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Why do some countries do so much better than others on women's rights?

(13 Posts)
Poofus Wed 22-Jun-16 12:08:34

I have been mulling over this question for a while. Take Asia, for example - Japan (the most economically developed country) does really badly, with only about 3% of central government positions going to women, whereas Philippines (much less developed) has nearly half of senior posts in government going to women.

I get that cultural norms obviously play a big role here, but cultural norms against women taking part in political life can be found in many Asian societies that have nonetheless managed to produce much higher numbers of female political leaders than Japan.

Clearly economic development alone is not the answer to improving women's rights - just look at China, where women's political rights, political participation and property rights are being rolled back now at a time of prosperity after dramatic improvement under Communism when incomes were generally very low.

And although Islam is not renowned for its focus on women's rights, some Muslim countries have done very well for women in politics - eg Bangladesh certainly scores better on women in positions of power than many other non-Islamic countries. This is hard to fit with what we know culturally of Islam.

I can't work out the answer to why some countries do so much better than others, despite economic development/culture/religion, so I thought I would put it out here to see what everyone else thinks!

Poofus Wed 22-Jun-16 13:00:31

Oh and - going beyond Asia - Rwanda, which is one of the poorest countries in the whole world - has a much better rate of women's political participation than we do in the UK!

tribpot Wed 22-Jun-16 13:10:17

Very interesting question - I wondered what academic research had been done in this area and came across this paper (PDF link). From scanning through it, it looks as if quotas are a significant factor in terms of women's representation in government, it notes Rwanda reserves a quarter of seats in the lower chamber to women and 30% in the upper.

Obvs your question wasn't just about participation in politics, but it's reasonable to assume the two things are linked - it's definitely not related to wealth given the ongoing assaults on women's right in the US.

VestalVirgin Wed 22-Jun-16 13:48:09

What is important is that women's representation in government is not always a reliable sign of women's rights - there are governments where straw-women are just used to make the country look good internationally.
(And sometimes, a head of state is just a straw-woman ... not saying that Merkel is one, but she's not exactly a fighter for women's rights, either. I suspect she would not have come so far if she was.)

I think there's a number of factors. Among others, there is economy - when a patriarchal country needs women to work outside the house, then more freedoms will be given to women, as a means to an end.

Also, the number of men. When men outnumber women, they can more easily oppress. They are also more invested in keeping women out of the workplace in that case.

If I remember correctly, the aftermath of World War II and the need for women in the workplace was an important factor in getting voting rights.

In China, the traditional misogyny was never properly addressed, the effects of which were only observed when the one-child-policy was introduced, and baby girls were murdered, female fetuses aborted, etc.
And now there's a situation in which men outnumber women, and all that comes with that.

Dervel Wed 22-Jun-16 14:07:35

A really excellent question, and I am mulling over that myself at the moment. To give a tentative answer there are two incredibly significant pillars that in my view hold up both women's rights and also the whole of western civilisation.

• Reproductive rights - women need to have control their own bodies, and be at liberty to choose if, when and how many children they have.
• Education - girls need to be enjoy equal access to education, and have the same opportunities.

If the foundations for those are laid down then major global issues get knocked on the head. Religious extremism has a much harder time taking root within significantly educated female populations, things like hunger are diminished when family size is more manageable.

Poofus Wed 22-Jun-16 14:11:38

Interesting point about quotas! Yes, I think they are very relevant - but then, what makes a country like Rwanda choose quotas when other countries reject them, or never even consider women's participation as an issue that need to be solved?

You're right that my question was supposed to be broader than politics - but most of my data comes from political participation. And I assume that pol participation is typically linked with better rights in other areas, though I could be wrong here.

Poofus Wed 22-Jun-16 14:16:09

But Vestal, women in politics don't have to be pro-women's rights to count as a good sign of women's rights, surely? Even if elected women are themselves misogynist, having a large number of women in power is a pretty good sign about political participation of women.

I don't agree with you about China either. Skewed gender ratios (and their effects) aside, I think the one child policy has been very positive for women's rights on the whole. Certainly for education and investment in daughters.

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Poofus Wed 22-Jun-16 15:23:07

No, I don't think number of women in top political positions is a good proxy for women's rights in general (certainly not for equality of education, for example - most of the countries I mention score pretty badly on that).

But I do assume that it is a good indicator of women's political rights... which is probably a good starting point for other kinds of rights. Maybe that is wrong, and political participation is really unconnected to social and economic rights, for example. <mulls more>

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

VestalVirgin Thu 23-Jun-16 12:08:48

I don't agree with you about China either. Skewed gender ratios (and their effects) aside, I think the one child policy has been very positive for women's rights on the whole. Certainly for education and investment in daughters.

Perhaps for those Chinese women who were allowed to live.

But the Chinese men now take this out on neighbouring countries, buy women, rape women ... it is not pretty.

Not saying the one child policy was bad. It was sorely needed. But they should have made more of an effort to get rid of the deeply rooted misogyny in the population right when, or even before the one child policy was introduced, to prevent this imbalance from happening.

WhereAreWeNow Thu 23-Jun-16 12:15:38

but then, what makes a country like Rwanda choose quotas when other countries reject them?

I think that the high representation of women in politics in Rwanda is directly linked to the genocide and the peace process. I believe there was a concerted effort to build a better society and I think part of that was a belief that more women in politics would be a force for good in a country so ravaged by conflict.
Political events sometimes provide opportunities for women's movements to rise up (eg. women's role as workers during WWI was central to the suffragettes' eventual victory).

tribpot Thu 23-Jun-16 15:29:12

This paper (PDF link) talks a bit about how the new Rwandan constitution came to place such an emphasis on women's rights:
^Immediately after the genocide, while society and government were in disarray, women’s NGOs stepped in to fill the vacuum, providing a variety of much-needed services to the traumatized population. Women came together on a multi-ethnic basis to reconstitute the umbrella organization Pro-Femmes, which had been established in 1992. Pro-Femmes, which coordinated the activities of 13 women’s NGOs in 1992, now coordinates more than 40 such organizations. It has been particularly effective
in organizing the activities of women, advising the government on issues of women’s political participation, and promoting reconciliation.^

However, surely far more significant is this horrifying fact: In the immediate aftermath, the population was 70 percent female.

Much as during and after WWI, the removal of men from the general population, first in war and then by death, put women in a much stronger bargaining position because their labour (in the work sense) was needed.

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