Gauging Women’s Well-being

I checked on the indicator I’ve been using, Women’s Proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments (%) this morning and found that the 2011 numbers had not yet been uploaded. As I’ve been updating these numbers for the New Year, I’ve also been looking at the indicators I’ve chosen. In the case of gauging women’s well-being, I would ultimately like to get the figures of how much of the wealth of any particular country is realistically controlled by the women of that country. (Though I don’t believe wealth alone is the perfect indicator of empowerment, it is about as close as I believe you can get.) That measure doesn’t exist yet so I will have to keep looking and, in the meantime, women’s participation levels in their governments will have to do.

But this exploration always brings up a difficult question. There are many women who do not believe they should have the rights and privileges as men. This came home to me after seeing an article on the “honor” deaths of four women in one family in Canada. The husband, second wife (the marriage was polygamous), and son felt completely justified in murdering the father’s three daughters and first wife, because the women were acting “dishonorably” in the frame of traditional tribal Islamic laws. (They were also from Afghanistan which possibly still has the most repressive laws in the world regarding women’s rights.)

But this is what they believe in with all their heart. Who are we to impose our belief systems on other countries?

Although the above example is a very stark example, there are millions of other less-defined examples that we, as a planet face. (Consider the current French debate on headscarves for one.)

Over 100 years ago, in colonial India, a British colonel, Charles James Napier, was confronted with this kind of situation, when Hindu priests complained to him about the British ban on “sati” or the traditional burning alive of a widow on her husband’s funeral pyre. His response, as recounted by his brother was:

“Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.”

I find myself, though I truly wish to respect other cultures’ customs, siding with the Colonel’s sentiments in the majority of today’s instances of women’s rights violations. “Culture” is not an excuse.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

PS. There aren’t too many examples on the planet today, but occasionally, the men need to have their rights respected by women. Balance, it’s all about balance!

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