Gender Justice

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Some good news...from Saudi Arabia

Via The Week (link):

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
First woman minister: In a rare breakthrough for women’s rights, Saudi Arabia appointed its first female Cabinet minister this week. Noura bint Abdullah al-Fayez became deputy education minister in charge of a new department of girls’ education. “This is an honor not only for me but for all Saudi women,” she told the Riyadh Arab News. “I’ll be able to face challenges and create positive change.” In his first Cabinet reshuffle since assuming the throne in 2005, King Abdullah also replaced the chief of the religious police and the country’s top judge—two men who were known as enemies of women’s rights. The judge, Sheikh Salih Ibn al-Luhaydan, ruled last year that TV station owners that broadcast “immoral” programs showing unveiled women could be killed. “This is the true start of the promises of reform,” said Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent pro-reform newspaper editor.

In State Legislatures, Democrats Are Pushing Toward Parity Between the Sexes

From an article of the same title by Kirk Johnson in the NY Times:

On the low rungs of the nation's political system in the state legislatures, Democrats are pushing close to real parity among men and women — a historic threshold that is changing more than mere numbers.

The new Democratic women, epitomized by the Woodbury Three, as they are known here, are focused on the bread-and-butter issues of the suburbs, like property taxes, schools and health care. They are the soccer-mom swing-voters of years past, now making the laws themselves, and that could end up changing both parties here and beyond.

While what happened here [Minnesota] was not repeated in Congressional elections, it was echoed in many other states, especially in the Northeast and West, where women made their biggest gains.

Nationally, Democrats picked up more than 320 seats in state legislatures — about 140 of them by women — and gained control of 10 chambers, 4 of them here in the Upper Midwest: the Minnesota House, the Wisconsin Senate and both chambers of Iowa General Assembly. Republicans gained control of the Montana House of Representatives.

Almost everywhere, women were crucial to those Democratic margins. In the New Hampshire Senate, which swung to Democratic control for the first time since 2000, women outnumber men almost two-to-one in the new majority caucus.

Republican women lost ground and saw their numbers slide everywhere but in parts of the South. There are now only 534 of them out of more than 7,300 party-affiliated state legislators nationwide, compared with 1,187 Democratic women, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan group.

Gender Equality

A couple articles from a month back that address gender equality.

From an article in USA Today:

When it comes to equality of the sexes, Scandinavian countries lead the world, but no nation has yet managed to bridge the gender gap completely, a report said Tuesday.

Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland top the World Economic Forum rankings, followed by Germany in fifth place.

The nations studied had, on average, closed about 90% of the gender gap in education and health but only 50% in economic participation and opportunity, and 15% in political empowerment, said Saadia Zahidi, co-author of the report.

Denmark is rated eighth this year, while the United Kingdom comes ninth, the United States 22nd, Australia 15th and New Zealand seventh.

The Philippines, which is ranked sixth, is the only Asian country in the top 10.

The two countries ranked as having the biggest gender gaps by the report are Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

From an article in the NY Times titled "Gender pay gap narrows -- for unexpected reasons" by Molly Hennessy-Fiske:

Women are closing in on men when it comes to wages, but not for the reasons anticipated — or hoped for — when gender pay equity became a rallying cry in the 1970s.

Data show that the pay gap has been narrowing not because women have made great strides, labor experts say, but because men's wages are eroding.

The disparity in median hourly pay between men and women narrowed to 18.3% in August from 21.5% five years earlier, according to recently released census figures. In addition, the U.S. Labor Department noted recently that the wage differential in 2005 was the smallest since the department began tracking it 33 years ago, when it was 36.9%.

Even when men's and women's work patterns are taken into account — men tend to work more hours — the pay gap is narrowing.

However — as the economy expanded, profits rose and unemployment fell — men's hourly wages declined a total of 2% from 2000 to 2005 while women's rose 3%, census records show. Women's gains were barely enough to keep up with inflation.

Economists say the forces behind these trends show that men and women are experiencing the economy in different ways.

In the U.S., men have tended to dominate in blue-collar and manufacturing jobs, which have been disappearing — or seeing downward wage pressure — for the last few decades.

Women, on the other hand, have been more prevalent in service jobs such as healthcare, which historically have been lower-paying but have seen wages rise in recent years.

