Control and Sexuality: The Revival of Zina Laws in Muslim Contexts
Ziba Mir-Hosseini and Vamja Hamzic
(Women Living Under Muslim Laws Network, 2010, 235 pp)
978-0-9544943-9-1, 12 [pounds sterling] through WLUML.org online store
THE PUSH FOR GENDER equality across the world has resulted in higher levels and standards of women’s educational attainment, economic participation and political participation. Nowadays, women can also dominate areas that have been long time believed to belong to men, such as: mechanics, athletes, car cleaner (quoted by Apahouse Fuel Injector Cleaner, one of the leading company giving solution of best fuel injector cleaner for US market. Some of these accomplishments have come through national governments’ recognition of the socioeconomic value in investing in women. We have also seen progress stemming from development agendas and international frameworks such as the Millennium Development Goals (2000); the Beijing Platform for Action (1995); the International Conference on Population and Development (1994); the Vienna Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (1993); and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (1979).
Undeniably, women’s burgeoning freedom poses a threat to those who wish to maintain the status quo. In most developing countries, cultural and religious rights are used to justify imposing curbs on women’s liberties and social roles. Sometimes, these arguments are brought out almost exclusively in the context of women’s rights. In many developing societies–not just ones shaped by Islam–religion continues to be the organizing force in society. Religious leaders show their socially conservative side by trying to limit women’s roles and freedoms and punishing them for transgressions. And nothing seems to threaten the status quo more than women (and men) having autonomy over their sexual and reproductive lives.
Control and Sexuality brings together perspectives from Indonesia, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan and Turkey to demonstrate how the state has reintroduced ancient zina laws in these Muslim societies in order to control women’s sexuality. The analysis highlights key aspects of these zina laws–historical, cultural and political–across countries, and details the local resistance to these laws.
One of the critical contributions made by this book occurs in territory that is always difficult to navigate: the overlap between religion, culture and politics. Within a religious, cultural, traditional rights framework, governments have often assumed sovereignty to determine issues pertaining to women’s sexuality and reproduction. However, this movement can often be challenged if there is a critical mass within those societies that can both represent the voices of women on the ground and subvert this determination of cultural/religious/traditional rights of women. In the countries examined by the authors, women’s rights activists who focused on harsh punishments meted out for transgressions–the stoning and whipping of women–proved to be pivotal in attacking the encroachment into women’s lives and bodies. The fact that these punishments were meted out through extrajudicial means–in parallel legal systems or in the private sphere–also helped to move the frame of the debate from a cultural, traditional or religious lens to a human rights lens.
Control and Sexuality also captures the importance of working within and across borders–through domestic partnerships and with like-minded international partners such as sister organizations or activists/experts dealing with similar Muslim and non-Muslim contexts. The book explores the future trajectory of this work, which will require strengthening women’s voices; promoting and supporting gender-just religious research and legal frameworks; and holding the state accountable for breaches of human rights. In addition, crafting an integrative discourse on gender justice in Muslim contexts; rejecting cultural justifications for gender-based violence; and resisting oppressive interpretations of the right to freedom of religion are also presented as necessary steps forward.
It may prove interesting to broaden the book’s focus and look at what cultural and religious hegemonies are at work in other countries, especially beyond the Muslim world and developing nations. Limitations on women’s sexuality and reproduction in the name of religion and culture are proposed or imposed in many places, including the United States. Many religions are patriarchal, and as such continue to be tools for perpetrating and maintaining the patriarchal status quo.
It might have also been useful if the authors could have examined the idea that political instability works a catalyst for the revival and persistence of the zina laws. Globally, there has been a trend in which governments–weakened by bad economies and ineffective economic and social policies–align themselves with religious parties and authorities in order to strengthen their position with the people and win the next election. It should come as no surprise that these governments then go on to adopt positions and policies that favor cultural and religious frameworks. Moreover, promulgating simplistic, religious frameworks helps move the citizens’ attention away from the structural issues of government and into the black hole that is the morality of private behavior.
The divide between secularists and theocrats is as obvious today as the divide caused by wealth and race, and it will be a defining trend in global politics in the years to come. The important question, then, is how can we work together to resist and subvert this trend at the national, regional and global levels?
