Not a Wave, a Tsunami!–Part 2

Icelandic women on strike, October 24, 2023

In Part 1, we looked at the history of stoning as a punishment, especially for women. Now let’s consider the situation for women around the globe, starting with the United States and a sample of European countries.

The United States

I’m sure you all have been reading about the loss of reproductive rights in this country.

Roe v Wade, which legalized abortion in the United States, was overturned by the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision in 2022. Roe v Wade was a flawed decision to begin with, since it did not rest on the notion that women have the right to control our own bodies, period! but on the right to privacy. However, it was better than the way it is now, when women must come close to death in certain states before doctors will perform an abortion to save their lives. Or where they are forced to carry an anencephalic fetus to term, or where a raped child of 10 can be forced to bear a child, or where a woman who miscarries can be prosecuted for inducing her own abortion.

In states with strict anti-abortion laws, pregnant women in distress are being denied treatment in emergency rooms for fear that the doctors will be prosecuted under these laws. They are turned away to miscarry in the nearest restroom, give birth in their cars, or—in some cases—end up with a dead baby.

The right wing has contraception in its sights as well. When the Right to Contraception Act came before the House, 195 Republicans voted against it while only eight were in favor.

Of course the misogynist backlash didn’t just start with the Dobbs decision. We can go back at least to the 1970s, when Phyllis Schlafly campaigned against the Equal Rights Amendment. More recently, in 2020, anti-abortion activist Abby Johnson spoke at the GOP convention and proposed that Americans should cast only one vote per household, not one per person—and the male “head of household” should cast it. It seems that the right has no trouble finding opportunistic women willing to betray their sex in return for special privileges in the patriarchal hierarchy.

Reproductive rights are only part of a larger and more pervasive issue, though: violence against women. This issue seems to have largely escaped the focus of our news media and politicians.

The United States finally banned marital rape in 1993. In 30 states, however, a husband is exempt from prosecution for marital rape if he does not have to use force because his wife is mentally or physically impaired, unconscious, asleep, or otherwise unable to consent.

Then there’s murder. According to Sanctuary for Families, 70% of all femicide cases in high-income countries occur in the United States. On a global scale our country ranks 34th for intentional female homicides, at a rate of 2.6 killings per 100,000 women. Almost three American women are killed by an intimate partner every day. In 2018, 92% of murdered women were killed by a man they knew, and 63% by current husbands, boyfriends, or ex-husbands.

To cap it off, researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that American women “who are pregnant or who have recently given birth are more likely to be murdered than to die from obstetric causes…”

France

France did not give women the right to vote until 1944. This year, though, it leaped ahead of the United States with regard to reproductive rights. On March 8 (International Women’s Day), France inscribed a woman’s right to abortion in its constitution.  The government provides free contraception to women 25 and under.

On the negative side, in France, from 2004 to 2009, former and current partners were responsible for more than 80% of all cases of murders of women.  And the police are indifferent. In November 2019, the justice ministry published a review of 88 cases of intimate partner murder or attempted murder. In 65% of these cases, the French authorities had been alerted in advance, and did nothing.

Poland

Poland was one of the first countries to give women voting rights—in 1918, two years before the United States did.  In 1932 it banned marital rape. Even now however, 10% of Polish men believe that there is no such thing as rape in marriage.

Sixty-three percent of Polish women have experienced domestic violence.  (Can we assume, then, that 63% of Polish men are violent towards the women in their lives?) Although Poland has introduced tougher laws against such violence, the question is how and whether they will be enforced. For example, in 2020, the conviction of a man who raped a 14-year-old girl was overturned because “she didn’t scream.” Currently, 31%-41% of men actually convicted of violence against women receive suspended sentences rather than prison terms.

Women aren’t prosecuted for having abortions, but anyone who assists them—such as family members or doctors—can be. Polish women have died due to sepsis when doctors would not provide care because the decaying fetuses in their wombs still had a heartbeat.  Poland also ranks last in Europe for the availability of contraception.

Iceland

For 14 years in a row, the World Economic Forum ranked Iceland as the world’s most gender-equal country with regard to pay, education, availability of healthcare, educational opportunity, and parental leave.  But most equal is not the same as equal. Women still fill the lowest-paying jobs, like cleaning and child care.

Violence against women is rampant in Iceland. While 38% of femicides around the world are committed by a male partner, the figure for Iceland is 50%. Sexual assault in Iceland is also widespread. One in four Icelandic women has been raped or sexually assaulted during her life, yet only around 12% of the victims press charges. Those who do complain to the police have their cases dismissed around 75% of the time.

On October 24, 2023, Icelandic women held a one-day strike to protest these conditions.

Conclusion

In sum, despite some gains (as well as reversals) for women in the United States and Europe, the situation remains grim.

In the next post we’ll look at Latin America.

To be continued…

 

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