In case it blew by you, the world celebrated the 107th International Women’s Day last week. I will be honest. The festivities paled in comparison to, say, the Carolina Panthers playing in the Super Bowl with nearly nude cheerleaders and a dancing Beyonce.
That being said, it remains instructive to take an annual look at the state of women on our planet — the good, the bad and the truly ugly. As Ann Simmons reports in the Los Angles Times, no nation has achieved gender equality. Of 145 nations, Iceland comes the closest in terms of economic participation and opportunity, health and survival and political empowerment. At the other end of the spectrum, Yemen prohibits women leaving home without their husbands’ permission, and a Yemeni woman is counted as half a witness in court proceedings. Not much ahead are Tanzania and Lesotho, where women may not inherit land.
Areas of continuing concern in most nations include education. About two-thirds of girls in developing nations receive the same education as boys in primary schools, but boys are almost twice as likely to complete secondary school in Africa and South Asia. Sadly in 2016, education does not translate into employment for many women who are disproportionately responsible for family and household obligations, almost always — unpaid labor. Not only is this problematic for women, it hurts the global economy — translation you and me. The McKinsey Global Institute says that $28 trillion dollars — yes, with a “T” — or 26 percent could be added to the world economy if women played the same roles in labor markets as do men.
It is painful to think about some of the legal, social and cultural barriers women face in nations and cultures outside our own. Here is a sampling. Saudi Arabian women can neither drive cars nor open bank accounts without spousal permission. Ugandan women who divorce cannot have permanent custody of their children. Women in Vatican City are the only women in the world who cannot vote. About 1,000 women die every year in honor killings, a punishment for having brought dishonor upon one’s family. In some cultures, young girls can be “gifted” to men for various reasons, and in others women can be “inherited” by their husband’s brother. In some places, women can be forced to marry their rapists. Early marriage continues to be an issue, with 250 million women alive today wed before their 15th birthdays.
Harder still is to realize how little control many women have over their bodies and health. In El Salvador, a miscarriage or stillbirth can send a woman to jail. Genital mutilation continues in Africa and southern Asia, and simply being pregnant remains high-risk in developing nations.
These women are mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, cousins and best friends — just like us. We may have come a long way, baby, but many of us still have a long way to go.
Syndicated columnist Froma Harrop recently penned her support for high school dress codes. While acknowledging that women have a right to wear what they please, she slams the current fashion of serious newswomen pouring themselves into tight, short, sleeveless dresses and stiletto heels no matter the weather. Harrop correctly notes that the “fact remains that in most professions, the fully clothed man projects more authority than the woman flashing her flesh. It’s sad to see smart women on serious news shows exposing their arms, their lower thighs and often their cleavage while the men’s dignity and paunch are protected in tailoring.”
Well said, and I hope parents of girls and some boys are paying attention.
Lastly, a friend recently shared a little book with me — Porn for Women of a Certain Age. Not to worry — no inappropriate photographs or words you cannot use at the dinner table. What there is are pictures of good-looking men — clothed, of course — saying things women can only dream about.
I loved the one with a fellow adjusting bathroom scales with a screwdriver whose caption reads, “As I suspected, it’s reading 10 pounds high.” The same delightful man says in another photo, “Explain it to me again. Why did all your friends at the reunion look so much older than you?” He appears again surrounded by a mountain of drab luggage and holding a golden pocketbook. That caption reads, “You take the yellow one. I’ll get the rest.”
My fave, though — probably because the three most important men in my life have each at some point literally lived to fish — is of a handsome young man perusing a flower book and saying into the phone, “Well, fishing sounds nice, but we never miss the flower show.”
Neither my friend nor I can understand why none of her four young adult daughters found any of these even remotely funny while we were laughing our heads off.
That must be what “a certain age” means.