This is part of Das Tor’s ongoing series, the Global Chalice, in which two of our writers take the perspective of a citizen of the Global North or Global South and debate a controversial issue germane to our current business and political environment.
With the exception of Australia and New Zealand, Global North countries are north of the equator and supposedly “wealthier” and more developed (and usually heavily European influenced). With a few exceptions, Global South countries are generally located south of the equator and are supposedly “poorer,” lesser developed countries such as Senegal, Ghana, Iran, Afghanistan, Mongolia, Indonesia, etc.
North and South conversations will be between two representative characters embodying either the North or South and will focus on their responses to headlines and op-ed pieces in popular news sources such as The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and The New York Times, among others. The characters are two women, one from a Global North country and the other from a Global South country. These characters are human like us and come with their own perspectives, leading to real discussions and spirited debate that reflects their hypothetical opinions rather than clear facts. They welcome your opinions in response and hope for thoughtful, dynamic, and respectful conversations. This installment is the first in the series, and it is in response to The Economist’s article “Why nations that fail women fail”.
Global North Perspective: Erica
Living in a patriarchal industrialized nation, we can sit back and nod along at the sentiments portrayed in this article. Pointing at lesser developed nations like India, Guinea, Iraq, and Pakistan and saying “See? This is why women matter” doesn’t actually help anything. It’s common sense, right? Of course, we should teach boys to not hit girls. Of course, girls should be educated, and of course, she should not be forced to marry before she’s 18. We know this. Not educating half the population and subjugating and treating them like property will only serve to hurt the country. This is all easy to see when we sit in our air-conditioned homes on our comfy chairs reading from our computers and smartphones about women’s rights in lesser developed nations.
What’s not so easy to see is how we have not come so far from what the women in those countries are experiencing. For example, I believe women in the U.S. still cannot decide what happens to their own bodies.
At the beginning of September 2021, Texas passed a law prohibiting nearly all abortions, allowing ordinary citizens (not those involved in the procedure, however) to sue anyone aiding in helping a woman safely abort a fetus. This not only includes the medical professionals involved, but it could also include the Uber driver who helped her get to her appointment. The Supreme Court refused to block this legislation with a 5-4 vote. Another recent abortion case from Mississippi, Dobb vs Jackson Women’s Health Organization, offers the court another chance to overturn Roe v. Wade. In response to this new Texas legislation, the architect of the bill, Jonathan Mitchell, said that women can simply not have sex if they do not want to take on the risk of an unwanted pregnancy. No word yet on whether the man involved will have to take on the same risk.
Earlier this year, dozens of women spoke out against abuse they faced in the workplace at the video game company Activision Blizzard. In April 2021, female employees staged a walkout after it came out that executives at the company refused to acknowledge the sexual harassment and even assault faced by women who worked there. Some managers there even were known to do something called a “cube crawl,” where they went from cubicle to cubicle, drunk, and sexually harassed their employees. A lawsuit was filed from the state of California against the company after the allegations were not properly handled. In the suit, a “Cosby Suite” was mentioned, where executives and top developers would gather for drinks and informal networking. But it wasn’t just a place to chat with higher ups, it was named “Cosby” after the disgraced Bill Cosby long after sexual assault allegations surfaced against Cosby and reflected the toxic culture at the company.
Women in industrialized nations still face many of the same dangers women everywhere have always faced. They might not look as obvious as child marriage or female genital mutilation, but they are still systemic issues. They’ve just evolved with the culture. Just like industrialized nations have developed, so have crimes against women and their rights.
South’s Perspective: Sana
Another view on the title of the article is yes, nations that fail women fail. And with that correlation comes the idea that, barring very few countries, most of the nations can be labeled as failed nations. Most national newspapers carry proof of this failure on their landing page, every day. So maybe the article claims that most of the world is a failure, and the state of women in these nations are a red herring for the failure. The intensity, brutality, and publicity of these failures should not be points of discussion. Using ‘these failures’ as a measuring stick to make oneself feel good is absurd.
This article makes me feel sorry for the world. The fallacies perpetuated in the article are borderline ridiculous. For example, the rise and fall of enrollment of Afghan girls in primary school is no indicator of progress. A better barometer would be the employability, safety, security, and financial independence of those girls in the 20 years mentioned by the writer. Much like everything else, it is a token metric that paints one section of society to be better than the other.
Another problem with the argument posted here is equating USA with Kashmir (a conflicted region in India with with rugged terrain) in terms of sex ratio or comparing democracy of India (largest democracy in the world) with that of Saudi Arabia (monarchy) and Pakistan (one of the youngest democracies in the world). When you think about it, it is a pity party thrown for the reader to feel good about themselves.
Painting the country as intolerant or non-progressive because they are hierarchical, polygamus, or patriarchal is another token argument, which we can debate over endlessly. It does not change the fact that these practices are deep rooted in the history, culture, and psychology of the region. Any outsider coming in to ‘teach them a better way to live’ is how every colonization story started.
Wanting the world to be better, wanting humanity to be better is an excellent vision and is laced with pitfalls. Implementing these ideologies via foreign policy passes the buck to the country or tribe that is under no obligation to change. As long as the monetary gravy train continues, the social and humanistic aspects will remain footnotes in foreign policies. The world is barking up the wrong tree; foreign policies are no more responsible for fixing the world than a World Food Programme (WFP) is responsible for fixing world hunger. Neither has the resources, power, and vision to do so. Foreign policies were not created to solve world problems; foreign policy is the guiding principle that directs the interaction between states.
Foriegn policy should be careful of the nuances of world issues, but they should not be the first line of defence against it. That doesn’t absolve anyone from the responsibility. Yes, women are subjugated around the world, but articles such as this one provide hollow relief to the hurting masses. The idea that someone somewhere is suffering more than us is an empty relief.
Maybe if we call the change humanism instead of feminism, the world would listen. Nations that fail their humans fail.