This year, International Women’s Day, which celebrated its 100th birthday on Sunday, also marked the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women and the landmark Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
In what is still considered the most comprehensive blueprint on advancing women’s rights, 189 governments adopted the 1995 Beijing roadmap.
Looking back at this high point in the advancement of women’s rights, the progress made in ending gender inequality is, at best, uneven. The persistence of violence against women remains a scourge across the globe.
According to the report prepared for the 54th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, “the leaders entrusted with the power to realize the promises made in Beijing have failed women and girls,” based on findings in the 167 countries surveyed.
But did we need a UN report to reach this conclusion?
Perceptions of solidly conservative Texas shifted dramatically in late 2012, when President Barack Obama won a landslide re-election largely thanks to the 71 percent of Latino voters who supported him. Democrats immediately seized on the opportunity, making comprehensive immigration reform a pillar of the president’s second-term policy agenda and launching an aggressive campaign to solidify Latino voter support across the country.
But in Texas, Democrats saw an even greater draw. For the first time in decades they saw an opportunity to secure the state’s 38 Electoral College votes. The Obama campaign’s 2012 national field director Jeremy Bird founded a grassroots organization called Battleground Texas and quickly set out a plan to turn the state blue.
Despite the group’s efforts, Texas political analysts have been quick to note that Battleground Texas is unlikely to have any major impact within the foreseeable future. The Texas Republican party has already responded by opening five field offices and hiring two dozen campaigners, and the state’s Latino voters are far less left-leaning than their counterparts across the United States.
In a more controversial appeal to Latino voters, and perhaps a broader gesture to the state’s conservative voters, Texas Governor Rick Perry spent recent months galvanizing support and ensuring the passage of a deeply unpopular anti-abortion bill. Experts have described it as one of the most restrictive pieces of anti-abortion legislation among a series of state legislative and legal battles over reproductive rights across the United States.
The law bans abortions performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy and sets prohibitive costs and operating standards for women’s health clinics. Reproductive health providers in Texas’ poorer southern region—including only two clinics that currently offer abortions—have already said that they will have to close due to inflated operating costs imposed by the new law.
While polls suggest the bill will garner strong support from Latino voters—studies show that as many as 62 percent of Texas Hispanics identify as “pro-life”—it will undoubtedly carry devastating consequences for Latina women and their families.
Experts believe that the law will leave women in southern Texas with two precarious options: to travel four hours to the nearest abortion clinics in San Antonio, or in most cases, to cross the nearby U.S.-Mexico border to illegally obtain misoprostol, a steroid used in early term medical abortions to deteriorate the uterine lining. Without proper medical supervision, the medication can result in internal bleeding and partial abortions, with life-threatening consequences for those who take it.
Often lacking health insurance or documented immigration status, low-income and immigrant women are likely to be most severely affected by the new restrictions. According to a report by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, Latina women “suffer disproportionately high rates of cervical cancer, unintended pregnancy, and poverty,” and “face systemic barriers in accessing the health care they need, including reproductive health care like contraception and abortion.”
Texas’ new law will only serve to deepen disparities for the state’s Latina women. Rather than improve public health, it places an unfair burden on those who already face extensive discrimination and inadequate access to care.
Furthermore, it strengthens perceptions among the country’s quickly growing Latino electorate that politicians believe they can win their support through single-issue campaigns. Rather than look to controversial wedge issues and swing state elections, leaders from both parties should seek to engage in a more dynamic and sustained conversation with Latino voters on the issues that matter to them most.
In Colombia, the country’s second edition of the “Slutwalk”—known in Spanish as “La Marcha de las Putas”—took place recently in several cities around the country. The Slutwalk originated in Toronto in 2011 to protest rape and sexual violence after a Canadian police officer suggested that women should avoid “dressing like sluts” to stay safe. The Slutwalks are public demonstrations where some participants dress provocatively to raise consciousness about sexual violence and respect for women’s right to dress and act as they choose.
The protest in Canada quickly spread around the world and Colombia held its first Marcha de las Putas last year. This year, however, the march stirred controversy from within Colombia’s feminist movement, leading many prominent feminists to refuse to participate.
The dispute started when the leader and spokesperson of Colombia’s Marcha de las Putas, Mar Candela, decided to register the name “Marcha de las Putas” as a nonprofit corporation dedicated to fighting violence against women. The corporation changed the word “putas” (Spanish for “whores”) to an acronym that stands for “for an authentic social transformation” (“por una transformación auténtica y social”—P.U.T.A.S.)
Some feminists have been critical of Candela’s decision, claiming that her action has privatized and monopolized decades of feminist efforts. They are concerned that the new nonprofit has appropriated the social movement that inspired it, turning a political struggle into a registered brand. Furthermore, they contend that Candela’s decision to change the word “putas” to “P.U.T.A.S.” strips the name of its controversial potential, replacing it with an acronym that says absolutely nothing.
