Sunday, June 19, 2011

On Women Driving, in the West and Saudi; Other Parameters of Women's Quality of Life; Hope for Change

The "etceterini" classes in Italy would continue through the 1960s, but this was perhaps their last chance to attract international attention. This Ermini Sport Scaglietti, as seen here, provided the buck for the fiberglas Devin sports car in America. It is one of the most beautiful small cars ever built. A 1100cc version placed second in class in the 1956 Mille Miglia. From Veloce Today, "Mille Miglia 2006-Part II"

I discovered this article while searching for another on a different topic completely--though in fact a driving tour of the North Carolina's historical moonshine country (to email Susanne :D). I initially read this article because of the title, and the announced topic. It does mention the June 17 Saudi driving movement and the jubilation when dozens did drive.

However, I was most struck by the author's broader approach to women's status in a given society, and his rightful emphasis on societal mutability, even of the societies we think are frozen in essentialist beliefs. Those essentialisms have less to do with religion than with "religion" as a set of societal constructs held to be true--until society changes.

Also striking is the reminder that change can happen more quickly than one might expect--or seemingly more quickly, as change comes into public awareness out of its long, slow build behind the scenes. The reference to Canada brings home the changes that happened for women in the West throughout the 60's and 70's.

The article reminded me that when I established my Italian citizenship, I had to have proof of when my grandparents became Canadian citizens. My fully bilingual-bicultural paternal grandmother, who had arrived in Canada at the age of 6, had no Canadian citizenship papers. She had the right to vote, proving her citizenship, because she was married to my grandfather, who had arrived in Canada at the age of 26, and was far less fluent in English or Canadian culture. However, as the man of the family, when he took citizenship, his wife obtained it too. My grandmother's voting permission made it clear that as woman not born in Canada only her marriage to a Canadian gave her the right to vote. She was mentioned by her married name and "wife of".

The title of the article below is startling--though anyone doing cross cultural medicine is well aware of India's differential treatment of women--because 2011 is the Year of India in Canada, with many sponsored cultural events and festivals as well as trade development and exchanges. Currently the Bollywood International Indian Film Awards are being hosted in Brampton Ontario, in the Greater Toronto Area. Criticizing India is not fashionable at the moment. Nonetheless, the author makes excellent points about India's "religion" vs religion, and the need for change.

The survey referenced in the article, that polled of 213 aid professionals, academics, health workers, policymakers, journalists and development specialists on the topic "What is the worst place for women to live?", is fully reported here.

Doug Saunders
India is no exception: The subjection of women is its own religion
DOUG SAUNDERS | Columnist profile | E-mail
Globe and Mail Update
Published Saturday, Jun. 18, 2011 2:00AM EDT

My mother began her career as a high-school teacher in a country that regarded women as the property of men. She could not get a bank account or a credit card of her own, only one bearing my father’s name – and only with his permission and under his control. Most jobs were open only to men. Only a quarter of drivers were women, and the whole phenomenon of women driving was hotly debated in the media.

That was Canada in the 1960s. I kept that in mind on Friday as I watched the ebullient spectacle of dozens of Saudi Arabian women daring to defy their country’s laws by getting into cars and driving. You might think their humble rebellion is doomed to failure. But we forget how fast things can change, and how suddenly that change can begin.

We tend to think of the gross mistreatment of women as a matter of deeply rooted tradition and custom: Some places are just like that. Religion and culture are timeless, we like to believe. Sexual equality, then, is pointless: It would be an utterly alien import.

But the world doesn’t work that way. The mistreatment of women is not some inevitable outcome of specific cultures and customs; rather, it is something that emerges in its own right, a poison that takes over and paralyzes nations.

That became vividly apparent this week with the release of a study conducted by Thomson Reuters Corp. on behalf of a legal foundation. It posed a bold question: “What is the worst place in the world to be a woman?” And it got its answer by surveying 213 experts on gender relations from five continents, all of whom have knowledge of the situations in multiple countries.

That Afghanistan (Muslim) and Congo (Christian) were the two worst countries wasn’t any surprise: Both are victims of terrible conflicts that have used the mass abuse of women as martial acts. Pakistan, the third worst, was also no surprise: Also once far more open, its political chaos and poverty have left it open to the worst religious influences.

What stood out was the presence of India, the world’s largest democracy, a place that has risen dramatically from poverty into “middle income” success, as the fourth worst of 195 countries for women. How could this be? A country that is 80 per cent Hindu, a religion that says little about the subjection of women, and deifies some? A country that, as my colleague Stephanie Nolen recently reported, “has more key political powerbrokers who are women than any other country in the world,” including its president, the head of its ruling party, and the premiers of four of its states?

But few experts would disagree with the assessment. I wouldn’t either. It isn’t just the headline issues – murder of non-boy babies, teenage forced marriage and pregnancy, mass sex trafficking of unwanted female children – but also the treatment of women as dowry tokens, the disdain for non-arranged marriage, the all-too widespread groping and simmering sexual abuse, the belief among too many men that women are either virtuous brides or disposable whores. This is not in the nature of Indians, but rather has become habitual among too many men, some of whom can be found in every social class. Much of this has not improved, but has become worse: As economic gains have brought smaller families, the preference for boy children has multiplied.

None of it is traditional or timeless or built into the religion. Indian culture or economics or poverty aren’t causing it, but it is having a dire effect on them. It has arisen and become a faith unto itself. It is unrelated, in any important way, to the wider culture – but it has choked back social and economic progress, preventing poor families from becoming more prosperous.

