I am a lucky girl. I’ve had the opportunity to travel and live in several places in the world, and experience different cultures, meet new people, and expand my world views by pushing my personal boundaries further. During these travels and international experiences , I have also seen the struggles women and girls have to go through all over the world, just because they were born female.
I lived briefly in Kenya. Women there have a long way to go before gender equality is reached. As noted by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in their Concluding Observations issued in 2011, Kenyan women still struggle with patriarchal attitudes, stereotypes and cultural norms and traditions and deeply hinder women’s well-being, access to justice and equality in the country. Women face rampant gender-based discrimination and sexual violence, are subjected to female genital mutilation and cutting, polygamy, discrimination in land ownership and inheritance issues, and often lack access to proper judicial procedures to protect their rights.
I’ve also lived in Brazil. Despite notable economic progress the country has made, women and girls of Brazil still face several obstacles for reaching true gender equality. Gender based violence is common, and unsafe and illegal abortions, according to Human Rights Watch, are the fourth leading cause of maternal mortality in the country. The Brazilian penal code only allows for legal abortions when it is performed to save a pregnant woman’s life, or when the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest (apparently, Brazilian women lack the biological defense mechanism to block pregnancy when they are being “legitimately raped”). Small progress has been made by recent rulings that expand women’s access to legal abortion, but the road ahead is still long.
Currently, I am living in India. A country where a girl should count herself lucky, if she ever gets to see daylight as a girl, or gets to grow up to be a woman. According to a study published in The Lancet, as many as 12 million female fetuses have been aborted in India between 1980 and 2010 – only because of the sex of the baby. Billboards and campaigns to encourage families to not abort female fetuses are popping up around the country, and to stop the wide spread practice of female feticide, a law was enacted in 1994 to ban the use of ultrasounds to reveal the sex of a fetus. Sex-selective abortion continues to be wide spread especially in the northern parts of the country, as families worry about being able to afford dowries (also illegal in India) to marry off their daughters, and believe that a son will be more likely to contribute to the family’s finances and less of a liability in general.
If a female fetus survives long enough to see the daylight, life won’t be easy afterwards either. According to a study conducted by International Center for Research on Women, 65% of Indian men surveyed believe there are times when women deserve to be beaten. While supporting measures to reach a more gender equal society, Indian men also believe that more rights for women will result in less for themselves. Patriarchal attitudes and norms still govern the every-day lives of most Indian girls and women, who find themselves in a situation where tradition and customs still stand between them and new opportunities, such as higher education, career and better salary. According to the 2011 Human Development Report, India ranks 134 on the Gender Inequality Index out of 187 countries with data available.
Before moving to India, I lived in the US in New York for three years. Now, that is a great country for women. Often referred to as “the superpower of the world”, and being one of the wealthiest, most developed countries, surely women have it well in this cradle of progress and development.
Except if you happen to be a woman who, for example, gets raped and pregnant as a result, and would like to abort that pregnancy. Then it gets a bit stickier. See, American women supposedly have this in-built, magical mechanism, that prevents them from getting pregnant from real, legitimate rapes. You know, that mechanism Brazilian women seem to lack. The thing is, that many American women lack it too. But that basically means it’s either a malfunction of the female body to get pregnant as a result of a rape, which means it was all meant to be – or, it can also mean the rape wasn’t really a legitimate rape. At least this is what Mr. Todd Akin, a Republican from Missouri, has learned in his human anatomy classes.
America is also not the best country in the world to be if you are a woman who wants to have sex, but would rather not get pregnant, and would like to have access to affordable birth control. See, in America, according to some, this makes women sluts who just have too much sex to afford it. Apparently, asking for birth control to be made affordable to women equals women asking money for sex, which, as we all know, basically means these women are whores. Now, I am not exactly sure when and why birth control became solely an issue for women, given that according to the biology lessons I have attended, it usually takes a man and a woman to get pregnant, and therefore the responsibility to avoid such a result should, in my opinion, also be placed equally on both – but, in America, things are just different. Wanting affordable birth control makes us sluts, and not using any and getting pregnant is our fault, and abortion is just always wrong. Don’t ask why – just roll with it. And don’t get pregnant in the process. Or raped. But if you do, you can’t get an abortion. You shouldn’t have gotten pregnant from the rape in the first place. Are you sure it was legitimate? Maybe you wanted it, just a teensy bit. Well, at least there’s no need for birth control for the next nine months! Yay for seeing the glass half full!