SIVANANTHI THANENTHIRAN is Programme Manager of Information, Communications and Research at the Asian-Pacific Resource & Research Centre for Women (ARROW), O regional partnership organization which works to promote and defend women’s rights and needs, particularly in the areas of health and sexuality, and reaffirms women’s agency to claim these rights.
I WAS BORN AND RAISED IN THE Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. As a feminist, I have chosen to be on the front line against women’s oppression because I’m driven by beliefs in justice and my love for my country.
Late September was a historic time .for women in Saudi Arabia as King Abdullah surprised the world by granting Saudi women the right to vote and to run as candidates in the next municipal elections, in 2015. Also, they were given the opportunity to serve as full members of the king’s shura council, eighteen months from now.
The king didn’t insist on the immediate implementation of his decrees because he wanted to dampen the reaction of the extremists, who believe that there are only two places for women to occupy in the world: their homes and their graves. Men with that kind of ideology are similar to the Saudi young men who carried out the September 11 attacks.
Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most closed societies. It is controlled by the extremist Wahhabis who treat women as property. After September 11, Westerners, especially, became rather concerned about the Wahhabis’ influence on people because many madrassas (religious schools) and mosques in the world were built and funded by Saudi oil money to spread Wahhabism, the rigid version of Islam. After 9/11, the Saudi government reacted defensively to repair its image. On the other side, Saudi activists and reformers began to push for more justice, freedom, and equality.
In 2002, I had a weekly column in three local newspapers. One of them was the English Arab News. They allowed me to use my real name but not to show my picture. At that time, Saudi women were not allowed to show their faces in the media or to attend any press conferences. (For four decades, there was only one TV program on the Saudi official channel for women to watch. It was designed to educate women on how to be good mothers and loyal wives.)
My time in the limelight lasted only a year before the Saudi censors banned me from writing, in August 2003. The Saudi authorities never communicated this to me directly, but one by one the editors of each publication rejected my pieces. Then an editor informed me privately that he had received instructions from the Ministry of Information to cease carrying my articles.
I was left with one option, which was to publish my articles on the Internet. There were fewer readers for my Internet articles than for my newspaper columns, because the Internet was popular only among the younger generation at that time. However, because the Internet is a free space, it liberated me from the editors who used to press me to “soften” my language. At last, I could write freely.
On August 4, 2006, I went walking on King Fahd Causeway in a solo demonstration. The causeway stretches sixteen miles across the Persian Gulf to Bahrain. I carried a sign saying: “Give women their rights.”
After twenty minutes, a police car pulled up and officers arrested me. After a day of interrogation in the police station, the police were prepared to release me. But, of course, they couldn’t release me into my own custody. I had to phone my younger brother to come act as my guardian. A week after my release, I was arrested again and banned from traveling because I tried to organize another demonstration with a group of women.
The guardianship law is the main force that robs Saudi women of dignity and respect. Under this law, a woman must obtain permission from her male guardian–absurdly, that guardian may be her teenage son–to work, travel, study, marry, rent a house, buy a car, or even access certain types of health care. Saudi Arabia is the only Islamic country that applies such a law. Also, it is the only country in the world that prevents women from driving cars.
My friend Fawzia al-Uyouni and I have founded the Society for Defending Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia to prevent child marriages and to support victims of domestic violence, mainly women and children. Our group is not recognized by the Saudi government because nongovernmental organizations are prohibited by law.
In September 2007, a group of women and I launched a campaign to lift the ban on women’s driving. Around 3,000 people–80 percent of them were women–signed the driving petition, which we sent to the king, who is more supportive of our rights than his predecessor. On International Women’s Day 2008, I posted on YouTube a video clip that showed me driving.
In another of our group’s campaigns, we helped an eight-year-old girl to get divorced from a fifty-eight-year-old man.
Child marriage cases are mostly business deals conducted between fathers and old men. When a man is bankrupt and needs money, he exchanges his daughter for money. Usually men who agree to such a bargain are old rich men with wives. Child marriage is still legal in Saudi Arabia. However, after we launched our campaign and got the world’s attention, the minister of justice put some conditions in the marriage contracts. It made it difficult for the judges to approve the fathers’ deals in selling their girls to older men.