Court: Groups Must Offer Contraceptives

From an AP article of the same title on beliefnet:

New York's highest court ruled Thursday that social service agencies run by the Roman Catholic Church and other faiths must provide birth-control coverage to their employees, even if they consider contraception a sin.

The 6-0 decision by the Court of Appeals hinged on whether Catholic Charities and the nine other groups are essentially social service agencies, not churches.

At issue was a 2002 state law that requires employers to provide health insurance coverage for mammograms, bone density screening and other preventive services for women, including prescription contraceptives. The law exempts churches, seminaries and other institutions with a mainly religious mission.

Catholic Charities and the other groups sued the state for an exemption but lost in the lower courts.

Ethiopian women are most abused

From an article of the same title on

Nearly 60% of Ethiopian women were subjected to sexual violence, including marital rape, according to the Ending Violence Against Women report.

Almost half of all Zambian women said they had been attacked by a partner...

In addition to violence from partners, the report also condemned what it found to be high levels of institutionalised violence, such as female genital mutilation, estimating that 130 million girls and women had undergone this practice.

No to Discrimination

From an article in today's NY Times by David W. Chen titled "New Jersey Court Backs Full Rights for Gay Couples":

New Jersey's highest court ruled on Wednesday that gay couples are entitled to the same legal rights and financial benefits as heterosexual couples, but ordered the Legislature to decide whether their unions must be called marriage or could be known by another name.

In a decision filled with bold and sweeping pronouncements about equality, the New Jersey Supreme Court gave the Democratic-controlled Legislature 180 days to either expand existing laws or come up with new ones to provide gay couples benefits including tuition assistance, survivors' benefits under workers' compensation laws, and spousal privilege in criminal trials...

The New Jersey court did not go as far as Massachusetts, which in 2003 became the first state to permit gay marriage. Instead, it could be considered the new Vermont, which created civil unions for gay couples in 2000, in the politically, legally and culturally charged world of same-sex marriage...

"We do not have to take that all-or-nothing approach," Justice Albin wrote of the marriage question in the majority opinion.

"We cannot find a legitimate public need for an unequal legal scheme of benefits and privileges that disadvantages same-sex couples," he said. "We cannot find that a right to same-sex marriage is so deeply rooted in the traditions, history, and conscience of the people of this state that it ranks as a fundamental right."

In my opinion, that's the way it should be...states should have the right to define "marriage" as they choose, but they should NOT discriminate among their citizens based on sexual preference.

Which brings me to another hot-button issue: affirmative action. In an opinion piece in The Chicago Tribune titled "Reverse discrimination gets another look", Steven Chapman discusses an upcoming ballot initiative in Michigan:

On Nov. 7, voters in Michigan will decide on a ballot initiative banning racial preferences in the public sector, and if it passes, opponents say, it will put the state back into the Dark Ages.

Proposal 2 represents a reaction to the University of Michigan's use of racial double standards in selecting its students. In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the preferences used in undergraduate admissions were unconstitutional but those used for law school admissions were not. The court said it was OK to favor minority applicants--and discriminate against whites--in order to promote diversity, as long as the school wasn't too blatant about it...

The resulting measure...would amend the state constitution to bar the use of racial or gender preferences by public universities and government agencies.

If it passes, no one would be penalized or rewarded for their skin color or sex. That was the point of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Today, though, colorblind policies are denounced as a form of oppression...

At the University of California at Berkeley and at Los Angeles, California's most selective state schools, the percentage of students qualifying for need-based federal aid has risen sharply since 1996. In socioeconomic terms, those campuses have become more diverse, not less. But in Michigan, the concept of diversity begins and ends with race.

The claim that women would suffer without special help in college admissions is a particularly outlandish invention. At Berkeley and UCLA, women increased their numbers after gender-based preferences were scrapped.

There is not much doubt that Proposal 2 would reduce the number of black and Latino students at the University of Michigan, the flagship public institution. But in California, the top schools have not become replicas of Ole Miss, circa 1960. The biggest gainer has been another racial minority--Asian-Americans.