Also, you might run into some inconveniences in America if you do get pregnant accidentally, either from a non-legitimate rape (since legitimate rapes don’t result in pregnancies) or just from regular sex. This could happen, since you couldn’t afford birth control, your partner refused to wear a condom because “it just doesn’t feel as good honey”, or because you just didn’t really know better because there’s no formal sex education offered in your school, or because the sex education you received taught “abstinence only” as the best and only effective birth control method and, well, you just didn’t feel like waiting around for the perfect husband-candidate to come along and sweep you off your feet. So here you are, knocked up and alone. You can’t take time off from work to have the baby and care for him or her because, well, your employer doesn’t offer maternity leave and if you take time off, they’ll give your job to someone else. Even if your employer did offer maternity leave, you couldn’t afford to take it anyway, because, well, United States happens to be one of three countries in the world that don’t guarantee any paid maternity leave to working, expectant mothers. The two other countries? Swaziland and Papua New Guinea. America’s best buds, and so similar in terms of development level, economy, legislation and women’s rights in general.
So, here you are, you sex-hungry, slutty, irresponsible whore – you had sex before marriage against the advice given to you in sex ed, you didn’t use birth control (sure sure, you couldn’t afford it – you should’ve not had sex then!), and your man refused to wear a condom – and now you can’t have the baby because the man bailed, your employer will sack you for taking time off, and you really couldn’t afford to raise a child anyways. So you want an abortion now, eh? Sure, you can get it. But you might have to get an ultrasound first. Count your blessings the proposed Republican Bill in Virginia didn’t pass, and the ultrasound doesn’t have to be trans-vaginal. But you’ll have to get an ultrasound anyway, whether or not it is medically necessary. Why? Well, because.. Because you just have to! Don’t question these laws and regulations. They are for our own good. And since women just cannot be left to make their sexual and reproductive decisions for themselves, America is filled with middle-aged, male politicians who luckily know better, and understand what we need, how our bodies work, and that deep down inside all women just yearn to become mothers, despite the original method of getting pregnant. After all, that is what we are here for.
In my native country, Finland, women and men are equal. We are equally contributing members of the society, with the same rights and responsibilities. Women are given generous maternity leaves and packages and financial support, and our previous president for two terms was a woman. Finland gave women the right to vote in 1906, as the third country in the world and first in Europe. We can get all the abortions we want, and affordable birth control too! So, us Finnish women, we’re really doing pretty well.
Oh, except. Women currently make around 82% of what men make in Finland, on average, according to recent statistics from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. But not to worry! The Equal Pay Programme aims to fix this issue, but narrowing the pay gap to only 15% by 2015! So.. In 2015, if all goes well, women in Finland could be making 85% of what men are, from the same work, with the same education, with the same hours, with the same responsibility. Yay for equality!
Oh yeah, also, in Finland, the number of rapes recorded by the police has increased from 579 in 2000 to 1039 in 2011 – that is almost an 80% increase in number of rapes from 2000 to 2011. According to a study that was carried out in 2005, almost 20% of women who were living in a partnership at that time had experienced violence or threats of violence, either physical, verbal, or both, by their partner at that time.
The Finnish penal code divides rape into three categories according to the “severity” of the crime – rape, aggravated rape, and forceable intercourse. The average served time of rape is 2 years in prison. Of the “mildest” form of rape, which is defined as “forceable intercourse”, average sentence is one year or less of parole. So, if a Finnish woman is raped – but there are “extenuating” circumstances, and no severe bodily harm is cause to the woman, the perpetrator could serve less than a year of parole.
Also, according to a study done by the National Research Institute of Legal Policy, the second most common victim of a manslaughter in Finland is a woman, killed by her current or former male partner.
So basically – being a woman in Finland is wonderful! As long as you don’t feel like you should be getting the same pay for the work you’re doing as men do, and as long as you don’t get raped or killed by your partner. But, at least you can get an abortion in Finland if you do get raped, in case that magical mechanism that prevents us from getting pregnant from rape malfunctions.
See, it’s not too bad for us women around the world. Sure, things could be better in some places, and gender equality hasn’t really been reached in.. well, anywhere, I guess. But we’re here, and in most countries we get to go to school, and we can vote, and we can work too -though not for the same pay as men – and we can try to combine career and family, though usually we’ll still have to choose one or the other. We can make decisions about our own life, health, and bodies, as long as we obey the laws passed by mostly men who know nothing about what we want or need, nor do they care. In many countries we get to choose who we marry too, and usually, it is not okay to hit us – except when we deserved it. Rape is illegal in virtually every country in the world, but it’s good to remember that if you were a bit drunk, or wearing a short dress, or flirting with the guy before the rape, then maybe you kind of had it coming. And, if you got pregnant, well, then it wasn’t really rape at all, now was it.
Yes, we women are doing just fine. What in god’s name are we still fussing about?
I hope we all agree that much still needs to be done, everywhere. And I hope we all find ways to take a stand against gender based discrimination in America, in Finland, in Kenya, in India, in Brazil, and everywhere else in the world. I hope we all believe that since women and girls make up half of this world’s population, half of its work force, half of its intellectual force, half of its voters, and half of its future, we deserve a say in matters that concern us. And I hope we all believe that things can get better, and that we should never settle for anything less than 100% gender equality, everywhere in the world.