Nosotras estamos en la calle, or We Are on the Streets, is the name of an arts and politics festival that took place earlier this month for the fifth year in a row to promote female participation in the public sphere. Organized by different social collectives interested in highlighting women’s participation in street art, music, theater, and politics, Nosotras estamos en la calle was about women “occupying” spaces that have always been dominated by men.
Some men and women believe that International Women´s Day should not exist because it promotes more gender division. However, according to Peruvian newspaper El Comercio, 97 Peruvian women were killed in 2012 as a consequence of femicide. In a country where gender violence is seen as normal, being a woman is dangerous. Fighting for women’s rights and gender equality is still a necessity.
The arts have always been a good way to discuss such topics. Women are hardly ever recognized as street artists or muralists, as drummers and bandleaders, as hip-hop singers or improvisers, or as strong political figures. Nosotras estamos en la calle brought together female artists to share their knowledge with others.
Este mes se observó el día internacional de la mujer, ocasión propicia para conocer la historia de una mujer emprendedora que ha tenido que afrontar una serie de dificultades y retos para lograr sacar adelante a sus cuatro hijos.
Doña Ruth Susana Aguilar es una mujer guatemalteca originaria del municipio de Chichicastenango—a 145 kilómetros al occidente de la capital—quien trabaja como voceadora de periódicos en la población. Cada día se levanta a las 5 de la mañana para llegar a esperar la camioneta que trae los periódicos y luego empieza su recorrido por las calles para distribuirlos. Esa es prácticamente su rutina diaria, a excepción de los sábados cuando va a la iglesia.
Doña Susana es padre y madre de cuatro hijos. Durante 20 años vivió junto a su esposo Diego Tebelan Calgua, pero ante los múltiples problemas y agresiones que sufría decidió denunciarlo. Acudió a varias instancias como la defensoría de la mujer Indígena y la Policía Nacional Civil, logrando que a su esposo se le obligara a darle la respectiva pensión alimenticia. Sin embargo, éste no cumplió y le llegó a deber más de 15 mil quetzales, por lo que llegaron al acuerdo de que ella se quedaría con la propiedad que construyeron juntos durante los 20 años de matrimonio.
Doña Susana califica a su esposo como un hombre machista que no cumple con sus responsabilidades de padre y esposo, al no brindarle la respectiva manutención a su familia. Estas razones la motivaron a iniciar un proceso de demanda de divorcio, el cual debió suspender por resultarle muy costoso.
Por ese ejemplo de sacrificio y valentía, Doña Susana fue invitada recientemente a un foro organizado por el comité de víctimas de violencia sexual del hospital nacional Santa Elena donde compartió su testimonio con los asistentes entre los que se encontraban representantes de instituciones y estudiantes. En su discurso compartió que después de haberse separado de su esposo decidió quitarse la vida. Esperaba el momento en que quedaba sola en casa para cumplir con su cometido, pero cuando tuvo la primera oportunidad de estar sola, casualmente llegó a su casa el hijo de una vecina para pedirle prestados unos juguetes, petición que no pudo negar pues ella amamantó al niño cuando estaba recién nacido.
Esta misma historia se repitió en otras tres ocasiones, lo que ella interpretó como un mensaje de Dios que la hizo recapacitar e iniciar su lucha diaria para sobrellevar la situación. Desde ese entonces se dedicó a muchas cosas para obtener recursos, como realizar trámites contables, ser voceadora, vender productos de distinta clase. Su esposo llegó muchas veces a la casa para quebrar las ventanas, golpear la puerta y hasta la agredió físicamente, pero todo esto la hizo a ella convertirse en una mujer valiente y emprendedora y a tener un carácter más fuerte. Hoy por hoy doña Susana trabaja de sol a sol y lucha día a día junto a sus cuatro hijos—dos hombres y dos mujeres—quienes también la apoyan para conseguir los recursos necesarios.
This week is an important moment to focus on the economic, political and social achievements of women as we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8. While countries have a long way to go in promoting gender equality, a report by the Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA) looks at where Cuba stands among them.
The report is the culmination of more than two years of research on the comparative economic, social and political standing of women in Cuba. It includes dozens of interviews on the status of gender equality which reveal, despite its global standing as a leader on certain gender issues, where Cuba falls short in achieving equality.
The study begins in the 1950s, with a synopsis of the commitments to equal rights made by Cuban revolutionaries before they came to power. We then identify six policies that produced the biggest changes: efforts to increase female workforce participation; national commitments to education and health care; adoption of a constitutional and legal architecture that protects women’s rights; the incorporation of women’s equality and rights as a core part of the revolution’s political project; creation of women’s organizations to serve as advocates for change; and a successful, early campaign to end illiteracy in Cuba.
These and other efforts enable Cuba to fulfill the Millennium Development Goals for primary education, gender equality and reducing infant mortality—and score first among developing countries in maternal mortality, live births attended by health care personnel and female life expectancy at birth, according to Save the Children.
But, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Cuba has a long way to go when outcomes are measured against key gender equality objectives: access to higher-paying jobs; achieving a fair division of labor at work and home; and access to positions of real power in the communist party or government.
