Posts Tagged ‘Women’

Nothing new about a woman leading a nation

July 23, 2016
Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel

The possibility of electing the first woman President of the United States is a big deal for many of us Americans.  But the rest of the world may well ask: What took you so long?

Even in the days when women were not eligible to enter the professions or earn university degrees, they still could be queens and empresses.

Rulers such as Queen Elizabeth I of England and Catherine the Great of Russia showed that women could play power politics with the best of them.

Since women in the 20th century received the right to vote and run for office, they’ve had the opportunity to become heads of government on their own merits and not as family dynasties.  Here are some examples.

1969 – Golda Meir (Israeli Labor Party) became Prime Minister of Israel.

1979 – Margaret Thatcher (Conservative) became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

1990 – Jenny Shipley (National Party) became Prime Minister of New Zealand.

1991 – Edith Cresson (Socialist) became Prime Minister of France.

1993 – Kim Campbell (Progressive Conservative) became Prime Minister of Canada.

1993 – Tansu Çiller (True Path Party) became Prime Minister of Turkey. [added later]  (Hat tip to S. Glover)

2005 – Angela Merkel (Christian Democratic Union) became Chancellor of Germany.

2010 – Julia Gillard (Australian Labor Party) became Prime Minister of Australia.

2011 – Dilma Rousseff (Brazilian Labor Party) became President of Brazil

Here are some examples of women who achieved power as members of family dynasties.

1966 – Indira Gandhi, daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, became Prime Minister of India.

1974 – Isabel Peron, widow of Juan Peron, became President of Argentina.

1986 – Corazon Aquino, widow of Benigno Aquino Jr., became President of the Philippines.

1988 – Benazir Bhutto, daughter of Zulifikar Ali Bhutto, became Prime Minister of Pakistan.

2001 – Magawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of Sukarno, became President of Indonesia.  [added later]

It is an interesting question as to whether Hillary Clinton, if elected, belongs on the first list or the second.  She is a successful and effective politician, but would she have been elected Senator from New York or been appointed Secretary of State if she had been Hillary Rodham rather than Hillary Rodham Clinton?

Currently Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, Croatia, Germany, Liberia, Lithuania, Malta, the Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Namibia, Nepal, Norway, Poland, South Korea, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom all have women as heads of state, heads of government or both.  Also Burma (sort of).

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May 19, 2012

What every young man should know

Woody Guthrie’s “Union Maid”

May 29, 2011

I’ve always liked the great old Woody Guthrie song, “Union Maid.”

Guthrie wrote it while on a trip to Oklahoma in May, 1940, with Pete Seeger and Millard Lampell, after one of his hosts criticized him for not writing songs about women union members.  Guthrie, Seeger and Lampell sang for striking oil workers, the Unemployed Workers Alliance, and homeless people along the banks of the Canadian River in what was called a Hooverville.

Click on Woody Guthrie wiki for Guthrie’s Wikipedia biography.

Click on Sandy Pope for the home page for the woman currently running for President of the Teamsters Union.

Sexual abuse, hotel maids and why unions matter

May 26, 2011

Do rich and powerful men ever commit rape?  Evidently many people – including Bernard-Henri Levy, the French philosopher, and Ben Stein, the conservative American writer and TV personality – think that the eminence of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former managing director of the International Monetary Fund, could be guilty of the charge of attempted rape brought by a hotel maid who, as they both point out, is a mere nobody.

Public opinion polls indicate that a majority of the French people, and an overwhelming majority of French socialists, think Strauss-Kahn was set up.  And judging by the comment threads of some of the on-line articles I’ve read, there are many Americans who think a white Frenchman who pays $3,000 a night for a hotel room is inherently more credible than an African immigrant maid.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn

The fact is that hotel guests who sexually abuse hotel maids often get away with it.  Hotels want to please their guests.  Hotel maids – often women of color, often poor immigrants, sometimes illegal immigrants – are often working on the margin of economic survival, and know they can easily be replaced.  If a hotel guest gropes them, or exposes himself, or worse, it is risky to mention it.  The hotel has every incentive to believe the guest rather than the maid.

