2016 has seen some of the most unexpected events. The death of David Bowie, the vote to leave the EU and America’s election of Donald Trump as their president are a few. Women have been fighting for equality and representation for almost a century now, but it seems that 2016 will stunt their progress. In developing countries, the struggle continues, but are modernised western countries any better in promoting the rights of women?
As it stands, in 2016, here are some of the challenges women still face in places other than UK, USA and Europe:
- It is still illegal for women to drive cars in Saudi Arabia (although a Prince has recently urged to remove this ban).
- In India, a man was killed for possessing beef. However, raping a woman in India hardly ever gathers any sort of this outrage.
- According to UNICEF, a teenage girl dies every 10 minutes globally due to violence.
- According to UN Women, around 133 million girls have faced female genital mutilation.
- A man in South Africa dodged a 10-year sentence for sexually assaulting an 11 year old girl after judges did not thing his crime was severe enough.
- 250 million girls were married before the age of 15 around the globe.
The UK, US and Europe usually lead in progression and setting an example for the world. 2016 has proved that it is not exactly so.
Perhaps the most important event of 2016 has been the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. It may be considered symbolic in some way that he should win without any political experience over Hillary Clinton, a woman who has a lot of political experience. Maybe even more symbolic is the fact that the US elected a man who has openly talked about assaulting women. One of his most famous phrases is “grab them by the p***y”. He is at the centre of a number of sexual assault allegations, and he has admitted that he would look at naked women backstage at beauty pageants. His attitude of objectifying women is also obvious, through many of his tweets:
But will Trump’s attitude towards women be channelled into his policies? He has said that he wishes to outlaw abortion, stating that there will be ‘some sort of punishment’ for those who seek it. He is pressing to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) which has allowed millions to get health insurance which would cover pre-natal care and birth control. He would also like to defund Planned Parenthood, which he calls an ‘abortion factory’.
The recent Stanford Rape Case saw Brock Turner receiving only three months in prison for sexually assaulting an unconscious 22-year-old woman. It is alleged that his sentence was reduced due to his wealth, racial background and male privilege. Known as an athlete, many were quick to point out how the allegations would ruin his career, although the plight of the victim was largely ignored.
Many transgender women in America are also discriminated against or even killed. Transgender women of colour are usually victimised by the epidemic of violence, which is hitting record highs.
Brexit in Britain may also have a negative impact on the progression of the rights of women. Whilst racially motivated hate crimes in Britain have risen by 41%, women of racial minorities are likely to become victims, such as a woman who almost had her hijab pulled off in a racially motivated attack. It has been suggested that in the crimes against Muslims, 61% of the victims were women.
The act of leaving the EU itself may also have a detrimental effect. The EU provides its members with protection under the Human Rights Act, which means Britain could lose this privilege once it leaves. Two directives which directly protect women under EU law are the Pregnant Workers Directive and the Parental Leave Directive. Leaving the EU is likely to cause economic turmoil, which would mean that workers’ rights may be ignored, and women could be hit particularly hard. Along with austerity, meaning less funding in welfare services, women are likely to be a victim of the Brexit vote.
The rights of women are often decided by governments which include hardly any, or even no women in them. A recent proposed ban on abortion (except in special circumstances) in Poland led to a surge in protests by women, who were angered by people deciding on what women should and should not do with their bodies. The protests had more than 30,000 partakers, who were dressed in black and held signs saying “my uterus, my opinion”, and “women just want to have fun-damental rights”.
It was not the Polish Parliament which initiated the legislation, but it was rather the idea was brought forward by an anti-abortion petition with over 100,000 signatures, led by the Ordo Iuris and Stop Abortion groups. However, the fact that the parliament allowed this idea to pass through a phase where it would have potentially become law, suggests that governments are also not always active in paving the way for progress.
It thus seems that 2016 has not been a good year for the west and how they treat their women. If developed western countries are to set an example of how others should be, they are failing the women of the world. Perhaps 2017 will be a better year for feminism. Until then, it is only a matter of speculation to see if women’s rights will progress or be set back by many years.
Featured image photo credit: Dallas Observer