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Frightening times for women worldwide

Millions of years ago, when the world was populated by dinosaurs and humans (such as we were at the time) domiciled in caves, males were hunters and females were nesters.

Or so we are told, anyway. Turn the pages of time to the present day and discover how we have slowly evolved: male and female species have tangled, negotiated and worked out an arrangement – more or less – for sharing responsibilities for local – and global – power.

I say “more or less” because it’s clear that in many ways the world has devolved, as evidenced by men treating women as chattel.

Look no further than the case of 15-year-old Malala Yousufzai of Pakistan who was shot in the head after having been outspoken about the need for girls in her country to get an education.

The Taliban attacked her for going against their interpretation of Islamist principles but, no matter how you slice it, the brazen assault on the teen stems from a desire to preserve male domination.

More recently, in India, there was the brutal attack on a young female physiotherapist and her male companion aboard a commuter bus in New Delhi which triggered massive anti-government protests by those alleging that India’s male bureaucrats have typically turned a deaf ear to constant sexual abuse of women on the public transportation system.

Rape and assault charges have been brought against several male suspects.

In various countries, female genital mutilation (FGM) has been an accepted practice, condoned by the powers that be. Here’s what the World Health Organization website says about the situation:

“Procedures are mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15, and occasionally on adult women. In Africa, about three million girls are at risk for FGM annually.

“About 140 million girls and women worldwide are living with the consequence of FGM. In Africa, about 92 million girls age 10 years and above are estimated to have undergone FGM.

“The practice is most common in the western, eastern and northeastern regions of Africa, in some countries in Asia and the Middle East, and among migrants from these countries.”

America, of course, hasn’t been exempt from discriminatory practices against women. It took the Suffragettes movement to secure the vote for women nationwide in 1920. It wasn’t until 1972 that Congress legislated that women were guaranteed equal rights in public educational institutions.

In everyday life, of course, American gender inequities continue to exist, as evidenced by wage disparities, skewed promotional opportunities, and age discrimination. There is hope for better times ahead.

A study published by Newsweek magazine in September 2011 ranked the U.S. eighth out of the top 10 countries that best promoted the “rights and quality of life of women in countries around the world.” The study looked at such variables as “legal justice, health and health care, education, economic opportunity, and political power.”

Ranked ahead of the U.S., in descending order, were: Iceland, Sweden, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Switzerland and Norway. After the U.S. came Australia and the Netherlands.

The worst 10 countries were listed as: Chad, Afghanistan, Yemen, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, the Solomon Islands, Niger, Pakistan, Ethiopia and Sudan.

We still have a long way to go in remedying male/female inequality and public awareness is key to overcoming resistance to change, not surprisingly by male-dominated governments.

– Ron Leir

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