World heading in the wrong direction

A new report by the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) highlights a disturbing trend about the condition of women worldwide. Based on data collected from 150 countries, the report says many women around the world are worse off now than they were ten years ago when the UN held its World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995). WEDO declares that governments have broken most of the promises they made in Beijing. The report charges that they have adopted a ‘piecemeal and incremental approach to implementation that cannot achieve the economic, social and political transformation underlying the promises and vision of Beijing’.

It was not supposed to go like this. We are not sticking to the script. We were supposed to gradually awaken and recognize the idiotic immorality of enslaving half our species. Wasn’t the pace of enlightenment and justice supposed to accelerate throughout the 20th and 21st century? Weren’t women supposed to be recognized as fully human by now? What happened?

The report blames the backward trend on poverty, war, legal inequality, religion and broad economic changes. In all of these, women invariably get hit the hardest. Some of the figures WEDO cites are disturbing and suggest that we not as far removed from the caves as we imagine. Two-thirds of women in relationships worldwide suffer physical abuse. More than 60 percent of Kazakhstan’s women have been beaten and/or sexually assaulted. More than 30 percent of American women say they have been sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend. In Colombia, more than 40 percent of married women reported being physically abused by their husbands in 2000. The majority of the world’s poorest adults are women. Meanwhile, there are still countries in the world that hold male-only elections.

Clearly we have lost our way on the gender problem. Perhaps this can’t be fixed with conferences, programs and grants. Maybe change must come from the bottom up. This is, after all, a human rights issue that requires nothing less than a revolution in both thought and behavior. What the world seems to need is for decent people everywhere to stop tolerating intolerance, regardless of where it occurs or who sanctions it.

This problem is bigger than racism and more dangerous than terrorism. The misery and abuse heaped on women lacks the focused horror of the Holocaust or a major war, but its constant grind-century after century-takes a far greater toll.

It is time for humankind to admit to its most shameful and enduring crime. It is time to pick up the pace. Ending the mistreatment of women deserves the highest priority. Based on their actions, however, the male-dominated governments of the world do not agree.