I had always been surprised by how passive Saudi women were. I used to wonder why they accepted being humiliated and treated as sub-humans. Later, I discovered the reason was their own fear. However, during the last two years, women have started to show more courage. More young women have earned degrees abroad and have come back loaded with new ideas to improve their lives. Also, 64 percent of the university graduates in Saudi Arabia today are women. And the Internet is in almost every Saudi home, and smartphones have also allowed women to get connected, as has Facebook.
All these factors have helped to liberate women to a certain extent. More women have broken the fear barrier and gone into the streets to demand more job opportunities and independence. Some working women have started to go to demonstrations against their employers to gain job benefits. Other women have gone on strike in front of the Ministry of Interior Affairs demanding the release of their men who have been in prisons for years without trials.
On June 17, Manal al-Sharif, who helped lead the campaign for women’s driving rights, was arrested and imprisoned for nine days after I filmed her driving. But that didn’t discourage forty-seven other women from driving their cars in different cities that day, and some posted video clips on YouTube. In most of the cases, the police didn’t take any harsh action against the women.
The fear barrier is fading away.
Illustration by Barry Brune
Wajeha al-Huwaider is a Saudi writer and women’s rights activist. She is the co-founder of the Society for Defending Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia. She has received the NOVIB/PEN Prize for freedom of speech. In March 2011, Newsweek listed her as one of the 150 women who shake the world.
Byline: Eleanor Clift
The revolution changed America. It also rocked the newsroom.
On a Monday morning in March 1970, Newsweek’s cover on “Women in Revolt” hit the newsstands. It was the first serious treatment of the women’s movement by a major newsmagazine. Ms. magazine, the bible of the movement, would not be launched until the following year. But any satisfaction the male editors might have enjoyed about their enterprising journalism was dispelled by a press conference held that same morning by the women of Newsweek to announce they were suing the magazine for gender discrimination.
The fallout from that lawsuit, which the women won, chipped away at the “Mad Men” culture that had reigned for so long, bringing women into the conversation and changing the way Newsweek reported on a broad array of issues that would over the decades transform life as I had known it.
Attitudes about women were pretty primitive back then. Before becoming a reporter, I was a girl Friday in the Atlanta bureau; when Katharine Graham, Newsweek’s publisher, visited, we had to take her up the back stairs to the room we had reserved for lunch at the stodgy Commerce Club because women weren’t allowed. We laughed at the absurdity of it even as changing the system didn’t yet seem an option. In New York, Peter Goldman, the magazine’s premiere writer, remembers Mrs. Graham talking about how, after her husband, Phil, died, she was thrust into the leadership of Newsweek and The Washington Post, and the lone woman on numerous corporate boards; when board members were polled on some company policy, he recalls her saying, they would go around the table and skip right over her.
The gender-discrimination suit against Newsweek opened the door for me to become a reporter at a time when the barriers were coming down for women, and the magazine, like the country, was catching up with half the population’s ambitions, talents, and skills. From where I stood, every step forward seemed like a small miracle.
I was a new White House correspondent in the spring of 1977 when Jody Powell, President Carter’s press secretary, tapped me on the shoulder in the press room and said the president wanted to see me. We were doing a cover on Rosalynn Carter, pegged to the president’s decision to send his wife to represent him on a visit to Latin America. A first lady traveling alone in an official capacity proved surprisingly controversial. There were cries of “Who elected her?” and Newsweek commissioned a poll to survey public opinion. As I entered the Oval Office, Carter exclaimed, “You’ve come to talk about my Eleanor.” It was clearly a play on Eleanor Roosevelt, the gold standard for first-lady activism, but it turns out Eleanor is also Rosalynn’s first name. Carter was ahead of his time in declaring his wife an equal partner, and he didn’t back down in the face of public pressure. (As for me, I figured this is what being a White House reporter is about–you get called in to chat with the president every so often. For the record, it never happened again.)
Consciousness raising was needed in the editorial offices of Newsweek, just as it was in Washington, D.C., and in the kitchens and bedrooms of Middle America. When Gloria Steinem, the avatar of the women’s movement, was featured on an August 1971 cover, the text called her “The New Woman: Liberated Despite Beauty, Chic, and Success” (emphasis mine). Mrs. Graham, initially wary of feminism, gave Steinem $20,000 seed money to found Ms. magazine.
