I was stunned! I have worked for women’s
rights for the majority of my life, I walked precincts,
gathered votes, written letters and fasted 37 days
on water for the Equal Rights Amendment in Springfield
Ill, in 1982, and I still, had no idea about the enormity
and current impact of this issue. The results of a
study presented at the Microsoft Women’s Conference
in late 2005 blew my mind. If you are a guy, and you
are about to put this article down because you think
it has nothing to do with you, please don’t.
This is about you as much as it is about me, as you
will see. Let’s start with the facts.
• 1.1 billion of us live in abject poverty – on
less than $1 a day
• 30,000 children under the age of 5 die each day
• A woman dies in childbirth every minute
• More than 25 million people have died from HIV/AIDS
• 40 million people are living with it and 13,000 people become infected
When we talk
about all of these issues we discover that gender inequity
is at the root of all of it. The
vast majority of the world’s poor are women,
so when we are talking about hunger we are talking
mostly about women and children. 80% of the world’s
refugees are women and children. Today HIV/AIDS is
rapidly becoming a woman’s issue because there
is a direct correlation between women’s low status,
the violation of their human rights and HIV transmission.
IN many countries, this is systematic genocide.
Did you know that here are 100 million women and girls
missing from the world’s
population because of sex-selective abortion, female infanticide, malnutrition,
abuse and neglect of girl children and women? That figure does not even include
the abducted women and children that are trafficked internationally and used
for prostitution and porn. This 100 million figure is the equivalent to all
the deaths in all the wars of the 20th century!
Women contribute two-thirds of the world’s working hours but earn one-tenth
of the world’s income and own less than 1% of the world’s property.
Rural women are responsible for half the world’s food production. In
Africa women produce 80% of Africa’s food. They provide 90% of the water
and own 1% of the land. The rural women in Africa work 18 hours a day, every
day and yet they have no voice. When women have a voice in decisions that affect
their lives they are healthier, they have safer sex, they have fewer children,
their children are better nourished and better educated.
The inevitable conclusion to all of this is of course – that when women
are empowered all of society benefits. So what does this have to do with you
and I as we sit comfortably in our air-conditioned houses and watch our plaza
screen T.V.? It has everything to do with us. First, we need to get more educated
about these issues. Use the technology at your fingertips and get on the Internet.
Check out what Bill and Melinda Gates are doing. See if there is some way that
you can help make a difference. In addition, importantly, we need to look at
the chasm and division in our own communities between men and women. We are
living our internalized prejudices as evidenced by the imbalance of men and
women at the head of organizations, our corporations and as leaders in our
community. Since the failure of the ERA, women have made little gain in equal
pay and minority women have lost ground. This is everyone’s issue. The
woman who is working two or three jobs in order to support her children, is
not at home providing the care and love they need. Some of those kids are our
kids, hungry kids and kids who will begin to use drugs and alcohol.
Each of us can take a look at our own gender prejudice. Do we automatically
choose a male doctor, a male banker or male accountant? Do we support women
being promoted as often as we support a man? When women are being talked about
in derogatory or dismissive ways, do we contribute to the conversation? These
may seem like small steps but this prejudice is deeply embedded in our culture,
and changing it begins right here, right now.