Nor have African-Americans and Hispanics been exiled from higher education. The total number of blacks at all University of California campuses has fallen only slightly, and Hispanic numbers have risen substantially. The chief difference is that many (though certainly not all) minority students have been shifted from the most selective state schools to somewhat less selective ones.

Are these students worse off for not getting into Berkeley or UCLA? Quite the contrary. In the old days, black and Hispanic students generally got worse grades and flunked out at much higher rates than whites and Asian-Americans. But that is changing...

Racial preferences, always a clear detriment to whites and Asian-Americans, have now been exposed as a false friend to those they are supposed to help. Michigan will have a better future if its voters abandon this relic of the past.

I tend to agree. A case can certainly be made for the benefits of affirmative action, but in the end it's just too bass ackward to discriminate in the name anti-discrimination and diversity.

After Machismo's Long Reign, Women Gain in Spain

From an article of the same title by Molly Moore in The Washington Post:

When Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega graduated from law school in the 1970s, Spanish law prohibited her -- and any other woman -- from becoming a judge, serving as a witness in court or opening a bank account.

Today, the angular, outspoken 57-year-old is Spain's first female vice president, helping orchestrate a cultural revolution in the boardrooms and living rooms of the country that coined the word machismo -- male chauvinism -- five centuries ago…

Her Socialist government is requiring political parties to allot 40 percent of their candidate lists to women and is telling big companies to give women 40 percent of the seats on corporate boards. Half of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero's cabinet members are women -- the highest proportion in any government in Europe.

New divorce laws not only make it easier for couples to split but stipulate that marital obligations require men to share the housework equally with their wives.

Scandalous pursuits

From an opinion piece of the same title by Steve Chapman in the Chicago Tribune:

Political sex scandals come in all varieties. Some involve Democrats, and some implicate Republicans. Though most feature consenting adults, the exploitation of minors is not unknown. Neither heterosexuals nor homosexuals are immune. Virtually all these episodes, however, have one thing in common: The politician is a man.

The list of male officeholders who have gotten tangled in embarrassing shenanigans is long and colorful--including Rep. Wilbur Mills, who consorted with a stripper known as the "Argentine Firecracker," Sen. Bob Packwood, who had a habit of kissing women without their consent, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a serial groper, and Bill Clinton.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who has been accused of mishandling the Mark Foley case, should have known the perils of unconstrained libidos on Capitol Hill. He got his job only after predecessor Bob Livingston was caught cheating on his wife...

I tried to find examples of female politicians ensnared in such sordid doings and came up with only one--in Taiwan. Over the last 30 years, the number of women in Congress has quadrupled, and they now make up one of every six members. But though they do their share of the legislative work, they fall terribly short when it comes to bedroom escapades...

It used to be assumed that once women gained a measure of parity in elective office, they would fall prey to the same temptations as men--bribery, dirty campaign tactics, delusions of grandeur and jumping into bed with hot subordinates. But while they may compete on the first three, they have failed to break the male monopoly on illicit liaisons.

Why is that? For an answer, I called Louann Brizendine, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of the new book "The Female Brain," which addresses the biological differences between the minds of men and women. She sounds completely unsurprised that male politicians are far more prone to tripping over their zippers.

"On average, males end up with twice as many cells in the area of the brain for sexual pursuit," she says. Females, her research indicates, devote less of their brain space to getting into other people's pants, and spend far less time fantasizing about sex. It's no accident that guys account for the vast majority of pornography consumers and strip-joint patrons.

Females also have plenty of interest in sex, but because of different brain structure and different hormones, they generally use different strategies to get it--inviting attention by enhancing their appearance, for example, instead of relentlessly hitting on potential partners. Says Brizendine, "It's the pursuit that gets males in trouble."

15 Women Who Took Up Priestly Roles Face Excommunication

From an article of the same title in the LA Times by Louis Sahagun:

Fifteen Roman Catholic women in the United States, including some Californians, face excommunication after taking up priestly duties following their "ordination" in recent ceremonies designed to challenge the all-male priesthood...

Dozens more women, generally in their 50s and 60s, are preparing to be ordained in the future, said Aisha Taylor, executive director of the Women's Ordination Conference, which became a nonprofit organization in Fairfax, Va., in June after advocating for female priests for 31 years.