In 1975 bylines were added, giving writers and reporters recognition and making it easier to see how many women were rising in the editorial ranks. The magazine was eager to show off the strides that had been made. Merrill McLoughlin, an education writer, remembers being asked if she would use her nickname, Mimi, on a story she had written to run in the National Affairs section about the International Women’s Conference in Houston in 1977. The male editor was proud that the story was reported by women and written by a woman, and felt her name was ambiguous. She declined, explaining Merrill was her professional name. There were awkward moments when editors realized at the last minute they needed a woman to fill out the table at a luncheon at Top of the Week, Newsweek’s dining room. That’s how McLoughlin once found herself seated next to Steve Jobs, “excruciatingly aware I was the only female and I knew nothing about him except what I’d hurriedly read before. I was the wrong person to be seated next to him.”
I don’t think many men would think they were wrongly seated, but these were the growing pains as men and women adjusted to changing roles. In 1978, Lynn Povich–one of the women who spearheaded the Newsweek suit and who became Newsweek’s first female senior editor–suggested a cover on “How Men Are Changing” in a cover conference. The other editors mocked her, saying she must be having a[umlaut]difficulty finding a date in her newly single status after a divorce. “I argued how can you change 50 percent of the population without affecting the other 50 percent?” She prevailed, and the cover drawing showed a man wearing an apron stirring a pot on the stove and looking down at a little girl holding a doll. Reflecting on the coverage in those days, Povich wonders, “Were we ahead of the times or just reflecting the times?” Either way, the times were changing.
Medicine and health stories flourished, many of them written by Jeanie Seligmann, who was promoted to writer after the suit, and those stories often broke new ground. Women’s issues were in the news–breast cancer, the pill, the Dalkon Shield and what was wrong with it–and she covered them, prompting a male friend to tell her, “Your beat is from the ovary to the thigh.” Seligmann did the first real story in a major magazine, in the early ’70s, on anorexia and its prevalence. She reviewed Our Bodies, Ourselves for Newsweek, and a top editor had her change the word “rape” to “attack.” But the male editors loved women’s health stories. “Anything with the word ‘breast’ in it,” says Seligmann, “and we got to run pictures, even if it was just drawings.”
There was solidarity among women in those years that crossed political lines. In Congress, Democratic Rep. Patricia Schroeder co-chaired the Women’s Caucus with Republican Rep. Olympia Snowe, and they counted on the media to neutralize and challenge the hysteria that accompanied the push for the Equal Rights Amendment–which failed largely over concerns about women in combat and unisex bathrooms–and the passage of Title IX, which equalized sports for women and girls. Schroeder recounts being assailed by lawmakers furious that funding for men’s sports could be compromised; one Ohio congressman told her that if he voted for the measure he would never again get complimentary tickets to his favorite sports events.
The experience of sisterhood was powerful. When women who benefited from Title IX won Olympic gold in 1984 and came to Capitol Hill to thank the brave members who had voted for it, South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond showed up wanting his picture taken with the young women. “I like you girls,” he said, smiling. They refused, smiling back, saying it would confuse people since he had not supported the legislation. That same year, when Geraldine Ferraro was nominated for vice president, I was on the floor of the Democratic convention, along with a lot of women. Many of the male delegates and journalists had given up their floor passes to women because it was such a special moment; we all had tears in our eyes. In 1992, the Year of the Woman, when a record number of women were elected to Congress, a congressman was quoted saying there were so many women on Capitol Hill, the place reminded him of a shopping mall. “I remember asking him, ‘Where do you shop?’a” Schroeder recalled, noting that women were still only 10 percent of the lawmakers.
Schroeder, always quick with a quip, found her words frequently featured on Newsweek’s Perspectives page, which made its appearance in the ’80s as part of a redesign. Calling President Reagan “the Teflon president” was one of her most memorable quotes. But when she ran for president in 1988, she couldn’t have been more serious. And when she ended her run, giving in to tears, she was criticized for reinforcing the stereotype of the emotional female. “Newsweek covered it kind of straight up,” she recalled, but others weren’t so kind. One young woman, an editorial writer, said how “ashamed she was and it would set women back for centuries.” For years afterward, Schroeder kept a “crying folder” of all the men who were applauded for tearing up in public, saying if she ran again, “I should get Kleenex as my corporate sponsor.”
