blog posts from GYC's participants, alumni, & staff
by Erica White
Women in the United States are like the reserve army – when there is a metaphorical (and, at times, very real) state of emergency, they are on the front lines right alongside men, but once the situation settles, their rights are oftentimes ignored and their contributions are forgotten. Much of the United States still holds a patriarchal mindset, and after centuries of fighting for our rights, American women are still struggling to obtain the same rights as their male counterparts. It is no coincidence that in every GYC in NYC program activity thus far women’s rights and gender disparities in the United States have been mentioned. In a nation where 1 in 4 women is abused at the hands of an intimate partner, and paid, on average, 81% of what men make, there is still a very visible gender gap. Women’s rights have yet to be synonymous with human rights in the United States, and there will never be true gender equality until women’s rights are not distinguishable from human rights.
On one of my free evenings last week, I had the pleasure of viewing a Human Rights Watch film about a young woman working as a journalist in Egypt during Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, and the film did an impeccable job of showing her story not from the perspective of a female exclusively, but as a journalist in a tumultuous time in an unstable country. In today’s world, we tend to focus on the victimization of women in society, not only because it is dramatic and eye opening, but because it is easy to label a woman as a “victim” in many societies. The film, entitled “Words of Witness,” hardly focused on what it means to be a female in Egypt, but mainly looked at what it’s like to simply be a citizen, or to be a working journalist. We should be doing the same in the United States – women’s issues shouldn’t be a separate entity to men’s rights, they should all be included under the broad umbrella of human rights.
I’m in no way saying that men and women are the same; there are gender-specific issues that are always going to exist, but the only point at which women are going to be granted their basic human rights, is when society recognizes that they are entitled to their natural rights. It’s no coincidence that the United States is one of only a handful of countries, along with Iran, Sudan, and Somalia, that did not ratify CEDAW, the “women’s bill of rights.” Despite being a leading country within the international community, and our staunch support of “liberty and justice for all,” we are forgetting about half of our population. Women are still mistreated in the military, they’re disproportionately affected by poverty and homelessness, and their reproductive rights are at the mercy of a handful of men in power. At the YMCA where I’m staying, I spoke with a German woman who told me that she was surprised that Americans are still connecting women’s rights to politics, as she claimed that Germany hasn’t done so for decades.
If the United States is going to pride itself on being one of the freest nations in the world, it first has to ask itself who the truly free people are: are they single mothers who are homeless because they fled domestic abuse? Are they professors who make $10,000 less per year than their male colleagues? Are they the ones being raped fighting for their country? Nobody in his or her right mind would say so.