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: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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