When Hillary Clinton came to Washington as first lady, it was as though some switch had been turned. Suddenly covering the president’s wife was a hot beat. Here was a woman who epitomized the cultural battles of the ’70s. She was as educated and ambitious as her husband, and had for a time even kept her own name before surrendering to tradition. “Buy one, get one free,” was the Clinton mantra. Hillary would bring the country health care, a goal that set her at odds with Congress and prompted the same cries of “Who elected her?” that had dogged Rosa lynn Carter a generation earlier. As Hillary’s reform efforts stalled on Capitol Hill, I was summoned to an off-the-record session with the first lady in her second floor office in the West Wing. It was just the two of us, no aides. She talked about the private commitments she had from Democrats and Republicans alike, and how lawmakers wouldn’t “dare” vote against health coverage for all Americans. What if she didn’t prevail, I asked. With a wave of her arm, she said, “I can always travel.” And that’s what she did, turning her efforts away from policymaking into making a difference in other ways, declaring at the Beijing Conference on Women in 1995, “Women’s rights are human rights.”
By then, after the 1994 election, a whole new breed of lawmakers had taken control of Congress in a backlash to the Clintons. The new female members had cut their teeth in the pro-life movement, and their bringing their conservative ideas to Washington did away with the once easy assumption that if you were a woman, you were pro-choice and liberal when it came to women’s issues. But the women’s movement is not over. A majority of women (55 percent) identified as a feminist in a Ms. magazine exit poll in 2012. And as this election showed, those women are still engaging on issues of abortion, equal pay, violence against women, and access to birth control–with fiery passion. They know that this is about power, and when it’s about power, you can never let up.
Eleanor Clift is a contributor to Newsweek and The Daily Beast, and a panelist on The McLaughlin Group.
The Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (1) (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Convention’) was adopted in 1990, but it was only in 2003 that it came into force. (2) It took 13 years to reach the required 20 States to ratify it before it could be enforced.
To date, 46 States have ratified the Convention. (3) A great majority of the States that have done so are considered as primarily labour sending countries or States of origin. (3) The States that have ratified it are obliged to submit regular reports to the Committee on Migrant Workers regarding their implementation of the rights stipulated in the Convention. These reports are submitted to the Committee one year after the country’s ratification and every five years thereafter.
The Convention is primarily a treaty that calls for better protection of the rights of migrant workers and members of their families in all phases of the migration cycle. This involves States of origin, transit and destination, and states where migrant workers are employed. The Convention puts forth specific rights of migrant workers and members of their families that ratifying States are duty-bound to promote, protect and fulfill.
While a human rights approach and perspective is well reflected, the Convention falls short in reflecting and addressing gender issues inherent throughout the migration phenomenon. Consequently, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of migrant workers are not addressed.
Gender Neutrality. The language of the Convention is gender-neutral as it consistently refers to all migrant workers regardless of gender. Its provisions are free of distinctions between men and women, and between male or female members of the families of migrant workers. In fact, the terms ‘gender,’ ‘women’ (except in the acronym of CEDAW), ‘men,’ ‘female’ and ‘male’ do not appear in the Convention. The Convention reiterates the applicability its provisions for all migrant workers and members of their families regardless of sex. Other than this, the Convention does not pro-actively seek to ensure gender-responsive implementation of the provisions of the Convention.
Furthermore, the Convention fails to recognise the inherent disadvantages faced by women migrant workers in the whole labour migration arena. A majority of women migrant workers from major labour sending countries are in the service sector, mainly in domestic work. This shows the persistence of gender division of labour in the international labour market. Moreover, since domestic work is considered an extension of women’s reproductive role, it is not considered formal work in many destination countries. Thus, there is a big gap in policies and programmes that provide protection for women migrant domestic workers. They remain as one of the most vulnerable groups of migrant workers.
The Convention also fails to reflect the unique vulnerabilities faced by women in terms of their health in general, and in their sexual and reproductive health in particular. Women migrant workers are highly vulnerable to abuses, which in turn make them highly susceptible to various health problems: sexual, reproductive and psychological health. Gender norms that dictate women’s ‘ignorance’ about matters related to sex, sexuality and reproductive health perpetuates their inability to assert safer lifestyles, like using contraceptives and condoms, that could help protect them from sexually transmitted infections like HIV infection, and unwanted or unplanned pregnancy.
