Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The misleading narrative

The denial of the rights of women abroad is often excused as an expected byproduct of a nation’s underdeveloped economy or nondemocratic system of government. This narrative – that women abroad are denied human rights because their countries are poor or undemocratic – improperly implies that as nations progress economically and democratically, women will surely gain more freedoms. This is, however, a distortion of reality that minimizes our compassion for women in lesser-developed nations. A brief consideration of women’s rights in two of the world’s leading lesser-developed nations demonstrates that women continue to be denied basic human rights, despite a nation’s economic and democratic gains.

Ghana and India have demonstrated competitive economic and democratic progress, but Ghanaian and Indian women continue to face outrageous inequities. This week, BBC News reported two cases of women being denied basic human rights in each country. The first report is about a 100-year-old Ghanaian practice of exiling eccentric or otherwise undesirable women to isolated
“witch camps.” The second report is of an Indian woman who fought for 24 years to prove that she was alive after her ex-husband declared her dead so that he could transfer all his property to his third wife. In both cases, women were denied very basic human rights despite the economic and democratic advancements of their societies.

The denial of women’s rights abroad is not an inherent consequence of a nation’s status as a lesser-developed nation. India and Ghana demonstrate competitive economic development. In 2011, Ghana experienced a
13.6% GDP growth rate, standing out as last year’s fastest growing economy in Africa, and ranking fourth on a global scale. In the same year, India ranked as the world’s fourth wealthiest country with a GDP of over four and a half trillion U.S. dollars.

Similarly, a democratic system of government does not ensure the progress of women’s rights. The U.S. State Department
reports that Ghana is a constitutional democracy in which “citizens exercised [their right to vote] through periodic, free, and fair elections.” Ghana is ranked 78 out of 167 nations on The Economist’s Democratic Index, ranking higher than the Ukraine, Hong Kong, Singapore, Turkey and at least 34 Sub-Saharan African nations. India is ranked 39 on the Democratic Index, beating Poland, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Brazil.

Women’s problems in Africa and Asia are not uniquely African or Asian problems that do not merit our attention. The basic human rights of women abroad will not be secured simply as a result of a nation’s economic or democratic advancements. If that were the case, then today’s American feminists would not have had to fight (again) for the right to contraception. The belief that the denial of women’s rights will simply ease with time as nations develop competitive markets and free economies is not only inaccurate – it’s a cop out.


MC said...

A common phenomenon in the Republic of Korea involves loan sharks charging exorbitant interest rates on loans for education, and small business ventures, and subjecting debtors to organ and/or sex trafficking if they cannot keep up with the interest payments [http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/rights-so-divine/2011/sep/26/south-korea-stimulus-plan-sexism-and-human-traffic/]. This summer I encountered a woman who was trafficked into prostitution in the U.S., to pay her debt. When her loan shark arranged for her return to have her kidney removed and sold in China, she went to the police and was placed in removal proceedings. The immigration judge ordered her removed because the Republic of Korea is a developed democratic nation, in which the government would surely protect her. The judge ignored evidence that the Department of State accused South Korea of failing to enforce its anti-trafficking laws, and mete out stern punishment. [http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2011/06/29/2011062901217.html]. South Korea's market economy ranks 15th in the world, yet sex and organ trafficking is not only on the rise, but being ignored by authorities and government officials.

Pali said...
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Pali said...
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Pali said...

The causal link is definitely misleading, and inaccurate. It is ironic that in these undeveloped, economically inferior nations women have held political positions of power much higher than women in Western countries can even realistically aspire to in the foreseeable future-- In 2007, Pratibha Patil was elected President of India. Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister of India in 1966. Women in America may have been burning bras, but not making these visible rises to power. Today in Ghana, a woman is gearing up to run in the December election http://www.modernghana.com/news/412523/1/ghana-ready-for-her-first-female-president.html. I am forced to question whether the inequities between men and women evident in these countries is solely sex based, since women there have been able to accomplish so much, or it is more attributable to discrepancies in socioeconomic class.