The second-class status of women is not, as this study shows, an inevitable outcome of any one religion or culture: The subjection of women is its own religion; it is a cause, not an effect. In all these countries, it usually expresses itself not as shame, but as celebration. Our women are precious, it is usually said. They must not be cast into the common world of men, but protected. The protection of their virtue is the subject of obsessive fear. As one commentator posted on a Pakistani news site in response to the study: “Compared to other countries, our women are much safer.”

Here’s a good rule: If you refer to them as “our women,” then there is something deeply wrong. We are hardly in a position to act superior, for this sort of language was our part of guiding religion only recently, its effects still being felt within my lifetime. There is nothing timeless or inevitable about it.


Your comments, thoughts, impressions?


Haitham هيثم Al-Sheeshany الشيشاني said...

Using religion in a eclectic way is just wrong, simple and to the point!

If the argument "did I say argument!" is that people will be offending/attacking/assaulting women if they r allowed to drive; then why God why don`t we go back to the essentials and revise the very own system that created such "monsters" ... the system that is the frontier we r protecting by NOT allowing women to .. drive!

(sorry 4 the usage of the word "allow/allowing... it`s a shame" !

Majed said...

Very interesting but does not seem to be very knowledgeable and impartial,where is the Iraqi women and the women of Gaza strip, Burma ,Bangladesh and Ukraine on the this study result, sure they can not be after India tell me India is 100+ I will take for granted, no way,I know India is not the safest place on earth but but but...

As for Afghanistan and Congo both are War and conflict Zones, what is is going and who is doing what is not always clear we only judge based on accounts and narratives that are not always correct ( ) and in such situations men and children are just as much affected or may be more, if woman and man are the same, why then to give her preference of any kind or the benefit of anything, not that I am against women protection and welfare, I am totally with that ,but so much for gender equality (women need and deserve more care)there is no question about that.

Now this 100 million Indians involved in human trafficking, that was one of most ambiguous phrases I have ever heard , it needs an explanation, what did our stupid home secretary mean with that and why was't he brought to account on that,this our problem our politicians are too immune, it was not enough they have given the Oscar award for the rubbish slum dog millionaire now this, this too much,the problems with Indians is they are too humble and lenient,when are we going to learn to be like the Chinese.

But I admit that we have the fetus killing mostly female( and often or any unwanted pregnancy that resulted from inaccessibility to contraceptives ,girls trafficking,dowry problem (the later as a financial burden is the main cause beside poverty for the two former unlike the post suggests)and that is boys are preferred, we have also discrimination of many sort against women like in wages and employment but one will find that to varying degrees everywhere, otherwise women are just fine in India we have Mahila mandals in every corner, we have punishment upto life imprisonment for rape,and Indian law always take women side,she readily gets education aids and economic aids, we also have very strict dowry laws.

Women everywhere whether in America or Europe or Asia etc were allowed,granted,given,bestowed,permitted all are different name of her taking something from others,yes shame it is but to women indispensable and inherent shame or curse.

Wendy said...

Interesting article, Chiara. Of course all polls can be questioned. How were they taken, what was the criteria, etc. It was interesting to see India as number 4 but from some of my readings I do understand why it was chosen. Some of it's nasty treatment of women follow it to new countries.It is also interesting to see how quickly women in many countries gained rights. I am old enough to remember restrictions on women in Canada that fortunately disappeared. There is still gender bias in some areas and especially when it comes to pay. If you look at European and Scandinavian countries we still see gender bias also.
I would like to be able to take a look at things 50 years from now - then again, maybe not.

Majed said...

Everybody has absolute right to love his homeland and to chant its name when an occasion permits, and I admire that in people,but with all due respect, I don't think Canada can be used in any way as standard unit to measure any other country,because Canada 's situation is unique,with its 10 million KM2 of virgin land that is full of natural resources with only a population hardly of two Indian mega cities, what I mean to say is too many goodies for too few people Canadians being wise people unlike others who also have resources but no mind,should have been by now touring Mars and Pluto but they still on earth.
May be to some extent we can use Sweden and Norway to measure countries, Whenever I hear Sweden I remember may his soul rest in peace Olof Palme I was very young when he was killed no other white man interested me like he did.

Anonymous said...

Majed, you misunderstood me. I am not using Canada as a standard. I was only saying that Canada has come along way in 60 years and it gives me hope that other countries can also do that. There are still double standards in Canada today and women don't necessarily get paid the same as men for same jobs. I was also saying that things for women are not always as they appear in polls. Sweden for all it's progressive ways still has a double standard for women as do many other European countries.

I'm not sure, though, why you equate Canada's space and natural resources with the rights and treatment of women. Why do those two things have anything to do with women being treated as equals and not being abused in oh so many ways by men? Female abuse and all the forms it takes should not have anything to do with the wealth of the country and/or it's peoples.

Wendy said...

Sorry Majed, that last post came up as Anon and it was from me - Wendy!

Majed said...

I know that I often sound so sure of what I am saying,and I also know it is not a good thing when expressing one`s point of view and not facts, I am trying to change that tone.

Actually I was responding to what was mentioned in the post about (that was Canada 1960s)which though was said in good faith,can be taken to mean that Canada is different now whereas many others still lingering behind,here came the need to show the disparities between nations in population vs resources available, progress and advancement of any kind anywhere are in direct proportion with resources which if used wisely mean better education,healthcare, accommodation and better what not, don't you think a good education is the gateway to everything that is good.

Sorry for delayed response,We are actually preparing for Ramadan season, so I am up to my ears in work,it means a lot of Alt+Tab to read and work at same time.


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