How Vulnerable are Women -- and their Rights -- Today?
I was surprised to read recently that [women’s shelters are being threatened] in Afghanistan -- surprised because, in my ignorance, I had not imagined there would *be* women’s shelters there. It was with a sense of wonder that I considered them, then: a safe place for women in the midst of unrelenting terror, war, and violence. And then I felt, almost palpably, the despair and hopelessness victimized Afghan women, both young and old, must have felt to learn they may no longer have a safe place to go to escape a forced marriage, rape or other sexual assaults, and/or the beatings or death (even by stoning) they might otherwise receive for non-compliance with oppressive, repressive cultural, religious, and/or “legal” expectations.
I know a little bit about how hard it is for women in this country to escape the abuse in their homes, how much courage it takes to leave, how powerless they feel, how sometimes it takes a threat to their children to prompt action -- and they have safe places to go and community support to help them get back on their feet.In this context of women’s safety and women’s rights, some friends and I (all women who participated in the latter half of the women’s movement in this country in the late sixties and early seventies, women who were, often, “the first woman to ________ “ [fill in the blank] in their colleges or careers) were discussing how “safe” we thought we -- and our hard-won rights -- are today as states and the federal government try to balance their budgets on the backs of all the marginalized. The State of Texas, for example, is $27 billion in the hole according to projections for the next two years and before letting the legislature tackle this deficit, the governor has called for immediate passage of an “emergency” measure (his term) to require all women seeking abortions to endure a sonogram (so they can see the heartbeat of the fetus). Among Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives there is a move to end all funding for Planned Parenthood simply because 3 percent of its budget and resources are committed to providing abortions in accordance with the law; the other 97 percent provides low-cost health care to women -- mammograms, PAP smears, contraceptive counseling, physical exams, chest xrays, and the like -- and education and information to teenagers to assist them in making responsible decisions about their bodies and their lives. All these white guys think they know best what women need. Didn’t we dissuade them of that hubris 40 years ago? Apparently not. It would seem they simply fell back and reloaded.What else might be at stake? Probably not the vote -- but, by the way, did you exercise that right this past election? Is 80 cents on the dollar all we’re ever going to make for doing the same job as a man? And what of domestic violence? And rape? Victims are merely one police officer who believes “she deserved it” away from safety and care and the protection of the law, one DNA test the courts decide they can’t afford from making charges stick.Worse, I think (and reasonable people will disagree -- which is fine -- it’s all bad) are the draconian cuts that will be made to education and health care. This is all about women, too -- don’t kid yourselves. Studies have shown that if you feed and educate a woman, she will feed and educate her family, empowering a community, eventually, to grow and prosper. Reduce or eliminate early childhood education, access to quality schools, and scholarships for college and health care (including nutrition) for the poor -- even temporarily, say for 3 or 4 years -- and you risk losing a generation of children who might otherwise have succeeded, who might have helped build or rebuild their communities instead of undermining them with drugs and crime and fatherless families. PTA Bake Sales have been the symbol of our inadequate national commitment to education for far too long; they exemplify the way women’s priorities have been short-changed (What’s that bumper sticker? What if the Department of Defense had to fund its wars with bake sales?), and the budget battles this year promise more of the same.How safe are we? Could “they” turn the clock back on the gains women have made in this country? I think “they” already are -- and, from this abuse we have no shelters to run to. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of fighting, fighting, fighting, and making so precious little headway. And yet, I do really care, so I think we need to gird our loins (as they say) and do battle once again, and then again and again and again.We may think there’s a vast ocean of difference between the women of Afghanistan and us, even centuries of difference. But there may not be. To the extent our legislators believe they can retract the power they once ceded to women (power to control our own bodies, for heaven’s sake!), they need to be disabused of that notion. The power we have claimed is ours; it was never theirs to give. But, clearly, we need to reclaim it now.How? For starters, write to your legislators, every one of them. Find yours here. You can email, and you can call. But imagine the sheer novelty of receiving a letter from a constituent. I know, I know; it’s a pain; and you don’t really think it will make all that much difference. But you don’t know that it won’t, either. Email at least. If all those “tweets” heard round the world have had such impact in the revolutionary Middle East, the least we can do, as women, is to speak up here, too.
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