For International Women’s Day 2018, the Washington Post highlighted the efforts of five women activists — from the U.K. to India — who are dedicating their lives, if not risking them, to help advance the rights and political power of women. It is a worthy and inspiring read, with the account of 75-year-old Canan Arin of Turkey especially standing out in my mind:
“Every day, it is getting worse and worse and worse,” she said. “I come from a generation that believed women and men are equal before the law. But I realized that we are not equal, that we have never been equal.”
Arin founded one of Turkey’s first women’s shelters, the Purple Roof Women’s Foundation, in 1990. And she has also helped reform parts of the Turkish penal code, which she said took “a feudal approach to women.”
Her advocacy has also put her in the crosshairs, and prosecutors have charged her with slander against Turkish officials, as well as the prophet Muhammad. But she remains undeterred.
When asked how long she would continue her work, she responded: “Until I die.”
With courage and gumption like that, shared by millions of women around the world, I have a lot of hope for the future.
The Economist has put together an interesting map, based on data from the World Economic Forum, a Swiss think tank, showing the number of years each country has a had a female head of state or government. You might find the results surprising:
As with any data set, there are some caveats:
During that time period, just under two-fifths of the countries surveyed had a female head of state or government at some point for at least a year (excluding monarchs). In half of those countries, the total time served by female leaders falls short of five years, a common length of a single full term in office.
Like Hillary Clinton, who is the wife of a former American president, many female heads of state have hailed from political dynasties. At least a dozen are the wives or daughters of former presidents or prime ministers. They include the two women who, between them, have held the prime minister’s post in Bangladesh for 23 of the past 50 years—the longest any country has had women at the helm.
Moreover, the mixed bag of high ranking countries — ranging from developed democracies like Iceland and New Zealand, to more flawed democracies like the Philippines and Bangladesh — shows that greater representation for women in the upper echelons of power does not necessarily reflect, or translate to, more female empowerment and gender parity overall. (Especially if the women in power got there through proximity or political connections with men.)
According to The Economist’s latest “Glass Ceiling Index” — which draws on data from a variety of sources, such as the OECD, European Union, and the International Labor Organization — the following are the best (and worst) developed countries to be a working woman, as determined by several weighted indicators ranging from educational attainment to paid maternity leave. Continue reading →
Among the three scientists awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for work against parasites was Tu Youyou, an octogenarian pharmacologist whose work led to the development of the most effective treatment against malaria. But despite her invaluable role in saving millions of lives from this public health scourge, her contributions remained largely unknown, even in her own homeland.
In 1967, Chairman Mao Zedong set up a secret mission (“Project 523”) to find a cure for malaria. Hundreds of communist soldiers, fighting in the mosquito-infested jungles of Vietnam, were falling ill from malaria, and the disease was also killing thousands in southern China.
After Chinese scientists were initially unable to use synthetic chemicals to treat the mosquito-borne disease, Chairman Mao’s government turned to traditional medicine. Tu, a researcher at the Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Beijing, had studied both Chinese and Western medicine, according to a New Scientist profile, and was hand-plucked to search for an herbal cure.
By the time I started my search [in 1969] over 240,000 compounds had been screened in the US and China without any positive results,” she told the magazine. But, she added: “The work was the top priority, so I was certainly willing to sacrifice my personal life.”
Tu’s dedication included first testing the promising treatment on herself, to ensure that it was safe. Once it was proven to have no side effects, she organized clinical trials for people with malaria, all of whom were incredibly cured of the disease within no more than a day. Continue reading →
On this day in 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, prohibiting U.S. citizens from being denied the right to vote based on sex, and thereby guaranteeing women’s suffrage in the country. It was authored by leading suffragettes Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, and first introduced in Congress in 1878 by California Senator Aaron A. Sargent.
Although the American women’s rights movement began with the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention in New York, it truly began to take off after the U.S. Civil War, when activists advocated for universal suffrage to be included in the Reconstruction amendments (the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments).As part of this “New Departure” strategy, groups like the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), led by Stanton and Anthony, pursued legal cases arguing that the Fourteenth Amendment (which granted universal citizenship) and Fifteenth Amendment (which granted the vote irrespective of race) together served to guarantee voting rights to women. Continue reading →
Mary Edwards Walker (1832 – 1919) was an American feminist, abolitionist, and surgeon who became the only woman, and one of only eight civilians, to receive the Medal of Honor.
She worked as a teacher to pay her way through Geneva Medical College (now Hobart College), where she graduated as a medical doctor in 1855, the only woman in her class. She married fellow medical school student Albert Miller set up a joint practice in Rome, New York. It failed to take off, largely because female physicians were generally not trusted or respected at that time. Walker briefly attended Bowen Collegiate Institute (later named Lenox College) in 1860, until she was suspended after refusing to quit the all-male school debating society.