All of the ceremonies were conducted on chartered boats ”theoretically beyond the jurisdiction of the local diocese” amid the medieval pomp of the traditional rite...

Presiding over some of the ordinations were three European women recently consecrated as bishops in secret ceremonies allegedly led by five bishops who remain in good standing with the church. The identities of the male bishops, who wish to remain anonymous to avoid excommunication, were notarized and then placed in a bank vault, the women priests said...

Catholic bishops for decades have grappled with the issue of women's ordination, many of them torn between a desire to address the discontent and rising influence of Catholic women in America while remaining faithful to Rome.

With recent polls of U.S. Catholics showing that a majority of those surveyed favored women as priests, women have been given greater authority within the church as spiritual directors, distributors of the Eucharist and jail chaplains.

The Vatican has steadfastly repeated that women cannot be ordained, given that the sacramental symbolism of gender reflects the relationship between Jesus and his male apostles. The women priests say historical evidence shows that women routinely served as priests in the first few hundred years of the church.

The women replicate the traditional role of priests in most ways, except that they have regular jobs and omit the promise of obedience to the bishop and the vow of celibacy.

They also forgo the criminal and financial background checks and battery of psychological tests required of traditional priests.

Clergywomen Find Hard Path to Bigger Pulpit

From an article of the same title by Neela Banerjee in the NY Times:

Whether they come from theologically liberal denominations or conservative ones, black churches or white, women in the clergy still bump against what many call the stained-glass ceiling - longstanding limits, preferences and prejudices within their denominations that keep them from leading bigger congregations and having the opportunity to shape the faith of more people.

Women now make up 51 percent of the students in divinity school. But in the mainline Protestant churches that have been ordaining women for decades, women account for only a small percentage - about 3 percent, according to one survey by a professor at Duke University -” of pastors who lead large congregations, those with average Sunday attendance over 350. In evangelical churches, most of which do not ordain women, some women opt to leave for other denominations that will accept them as ministers. Women from historically black churches who want to ascend to the pulpit often start their own congregations.

This year, women were elected to lead the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. But such success has not filtered down to the congregational level, said the Rev. Dr. Catherine Stonehouse, dean of the school of practical theology at the Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky.

It is often easier for women in the mainline churches - historic Protestant denominations like Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopal and the United Church of Christ - to get elected as bishops and as other leaders than to head large congregations, Dr. Stonehouse said.

People in the pews often do not accept women in the pulpit, clergy members said. "It's still difficult for many in this culture to see women as figures of religious authority," said the Rev. Cynthia M. Campbell, president of McCormick Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian seminary in Chicago...

Conflicting interpretations of the Bible underlie debates over women's authority and ordination. Opponents of their ordination cite St. Paul's words in I Timothy 2:12, in which he says, "I permit no woman to teach or have authority over men; she is to keep silent." But proponents point to St. Paul again in Galatians 3:28, which says, "There is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."...

In the first decade after ordination, men and women usually hold similar positions, said Jackson W. Carroll, professor emeritus of religion and society at Duke University Divinity School and author of "God's Potters: Pastoral Leadership and The Shaping of Congregations," published this year.

In their second decade in ordained ministry, however, 70 percent of men had moved on to medium-sized and large congregations, Mr. Carroll said, based on a 2001 survey of 870 senior and solo pastors. By comparison, only 37 percent of women led medium and large larger congregations.

In the mainline Protestant denominations, Mr. Carroll found that women made up 20 percent of lead or solo pastors. But of the pastors at the top of the pay scale, largely those who lead big congregations, only 3 percent are women. Of all conservative Protestant congregations, 1 percent are led by women, he said; of African-American churches, just 3 percent are led by women...

Several denominations began ordaining women in the 19th century, from the Quakers and the Christian Connection Church, a forbear of the United Church of Christ, to the churches of the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition. One of the precursors to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) first ordained women in 1956, the same year that the United Methodist Church granted full clergy rights to women. The church bodies that ultimately formed the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America first ordained women in 1970, and the Episcopal Church officially ordained them in 1976.

When the Pentecostal movement started in 1906, it did not bar women from preaching. But over time, congregations have limited women's leadership.

The country's largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, does not encourage the ordination of women, although some individual congregations and other Baptist groups do.

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