If you can do something with impunity, a certain number of people will do it.  There are rich people who think their wealth gives them impunity.  There are international civil servants who think diplomatic immunity gives them impunity.

The maid allegedly raped by Strauss-Kahn was a poor immigrant from Guinea, in West Africa.  She might not have spoken up if not for a supportive employer, the Sofitel hotel corporation, and a strong labor union, the New York Hotel Trades Council.  Holding a union card, being protected by a union contract, meant that she did not have to face with wealth and power represented by Strauss-Kahn on her own.  As the old union song, “Solidarity Forever” goes, What force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one? But the union makes us strong!

My newspaper training tells me to use words like “allegedly” and “accused of” so as not to assume that someone is guilty of a crime until the person has been found guilty in a court of law.  I will say that, based on the facts that have come out, the police had probable cause to make an arrest, and prosecution to bring charges, and let it go at that.  But the burden of proof is on the prosecution, as it should be.  Dominique Strauss-Kahn will, I am sure, enjoy the full benefit of the law in presenting his defense – if the case even goes to trial.  I’d say the odds are that the alleged victim will be offered a huge cash settlement to keep the charge from ever coming to trial.

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“Our century’s greatest injustice”

September 20, 2010

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn are husband and wife journalists who jointly won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting on China.  In their book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, they argue that just as slavery and totalitarianism were the great moral issues of the 19th and 20th centuries, crimes against women will be the great moral issue of the 21st century.  After reading the book, I do not think that statement an exaggeration.

Millions of women are targeted for sexual slavery, rape, “honor” killing, and genital mutilation, and tens of millions allowed to die of neglect in childbirth or otherwise, specifically because they are women.  But the struggle for justice for women is a very different kind of struggle than the battles against slavery, fascism and Communism.

Nicholas Kristof was once at the India-Nepal border, and an Indian customs official went through his gear fairly thoroughly, to make sure he didn’t have any smuggled DVDs.  This was on a route where Nepali peasant girls are smuggled into India to be prostitutes, and Kristof asked what success the customs official had in stopping such trafficking.  The customs official said such an effort would be useless.  Young Indian men need access to prostitutes in order to protect the chastity of young Indian women.  The customs official said that if this means Nepali peasant girls have to be forced into prostitution make this possible, this is an unfortunate necessity.

As Kristof noted, the reason the customs official was so concerned about smuggled DVDs is that the United States government put pressure on the Indian government to protect intellectual property rights.  He was not concerned about human trafficking because this is not an issue any government has raised.

The authors are frankly propagandistic.  Reporting mainly from southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, they tell story after story, by turns gruesome and inspiring, about atrocities against women, the courageous responses of some of them, and what philanthropic Americans and other Westerners have done to help.  They throw in enough statistical information to persuade people like me that the stories they tell are not isolated instances.

The authors say that rape and prostitution are worst in countries such as India, Pakistan and Iran where male honor most requires protection of female virginity.  “Honor” requires prostitution to protect “decent” women, and it makes rape an effective tool of humiliation and social control.  Kristof and WuDann tell the story of a village girl in Pakistan who was sentenced by the village council to be stripped and publicly gang-raped to punish not her, but her brother, for some misdeed.  The expectation was that she would commit suicide out of shame, and this would be humiliating to the brother.  But her parents kept watch and prevented her from taking her life, a village Muslim elder denounced the rape as un-Islamic and she went to the police who, surprisingly, arrested the attackers.  With the help of money contributed by Americans, and publicity by Kristof, she founded a girls’ school and then many schools.

The suppression of prostitution, murder and rape is a question of law enforcement.  There are other problems no less serious, but harder to get a grip on.  Amartya Sen, winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics, wrote an essay in 1990 on “100 million missing women.”  Women live longer than men, and so there are more women than men in much of the world, including Latin America and much of Africa.  Yet in China, India, Pakistan and certain other countries, men outnumber women.  The reason, Kristol and WuDunn say, is that parents don’t try as hard to keep their daughters alive as their sons.  Studies in India show that girls in India don”t get vaccinated as boys do, and are 50 percent more likely to die between ages 1 and 5.

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