By John Chuidian
On Nov. 7, 2011, Prospect Journal and Model United Nations at UCSD hosted the panel discussion on the importance and role of women in development. The panelists, Prashant Bharadwaj, Nancy Gilson and Jay Silverman, presented topics on health and equality, perspectives and definitions on equality and gender and violence against women and girls as a major barrier to health. Two noteworthy observations: firstly, in this panel’s findings was that many of the statistics and examples are from Indian case studies, which is because India’s status as a developing country, its well-documented male preference and its public records are widely available. Other countries do not have widely available records to the public and have questionable accuracy — in the case of China, it declines to share its data. Secondly, the majority of the audience attending was women, whereas less than 20 percent were men.
In the section Growing Pains: Health and Equality Challenges Faced by Women in India, Prashant Bharadwaj, professor of economics at UCSD, emphasized that discrimination begins even in the prenatal stage. As a result of widespread availability in ultrasound technology, many people, including poor families make use of this and determine how they will treat their children. Mothers in India are 1.1 percentage points more likely to visit antenatal clinics when pregnant with a boy, and in northern India mothers are 4.6 percent more likely to visit antenatal clinics when pregnant with a boy, and are 3 percent more likely to receive tetanus shots.
After birth, many students do not finish school because of early marriages, and though female enrollment in schools is high, years of schooling attained is low. One proposal to rectify this is to raise the legal age of marriage, but ironically, only 35 percent of Indian women know the minimum age of marriage.
In the next section, What Does it Mean to be “Equal” in a Diverse World: Defining Gender, Nancy Gilson opens with the opinion that it is a “poverty of imagination” to say that culture limits equality. Following this, she quotes Doctors Without Borders who states, “The answer is women” and Goldman Sachs who similarly voiced the opinion that “gender inequality limits growth.” To that end, CEDAW, the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, was adopted in 1979 but not fully ratified by the United States, puzzlingly.
The issue at hand is that there are actually many issues: inequality cannot be solved by one factor. Divorce in the United States, for example, was an issue that was observed and addressed, with the reasoning behind changing family law to be more equitable with child sharing and community property. However, the problem that arose from this was that women were more likely to sink into poverty after divorce even if they were to remarry, whereas men were less likely to. So there is not just a structural issue, but a social issue.
In another example, Oxfam in India and Africa felt that by building schools for girls, there would be more equality. However, they discovered if a school was too far away and that there was no transportation, it led to violence on the way to school, making another barrier for women from being educated and theoretically rising above their circumstances. For those in attendance, many teachers found girls to be unnecessary, and during menstrual periods, due to a lack of sanitary napkins or private ways to dispose of them, women typically avoided schooling, because menstruating meant a girl had become a woman and was likely to be sexually harassed or assaulted.
Lastly, in the workforce, roles only become redistributed, because more women become exploited: caretakers who take over while women work their careers. However, women still spend 80 percent of their time with children, creating another health problem: rampant insomnia. In summary of Dr. Gilson’s section, gender discrimination is not oppressing a minority, as women are half of the world’s population, and inequality has a large number of variables that are very difficult to rectify in a very patriarchic society, let alone world.
Finally, in the concluding section, Gender-Based Violence Against Women and Girls: A Major Barrier to Health, Jay Silverman focuses on the issue of intimate partner violence (IPV), on the resulting health problems caused by IPV and the health problems that cause IPV. Shockingly, 15-76 percent of women from ages 15-49 globally experience IPV, resulting in reproductive and child health issues: morbidity rates are higher, as women who are abused during pregnancies are likelier to have unhealthy children, and the quality of childcare is significantly lower. Generally, the other problem is that women have less control or say over the use of contraceptives in sex, and men who are abusive tend to have multiple partners without the use of contraceptives — which is precisely what leads to pregnancies and the transmission of sexual diseases. Furthermore, marriages under 16 showed that women were more likely to be abused or die than at any other age.
Overall, the message from the synthesis of Bharadwaj, Gilson and Silverman has many implications, implications that are further emphasized by the low number of males in the audience. The first of these implications is that there needs to be more interest in regards to the role of women in development: they are half the population, and the patriarchic hegemony that oppresses women has resulted in the increase of sexually transmitted diseases and decline of mental and social health. If women are merely dismissed as “others” or “the weaker sex,” then we not only create multiple levels of social problems, but economical, because of the restrictions and stigma placed on women from both devaluing and undervaluing their potential to contribute beyond bearing children or being sexual objects.
A second implication is that the problem is not necessarily men, but the patriarchic hegemony itself, because many women can be sexist themselves, such as mother-in-laws committing violence against a wife, especially for giving birth to girls instead of boys. Ultimately, even if women buy into this sexist paradigm, the only thing that benefits is the patriarchy, and though it may seem men may benefit, the economical and health opportunity costs are too great to allow this to continue.
The final implication comes from the observation that burkas, trafficking and genital mutilation are all easy targets to use as examples of the problem with equality in trying to prevent people from being marginalized, but the failure of this comes back to Gilson’s argument that culture is no excuse, since the culturalist argument is that these practices should be respected and allowed to continue in cultural groups that practice them.
Photo Courtesy of Chris Higa
Visual Arts Editor, Prospect