5 Veiled Women's Rights Issues You Probably Didn't Even Realize Are Women's Rights Issues
It's only July, and 2015 has already seen a handful of incredible women's rights victories around the world, many of which have concerned child marriage, genital mutilation, sexual violence, and education. In America, women's rights advocates have been fighting to protect women's increasingly challenged right to obtain safe abortions, and have been making gains against glass ceilings with more than 100 women serving in Congress for the first time ever. The feminist movement has done a great job at being inclusive and garnering attention and support for its many causes, but there's still five incredibly important women's rights issues that most people still don't even realize are women's rights issues.
Although they may appear irrelevant to feminism on the surface, all of the following issues are crucial to the women's rights movement and are either barely discussed, or discussed frequently but almost never from a feminist angle. For instance, when we speak of climate change, we talk about the colossal damage global warming can and will do to our planet — but we don't discuss the women who remain the most vulnerable demographic when it comes to those effects. Climate change is one of these seemingly irrelevant issues to women's rights, and it's joined by several others.
As early as 2009, United Nations Population Fund reports were finding that women around the world "are among the most vulnerable to climate change." In many countries, women work in agriculture in disproportionately higher numbers than men do, as they tend to have access to "fewer income-earning opportunities" than their male counterparts, the 2009 report found. According to a 2010 United Nations report, 63 percent of households in rural and developing countries depend on their women to bring home water and even food. Quite obviously, hotter climates would make this burden on women even more difficult.
According to Climate Progress, global warming has also sparked corporate interest in sustainable development in these rural nations, and their projects are often prioritized over women's right to land ownership. In large numbers, women are driven from what sparse land they own for cultivating food to make way for sustainable development projects. This makes the task of providing food for their families all the more difficult.
In America, discussion of climate change tends to be limited to a redundant "he says she says," Republicans vs. Democrats (and scientists... and the Pope) debate on whether global warming is even real. However, around the world, the United Nations is increasingly bringing different countries together to reach agreements on limiting human actions that are known to contribute to climate change. This is certainly a step in the right direction, but it's time for some light to be shined on how climate change disproportionately, and adversely, affects women.
"The Fight For 15"
"The Fight for 15" is a movement to raise minimum wage to $15 by 2020 and is supported by prominent political figures who include Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and current presidential hopeful, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Sanders has gone as far as calling the current national minimum wage of $7.25 a "starvation wage." Raising minimum wage would serve to benefit workers of many low wage industries — including workers of the fast food industry who are predominantly female, and often working mothers, at that.
While politicians like Sanders aren't afraid to discuss the all important factors of economic and even racial privilege in unemployment and low-wage jobs, the issue of male privilege is hardly ever mentioned in mainstream media, and it's time for that to change. There's no reason why, in the 21st century, women who are struggling to feed their children and taking sexism and even sexual harassment from managers, co-workers and customers should still be earning "starvation wage."
Discrimination And Violence Toward The Disabled
According to the U.N., women with physical disabilities are more likely to struggle to obtain "adequate housing, health, education ... and employment," and are more likely to be institutionalized. What's more, they're also more vulnerable to gender-based violence, sexual abuse and both sexual and financial exploitation. Women's Aid Federation of England found that women with disabilities are two times more likely to experience sexual abuse, and campaigns that combat rape via teaching self-defense do almost nothing to help them. They are also more disposed to face financial abuse from partners, as it is easier to deny disabled women financial autonomy when they hardly have physical autonomy. While at least climate change and raising minimum wage are often discussed, discussion surrounding the plight of people with disabilities seldom even arises, let alone discussion from a women's rights perspective.
It should be pretty obvious why not providing information about STDs, birth control, contraceptives, abortion rights, or anything except the ideologically-driven advice that you abstain from pre-marital sex is damaging to female students. Advocates for Youth, an organization based in Washington, D.C. that focuses on reproductive and sexual health education, has called "accurate, balanced sex education" a "basic human right of youth." Research has even indicated that not only does abstinence-only education fail to delay sexual initiation in youth, in 2012, states with abstinence-only education actually had the highest rates of teen pregnancy. That's probably what happens when you don't teach students about safe sex.
Without accurate knowledge about reproductive health, male and female students are equally vulnerable to STDs, but female students are additionally more vulnerable to unwanted pregnancies. Abstinence-only education also reinforces the misogynistic cultural attitudes that shame sexual women by negatively portraying consensual sex prior to marriage. This sexist portrayal indefinitely shapes how female youth will approach sex as adults.
In 2013, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) introduced a bill that would eliminate Title V, Section 510 of the Social Security Act, which enforces abstinence-only education, and transfer funding for its programs to the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) state-grant program. The bill also acknowledged the needs of LGBT students. However, in many states, the fight against abstinence-only education continues to rage on.
Cultural appropriation is a complicated issue, but it could ultimately be summed up by a question Amandla Stenberg poses in the video above: "What would America be like if it loved black people as much as it loves black culture?" It's one thing to celebrate someone else's culture, but it's entirely another to profit off assuming a culture that isn't yours while actual members of said culture experience ridicule and harassment. When Kylie Jenner donned dreadlocks and, more recently, cornrows, both signature fashions of black culture, she inspired the hashtag "#whitegirlsdoitbetter," while actual African American women who style their hair this way are often labeled as "ghetto."
How does this relate to women's rights? It's worth noting that, according to The Huffington Post, the phrase "white girls do it better" originated from porn advertisements, and I can hardly imagine that these porn sites were empowering for white women, let alone women of color. Consider all the times white celebrities post photos of themselves in the fashions of another culture and have been called adventurous or sophisticated, and consider all the times actual women of said culture are criticized or even mocked for doing the same things. Cultural appropriation is a women's rights issue because it promotes the racist and misogynistic idea that whiteness is aesthetically superior.
Around the world, in western societies and rural and developing countries alike, pop culture conflicts and environmental, youth, and nearly all human rights issues have disproportionately more negative effects on women. Discussions on these issues either never include a women's rights perspective, or simply aren't taking place at all, and it's time for feminists and activists to change this.
Images: Getty Images (6), 20th Century Fox