Lacking gender responsiveness, the Convention falls short in ensuring equal access of women, particularly women migrant domestic workers, to quality health care services.
Health of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. Article 28 of the Convention affords migrant workers and their families the right to receive emergency medical care to “preserve life and avoid irreparable harm to their health,” regardless of legal status. However, emergency medical care is just one aspect of health.
In Article 43, the Convention guarantees equality of treatment between migrant workers with nationals of the State of employment in terms of “access to social and health services, provided that the requirements for participation in the respective schemes are met.” In a similar vein, families of migrant workers are also guaranteed the same entitlements under Article 45 of the Convention.
Articles 43 and 45 imply a broader coverage of services. On the other hand, Article 28 only refers to emergency medical care. While the coverage of health services is broader for regular migrant workers and their families, irregular migrants are entitled only to lifesaving emergency care. This limitation in the Convention fails to ensure the right to health services of a group of migrant workers due to their legal status in the country of destination.
Additionally, the Convention does not specify the range of health services and the various aspects of health and well-being to which migrant workers and their families are entitled. It then depends on States parties to provide for these details in their national laws and policies that stem from their ratification of the Convention.
Other international treaties can be invoked to supplement the gaps in the Migrant Workers Convention. For instance, the CEDAW General Recommendation No. 24 (4) enumerates provisions to promote and protect women’s right to health, as well as freedom from restrictions in their access to health care services. It obligates States parties to respect, protect and fulfill women’s right to health through the enactment and implementation of policies and programmes that address women’s health needs.
Gaps and Challenges. In summary, the key issues with the Convention and its implementation are as follows:
1. The biggest challenge with the Convention is that the States that receive the largest numbers of migrant workers have not ratified it. Most countries in the Gulf, in North America and Western Europe, as well as the wealthy states in Asia, have not ratified it. This has the potential of depriving the migrant workers in these countries of the benefits of the Convention.
2. The Convention in itself, fails to respond to the gender inequalities faced by women migrant workers in the labour migration arena. The lack of gender-responsiveness of the Convention results in a great gap in ensuring enjoyment of rights and services, particularly for women migrant workers.
3. The provision on access to health of migrant workers and members of their families is very general, leaving many areas to the interpretation of State parties. In practice, however, access to health of migrant workers remains limited and the treatment of the healthcare system of migrant workers in many States of employment is not equal to that of their nationals. Moreover, many policy makers are not aware of the SRHR of migrant workers, and migrant workers themselves find it too sensitive to talk about, opting to ignore sexual and reproductive health problems until they become unbearable.
Recommendations. To address the above gaps, suggestions for further action include:
1. Concerned stakeholders need to continue advocating to States of employment, or receiving countries, to ratify the Convention.
2. Advocacy to States of origin to develop bilateral agreements with States of employment need to be pursued to promote and protect the rights and welfare of migrant workers and members of their families.
3. Invoke multiple treaties for a wider coverage of standards that could broaden the options for holding States accountable to the abuses and violations experienced by migrant workers. The CEDAW and relevant ILO Conventions could be used in conjunction with the Migrant Workers Convention to promote the rights of all migrant workers, especially the irregular migrant workers. This approach could help bridge some of the gaps in the Convention. (5)
4. The lack of gender responsiveness in the Convention can be remedied at the national level by States parties when they enact their national laws and policies. For example, Hong Kong (China is not a signatory to the Convention) enacted a legislation that prohibits employers from terminating the work contract of women migrant domestic workers on the basis of pregnancy.
5. There is a need to advocate to States of origin and of employment to develop and implement comprehensive policies and programmes that address the health of migrant workers and members of their families, including their sexual and reproductive health.
