SOMETIMES,it can feel as if the world is deliberately trying to make it harder to be a woman. It’s certainly a familiar feeling in the U.S. — just look at last week’s vote in the House of Representatives to defund Planned Parenthood. Some countries are doing their part to tip the scales towards a more equal balance, though. Here are five initiatives from around the world that seek to make the lives of women more about equality and fairness. Could they work here? Maybe it’s time we tried to find out. (Hint hint.)
India: Female Parliament Representative Quotas
In 2010, the Upper House of India’s parliament voted to pass a historic bill for the country that would require at least one-third of all seats in the Lower House and in state legislative assemblies to be held by women. Remarkably, the bill was passed by a vote of 186-1. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called it a “historic step forward toward emancipation of Indian womanhood.” Seven members of parliament who objected to the bill were suspended, and local news reports called them “the seven who blocked 1.2 million people.”
The quota initiative has been raised in many countries and in many industries, but this one is particularly significant and came after nearly 100 years of women’s suffrage in India. In 1993, the country’s constitution was amended to make for similar quotas in village governing bodies. The more recent development’s aim was to not only bring more women into positions of parliamentary power and to inspire higher voter turnout, but to also aid in the advancing of women’s causes in a country where women typically suffer from higher rates of illiteracy and poverty. The change has been especially helpful in rural areas, where women are even worse off and have a higher chance of being sold into arranged marriages. Now, with the possibility of a prestigious career in politics, these quotas are allowing women the possibility of forging their own paths away from domestic and field labor.
Sweden: Prostitution Laws Targeting Buyers, Not Sellers
In 2001, Germany introduced a law that mandated prostitutes and other sex workers have their work treated just like any other form of employment. This allows sex workers to sue for better pay and working conditions, as well as apply for health insurance. It worked somewhat, but underground sex work via a flood of new workers – particularly immigrants – has resulted in the laws being unable to be regulated in many ways.
Two years earlier, however, in Sweden, a law was introduced that made the buying of sex illegal — whereas the selling of it was not. It was deemed groundbreaking for its removal of the stigma related to sex work and allowing sex workers greater access to legal services without fear of persecution. The plan has worked, and has brought down prostitution levels by half, as well as bringing down the numbers related to violence as a result of sex work. The evidence has shown that prostitution rings didn’t go underground, either, which was the main worry this particular law caused lawmakers. Since then, Sweden’s neighbors Norway and Iceland have adopted the same laws — although it has had its fair share of controversy along the way. It hasn’t been perfect, and many have suggested the Swedish government should be doing more to get sex workers into alternative workforces. At least in terms of the sheer number of women being exploited, the law can be deemed a success.
Australia: Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones
A politician in the Australian state of Victoria has introduced a bill to parliament to create legal buffer zones at abortion clinics. Police-enforced barriers would make it illegal for protesters to come within 150 meters (492 ft) of buildings that perform abortions and treat other female sexual health issues. Let’s face it: many women with unwanted pregnancies do not have it quite as easily as Juno MacGuff, and these protesters’ use of abuse, harassment, and intimidation tactics like distributing flyers, hurling violent language, or filming patients only leads to more trauma than these patients are already facing.
Introduced to parliament by a government representative for the delightfully-named Australian Sex Party – a political party affiliated with promoting sex positivity, equal rights, and other adult-oriented issues – the bill is still being amended and debated, but it has vocal support from other leaders concerned over women being able to receive the attention they have the right to.
European Union: Domestic Violence Protocols
As a result of statistics that show one in three women within the European Union experience some form of physical or sexual abuse beyond the age of 15, countries have been signing on to the “Istanbul Convention.” The treaty sets out minimum standards of protection and prevention of sexual and domestic violence to be upheld by signees, which total 36 out of 47 European nations so far. It’s an important endeavor; those figures are almost identical to global figures that show 35% of all women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual abuse at the hands of a partner or stranger.
Many countries have since enacted laws and improved legal services to those in domestic violence situations. Ireland has not signed the treaty yet, but has recently made headway in combating the plague of violence against women that it faces. A new bill has been introduced to Irish parliament that would give survivors of domestic abuse more anonymity thanks to new reporting systems, admission of video feed testimonies in court, limiting of the number of people allowed in a court during hearings about domestic violence, and criminalizing the use of technology by abusers to contact complainants.
Bolivia: Political Intimidation Laws Against Women
The South American nation of Bolivia has introduced a law making it illegal to politically harass or persecute female politicians (punishable by two-to-five years in jail) as well as use psychically, psychologically and/or sexually violent aggression against them (punishable by three-to-eight years in jail). The push to protect female politicians came after the brutal murder of an outspoken councillor, Juana Quispe.
Quispe was was just one of many victims of serious and violent attacks against elected female officials in the country. Sadly, two years after the discovery of Quispe’s strangled body and two years after passing the landmark law, no individual has been charged with her murder, nor has the rash of threatening language and intimidating actions against female officials subsided — with numbers of domestic violence reports increasing. The inaction from this important law is sadly indicative of many countries around the world that say one thing, but find them hard to enforce due to entrenched traditional attitudes.