By Cynthia Richie Terrell on May 10, 2019
Afghan girls raise their hands during English class at the Bibi Mahroo high school in Kabul on Nov. 22, 2006. Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
In short, the laws on the books and the debate about women’s rights taking place in Kabul, and in the press more broadly, don’t adequately reflect men and women’s everyday understandings of a just society in rural eastern Afghanistan. There is far greater support for girls’ education and women’s employment than has been highlighted, yet at the same time, there is also evidence that some men now believe women have too many rights and that younger men are less likely than their fathers to support full gender equality. That could reflect the disparity between what rights rural Afghans are comfortable with and what is outlined in the constitution.
Representative Elise Stefanik can pinpoint the moment that crystallized the issue for her: It was the week after the midterm elections, and the newly elected members of the House of Representatives lined up for a photo. Representing the Democratic side of the aisle were more than 30 women. On the GOP side were two–Carol Miller of West Virginia and Young Kim of California.
Stefanik knew what could have been. “I recruited over 100 women,” she says, reflecting on her time as recruitment chair for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). But looking at the freshmen on the Capitol steps, she saw whom her party was welcoming in 2019: almost all white men. And within days, mail-in ballots showed that Kim had actually lost, bringing the grand total for House GOP freshmen women to one.
“That was a stark, stark wake-up call,” Stefanik says. She stood up at a meeting with her fellow House Republicans shortly after the election. “‘Take a look around,'” she recalls telling them in the basement of the Capitol. “‘This is not reflective of the American public. And you need to do something about it.'”
The abdication of Emperor Akihito on April 30 2019 and the enthronement of his eldest son Naruhito the following day as the 126th emperor of Japan, was a landmark event. This was the first abdication of a reigning emperor since Kokaku abdicated in 1817, in what is seen as the oldest continuous hereditary monarchy in the world.
The Japanese government came up with a law to allow the throne to pass to 59-year-old Naruhito after Akihito publicly announced in August 2016 that he had decided to “retire” – which renewed debate about the male-only succession system.
The exclusion of women as heirs to the throne first appeared as law in 1869 in Article 2 of the Meiji Constitution and was reinforced by the 1947 rewritten constitution of Japan. As a result, out of a total of 18 members of the imperial family, not one of the 13 women will ever have access to the throne. Naruhito’s younger sister, Princess Nori, was even forced to leave the imperial household and to surrender her status after marrying Yoshiki Kuroda, a “commoner” in 2005.
A recent issue of Vanity Fair featured a cover photo of White House hopeful Beto O’Rourke and his words about the 2020 US presidential race: “I want to be in it. Man, I’m just born to be in it.” One wonders what the reaction would be if O’Rourke’s female rivals made such a statement. Ambitious women in politics are treated differently. Voters are less likely to back female politicians if they perceive them as power-seeking, research from the Harvard Kennedy School suggests. More frustratingly, female voters are as likely to hold these negative views. Male politicians escape this “ambition backlash”.
Over the next 18 months these attitudes will be visible for all to see.
The current race for the US presidency has a record number of women seeking the Democratic nomination. The fact that more women want to be president is already a major media talking point. That in itself says much about contemporary political life.
America is not the exception. Despite women accounting for half the world’s population, the parliamentary universe has remained stubbornly dominated by men. One in four of the world’s parliamentarians are women. The numbers are even lower for decision-making positions. Only one in five ministers internationally is a woman in 2019. Rwanda, Cuba and Bolivia are the only countries that have 50% female parliaments.
- May 13, 2019 She Should Run's Road to Run Austin
- May 18, 2019 VoteRunLead's Run As You Are Trainings
- May 19, 2019 Portraits of the Women in the 116th Congress exhibit at the Neweseum
- June 5, 2019 Women Deliver Conference in Vancouver, Canada - if you are going be sure to look for the panels that Gwen Young is moderating!
New York is a city of women, to say nothing of seniors and people of all ages and ethnicities on the smaller side. Whose bright idea was it to order up a line of taxis fit for nimble giants? And while we’re on the subject, who replaced normal chairs in restaurants with tall stools that you have to awkwardly wiggle up onto? Why are podiums so high? And why does nobody offer you something to stand on so you can be seen over them?
I know what you’re thinking: It’s not about sex, it’s about height—and you, Katha, just happen to be short. That is true. But hello! Women on average are shorter than men, and once you get down to the really petite, they’re mostly women. And yes, I am aware that taxis and seating and podiums are not the most important problems in the world. But as the British writer Caroline Criado-Perez argues, they are symptoms of a much broader affliction. Her brilliant book, Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, lays out in impressive detail the many ways that human beings are presumed to be male, as well as the wide-reaching effects of this distorted view of humanity.
You might have heard of Criado-Perez when she started a campaign in 2013 to have a woman included in what was supposed to be an all-male lineup of notables featured on British banknotes. She was met with scorn and the online obscenities and threats that all feminists seem to attract when they invade male turf—and what’s more manly than money? But it’s largely thanks to her that Jane Austen appears on the £10 note today.
Austen, of course, would have known all about the “generic male.” From the rules of grammar—“man” means both male and human, “he” means both he and she—to the positioning of kitchen shelves, which are way too high even though a woman is likely to be making the most use of the kitchen, the male is treated as the default human. It’s what Criado-Perez calls “male unless otherwise indicated”: Women aren’t people; they’re a “niche.” That means women are seen as the exception, even when they’re not. Asked in one study to draw a “beautician,” Criado-Perez notes, most people in the group drew a man. A 2015 study showed that when people were asked to draw seemingly genderless words (“user,” “participant”), both men and women drew males.