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.
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?