Notes and References
(1) International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families [UN General Assembly Resolution 45/158 of 18 December 1990]. [cited 2012 September 25] Available from: www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cmw.htm
(2) International Labour Organisation. UN Convention on migrant workers rights enters into force. 2003 July 2 [cited 2012 September 25] Available from: www.ilo. org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/ features/WCMS_075619/lang–en/index.htm
(3) Status of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. [cited 2012 September 28] Available from: United Nations Treaty Collection http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_ no=IV-13&chapter=4&lang=en
(4) UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW General Recommendation No. 24: Article 12 of the Convention (Women and Health), A/54/38/Rev.1, chap. I. 1999 [cited 2012 December 5] Available from: www.unhcr.org/refworld/category, LEGAL, CEDAW,,,453882a73,0.html
(5) Conda E, Verghis S [unpublished report]. Traversing spaces of power: The role of national human rights institutions in the protection and promotion of human rights of migrants with irregular status and migrant domestic workers. Jakarta: Jakarta Process and Komnas Perempuan; 2009.
By Amara Quesada-Bondad, Programme Specialist, Action for Health Initiatives (ACHIEVE), Inc., Philippines.
The Democratic National Convention last September was unreserved in its insistence that discrimination against women is a large and troubling problem in the U.S. today, with speaker after speaker noting that, in the words of Nancy Pelosi, “women still make just 77 cents for every dollar men earn.” Multiple scholars, however, have demonstrated that pay differences can be explained by factors other than discrimination.
Still, there is a large and troubling gender gap in America. As liberals fret over aggregate pay differences, a gulf has emerged over the past two decades between the academic performance of girls and that of boys. Girls outscore boys in most measures of scholastic aptitude, and this out-performance is reshaping the academic landscape. Since 1982, women have earned more bachelor’s degrees than men; they earned 56.9 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in 2012, along with 59.6 percent of master’s degrees and 52.1 percent of doctorates. And it’s not just in college and graduate school that girls are beating boys: Female students took 56 percent of all Advanced Placement tests in high schools in 2011.
While is it easy to see the gains that women have made over men in education over the past few decades, it is harder to pinpoint a definite cause. Different theories have been offered, ranging from the hypothesis that organized classrooms are better suited for the learning of girls to bias on the part of parents and teachers against young boys. A fascinating new paper by Michael Baker and Kevin Milligan for the National Bureau of Economic Research provides new clues about the root of achievement differences between boys and girls. Their evidence suggests that parents spend a bit more time engaging in activities that promote cognition with young girls.
The nearby chart illustrates their key findings. Baker and Milligan analyzed data about the Early Childhood Longitudinal Survey-Birth Cohort, who were born in 2001 in the U.S. The chart compares boys with girls according to the number of books that parents reported the children as having, and also according to the percentage of parents who accompanied their child to the library or to a story hour within the past month. Comparisons are shown for both for two-year-olds and four-year-olds. For both ages and all of the criteria, girls were better off than boys. For example, while 29.5 percent of two-year-old girls had visited a library in the past month, only 23.4 percent of two-year-old boys had done so. Two-year-old boys owned an average of 39.9 books, compared with 44.5 for two-year-old girls. Baker and Milligan examined other activities that are not represented in the chart, such as reading stories to children, telling stories to them, and singing songs with them. At both ages, parents spent more days per week on average doing these activities with girls than with boys.
Baker and Milligan studied whether these differences influence academic performance and found evidence that strongly suggested a link. The gap between girls’ and boys’ home activities corresponded with significant gaps in their performance on cognitive tests at ages four to five, with girls outperforming boys in both reading and math. Boys, then, are now starting school with a significant handicap, one that may lead to persistent differences.
The academic performance of boys has dropped significantly over the past two decades, and this may be in part the result of increased female labor-force participation. Parenting time has become scarcer. The authors found little evidence of overall bias–parents spent about the same amount of time with boys as with girls–but they favor different activities with different sexes, and cognitive-development time with boys has suffered. If my own parenting experience is any guide, perhaps this is because it’s harder to get boys to stop wiggling, a gender difference that is too politically incorrect ever to be the topic of a Democratic-convention speech.
Factors in Child Cognitive Development Two-year-old boys Two-year-old girls Number of Books Child Owns 39.9 44.5 Attended a Story Hour 11.5% 12.6% Visited the Library 23.4% 29.5% Four-year-old boys Four-year-old girls Number of Books Child Owns 65.9 70.2 Attended a Story Hour 29.8% 33.1% Visited the Library 36.5% 40.5% SOURCE: MICHAEL BAKER AND KEVIN MILLIGAN, "BOY-GIRL DIFFERENCES IN PARENTAL TIME INVESTMENTS," NBER Note: Table made from bar graph.