On January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court passed Roe vs. Wade, a landmark decision that guaranteed a woman’s right to legal abortion services. In the 40 years since its passage, the ruling has allowed thousands in this country to avoid the dire consequences of unsafe and illegal procedures, and has also catalyzed four decades of political action in the Americas—both in support of and in opposition to reproductive rights.
In Latin America most women do not have access to legally terminate a pregnancy—even one that has resulted from rape, incest or that may critically threaten her health. Each year over 4 million of the region’s women have abortions, with approximately 95 percent of the procedures taking place in unsafe conditions. The results contribute to abortion-related rates of mortality that rank among the world’s highest. And the evidence is clear: criminalizing abortions does not decrease its practice or the incidence of unwanted pregnancies, but it does jeopardize women’s lives in terms of health, safety and economic well-being.
Each year thousands of Latin American abortion rights proponents and opponents work tirelessly on the issue—from grassroots organizations to church groups, politicians, lobbyists, and nongovernmental organizations.
Over a decade after a landmark global effort to increase the participation of women in peace and security efforts much of the Americas is still behind the curve.
UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSC 1325), passed in 2000, reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in all efforts aimed at promoting peace and security. One pillar of this resolution is to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all UN-administered peace and security efforts. It also calls on all parties to conflict to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse.
But actually operationalizing the resolution requires individual countries to adopt National Action Plans (NAPs). And here's where the region falls short.
National Action Plans serve as a guide for governments to articulate priorities and coordinate the implementation of Resolution 1325. This includes integrating different government agencies and working with civil society to accelerate the provisions mandated by UNSC 1325. However, to date, only 38 countries have adopted NAPs; of these, only three—the United States, Canada and Chile—are in the Western Hemisphere.
This seems odd given that countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have NAPs, in addition to most European countries. Why do we not see more Latin American countries adopt NAPs?
Last weekend Mexican presidential candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota officially launched her election campaign, as did the other two primary contenders, Enrique Peña Nieto and Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The media have focused on whether Peña Nieto can convince voters that he represents a new Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI, the governing party for 70 years until the election of Vicente Fox in 2000), and if López Obrador (of the Partido Revolucionario Democrático—PRD) can make a comeback after narrowly losing the 2006 election. As for Vázquez Mota, the candidate of the incumbent Partido de Acción Nacional (PAN), one central question has been whether she can become the country’s first female president.
The Vázquez Mota candidacy is a symbolic victory for feminists. Globally, women are disproportionately less represented in politics (making up only 17.2 percent of national legislatures), and only a handful of world leaders are women. Mexico in particular is known for a deeply-rooted culture of machismo, which pervades politics and business as much as it does society at large. Only 6 percent of Mexico’s mayors are women, although 25 percent of its national legislators are (thanks to a law that requires at least 40 percent of a party’s candidates to be women). No major company is led by a female CEO. Only one, Grupo Modelo, has a female board chair—and that because her father passed it on to her when he died without a male heir in 1995.
Vázquez Mota, in contrast, has risen to the candidacy on her own merits; the 51-year-old mother of three is a trained economist, former congresswoman and ex-cabinet minister (in each of the last two administrations). While Vázquez Mota has embraced her gender head-on since Day 1 (in accepting PAN’s official nomination, she declared, “I will be the first woman president of Mexico”), it remains to be seen whether the candidate of the socially conservative, Catholic PAN will campaign—and potentially govern—with a large focus on women’s issues.
Today is the 101st observation of International Women’s Day, a time to shine the global spotlight on the economic, political and social achievements of women. From my perspective, although Caribbean women are still victims of sexism, machismo and other forms of discrimination—unfortunately as in every other region in the world—their successes have been remarkably profound. The right of a woman to education and political participation is hardly denied. A number of Caribbean women are parliamentarians and ministers; the current prime ministers of Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago are female.
International media are beginning to notice. The Independent (UK), in a ranking of “The Best and Worst Place to Be a Woman,” announced that the Caribbean is the best place for women to be a journalist and that the region has the highest percentage of women—almost 60 percent—working in high-skilled jobs. The Bahamas is ranked the highest for economic participation and opportunity for women. This progress shows that more people are finally divorcing from their prejudices, stereotypes and misconceptions about the societal status of women. However, as we rejoice in this euphoria it is crucial to issue a clarion call for change in areas where basic female rights are still violated, the most glaring of which is reproductive health.
Women and girls must have access to all options of modern contraception to make informed and responsible decisions about the size of their families. But this is not so. Women and girls in the Caribbean are still marginalized and negatively impacted by antiquated laws such as Sections 56 and 57 of Trinidad & Tobago’s Offences Against the Person Act, which fail to account for their sexual and reproductive rights. When I asked on Twitter about which reproductive rights matter most to women in the Caribbean, one follower noted the “need [for] access to affordable, safe and legal abortions for the pregnant poor teenagers as well as the 'successful' married women.”