroke of the pen, it is something which needs to be front and center in the national dialogue of equal rights.

A large part of the solution requires improvements in the healthcare system and the Affordable Care Act, legislation to provide more transparency in the workplace with regard to salaries, and a realignment of family values to reward versus penalize women who must balance both the home and work life. It is going to take a collaborative effort through public/private partnerships, validating and supporting organizations fighting for women’s rights and equality, and above all a sincere effort on the part of men and women to understand each other. Hopefully, through these efforts, and many more, we will enable women of 21st century to achieve an equal living standard afforded to men of 21st century. And if for no other reason, though it may seem quixotic, Donald Trump’s misogyny has sparked a national debate which has long been overlooked and vastly under-reported.

Contributing Journalist: @ElvanKatmer
LinkedIn: Elvan Katmer