Is The West Really Leading Women’s Rights?

As it turns out, Western news sources have given us quite a one-sided view of the women’s rights movement. Either we’re told of the problems in Western society, or we’re told of the many atrocities that are still part of every day life elsewhere. The common theme here is that women are still not given the equality they deserve here in the West, but at least people are doing something about it. Outside of the West, though, you would think that nothing is happening. That, however, might be just another ethnocentric myth.

When a lecturer earlier this week showed a ranking of female representation in the parliaments of each country, his goal was to show that women hold a minority of seats in parliament almost everywhere. What he didn’t mention, however, was which countries stood where in that ranking. So let’s change that and have a look at a map showing which proportion of seats in each country’s parliament is allocated to women:

Women in Parliament

(A more detailed map, including precise rankings, can be found here)
 

As you might notice, this map sure doesn’t show the kind of pattern we might have expected. “Western countries” are hardly distinguishable, with only northern Europe lighting up a little. In the top 10, we find Rwanda, Cuba, Seychelles, Senegal, South Africa and Nicaragua, with just as many countries from Africa as from Europe (4 each), and two from North America, but neither being the Western, capitalist nations many of us might have expected.

That’s not all, though. Once you start digging deeper, you’ll find that women in Rwanda have made major progress in recent years. Of course, considering the civil war of the 1990s and the hundreds of thousands of women who were raped, improvement is relative, but that doesn’t take away the huge steps that have been taken. The same goes for Cuba, a country that some might argue is far more advanced in its efforts towards equality than most Western countries could claim. With 49% of parliament constituting of women, 42% of the labour market, 77% of attorneys, 49% of judges and 62% of university students, they sure aren’t doing bad.

I could add some more statistics for other countries you might not expect it from, but I think the overall point is clear: the rest of the world isn’t doing as bad as we think. Or alternatively, perhaps, we aren’t doing as well we think. People in the West like to pride themselves in the fact that they live in countries that are greatly advanced in their efforts to reach equality of every kind, but while that may still be true, it is not so straightforward.

One explanation for why the West might be “lacking behind” despite the attention we give to women’s rights, is the image that feminism has. Cuba, for instance, has a women’s rights movement of which over 80% of the population is a member. In Western countries, I’d be surprised if 4 in 5 women were even supportive of feminism at all.

However, unlike the argument that I usually read about, I would not blame that difference on “the people.” Blaming feminism’s bad reputation on those who don’t identify with it would be useless. It implies that they have to make the change, but since they don’t care about feminism, they won’t make that change. Because of that, the fault has to lie with feminism itself. The change has to come from feminism itself. Somehow, we will have to find a way to make feminism regain its popularity, because right now, we can no longer truly argue that women’s rights in the West are more developed than in the rest of the world.

In the end, the lesson here is that the rest of the world isn’t doing that bad. Either way, the West is certainly not superior in its ideals, nor even in the execution of those ideals, something we are very inclined to forget.

~

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More on this topic from Dean Richards:

The Problem With Masculinity And Why It Affects You

First World Problems Are Just As Important As Third World Problems

The Forgotten Continent: LGBT Rights In Africa

 

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About Dean Richards

A young student with a passion for writing. Aspiring author and human rights activist, but I write about anything. "If you don't like how things are, change it! You're not a tree!" New blog post every Monday!
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5 Responses to Is The West Really Leading Women’s Rights?

  1. Anonymous says:

    This post was quite surprising, indeed! That only means that there’s even more room for improvement. I enjoyed reading about your perspective on this everlasting issue. There is, however, one thing I don’t agree with. Saying that feminism itself is the culprit is a bit contradicting as the movement is all about improving this state. I don’t believe that feminism should change its principals. In fact, I believe we should try to change the inadequate way people perceive the concept of feminism. ‘Blaming feminism’s bad reputation on those who don’t identify with it would be useless. It implies that they have to make the change, but since they don’t care about feminism, they won’t make that change’ How do you know that they don’t care about feminism? Feminism is misconceived by millions among us. Wouldn’t the right thing be to educate them on what feminism entails in a truthful way? Confusing the fact that people misinterpret the concept of feminism should in no way serve as a motive to blame what feminism stands for. We also have to bear in mind that feminism is defined as the belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.. Although women’s rights are more vivid in this movement (quite straightforward as women hold a more vulnerable position at the moment) , we should not forget that men’s rights are our concern as well.

    • Firstly, thank you!

      But as to your point… I’m not saying that what feminism stands for is the problem. That’s quite different. Instead, what I mean is that if not feminism itself, what can we blame for its bad reputation? Just like a company is responsible for its own image through advertising, feminism is responsible for its image as well, because even if the fault lies with the people, they’re not going to fix it. Maybe they would care about feminism if they saw it in a different light, but the issue is exactly that they don’t see it in that different light.

      Changing “the inadequate way people perceive the concept of feminism” cannot happen without change. After all, the way feminism is portrayed is the reason why we see it the way it is. Whether or not that is true or justified is a completely different story. What matters is that people don’t identify with it, and that won’t change if nothing else changes.

      I could name plenty of examples. For instance, feminists use many different terms that are only ever used in feminist discussion. It took me quite some time to become familiar with terms such as misogyny, privilege or even patriarchy, terms that are flung about on a very regular basis, even when the discussion is with someone who is unfamiliar with those terms. Those things don’t make the movement any more accessible.

      In the end, though, the problem is that whatever example I mention, the answer will always be “yeah, but not every feminist makes that mistake.” And that’s true, and it’s also why there probably isn’t really a solution: “feminism” doesn’t really exist, because there is no agreement about its methods. You cannot “change” feminism because it applies to too many different people with too many different views.

      Anyway, as to your last point, I would never disagree: men’s rights are a feminist problem. But then again, not everyone would agree, and that can quickly cause hostile environments. Most likely, feminism has grown too big and too diverse to create a proper image of itself, and due to that, it completely fails at its advertisement. And that leads to damage to image, damage that I’m not sure can ever be repaired.

      • To summarise that a bit: feminism is a movement you have to read up on before you can join. As a Muslim or Gay Rights activist, you can just say “hey, it’s time for equality,” and you’re in. You can start your journey as an activist. But feminism doesn’t work that way. You’d first have to go through the wikipedia pages, perhaps endure some discussions in which you’re clearly inferior, and perhaps even take some gender study courses, because what feminism fights for cannot really be explained in one sentence. Yes, equality, but beyond that? It’s complicated.

        The gay rights movement, on the other hand, can quite simply explain that they aim for acceptance and marriage equality. It could be made more complex, but it doesn’t have to be.

  2. rebeccaleins says:

    I really like your article. It gives a totally new perspective of the Women’s right in the Non-European world, which is quite intresting. I learned today that India was one of the first countries in which women are in a large number involved in the political and educational area since 1920s.

    • Thanks Rebecca! That is definitely a fact I didn’t know about either, while India is a prime example of a country we only hear negative things about. It’s good to know those things as well!

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