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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ranking Women: A Call to Mission

The last issue of Newsweek/The Daily Beast reported on the best and worst places for women around the world.

Dozens of data points for 165 countries were examined and analyzed to determine which countries offer women the most expansive rights and the best quality of life.

The full list of data points considered and sources is as follows:
-Prevalence of early marriage
-Existence of laws preventing violence against women (domestic violence, sexual harassment, marital rape)
-Prevalence of intimate partner physical violence
-Prevalence of intimate partner sexual violence
-Civil liberties:
Ability of women to move freely outside of the house
Level of women’s access to bank loans
Level of women’s access to land and property other than land
Whether inheritance practices favor male heirs
-Adolescent fertility rate (births per 1,000 women ages 15-19)
-Maternal mortality rate (maternal deaths per 100,000 live births)
-Contraceptive prevalence (percentage of women ages 15-49)
-Proportion of women with unmet need for family planning (aged 15-49)
-Proportion of women attended at least once by skilled health personnel during pregnancy
-HIV incidence rate
-Proportion of women receiving antiretroviral drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV
-Number of unsafe abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44
-Whether abortion is legal:
To save woman’s life
To preserve physical health
To preserve mental health
In cases of rape/incest
In cases of fetal impairment
Economic or social reasons
On request
-Female adult literacy rate
-Female youth literacy rate
-Percentage of female population over age 25 with no schooling
-Female survival rate to last grade of primary school
-Gender parity in enrollment in primary education
-Gender parity in enrollment in secondary education

-Whether women can work in all industries
-Percentage of women in the labor force
-Women’s wages as a percentage of men’s
-Ability of women to rise to positions of enterprise leadership

-Share of women in ministerial positions
-Percent of women in Parliament
-Percent of women in senior positions
-Ratio of female legislators, senior officials and managers compared to male

-Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Gender, Institutions and Development Database 2009
-United Nations Progress of the World’s Women 2011-2012
-World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2010
-World Bank, World Development Indicators
-World Health Organization World Health Statistics 2010
-UNESCO Institute of Statistics Global Education Digest 2010
-United Nations Development Fund for Women Gender Justice: Key to Achieving the Millennium Development Goals
Admittedly, it is difficult to provide a solid analysis of the data, given all the variables. In her Newsweek piece accompanying the rankings, Jess Ellison touches upon the difficulty of ascertaining the progress of women and the narrowing of the gender gap. She uses Canada as an example, pointing out that even though it ranked third overall, it ranked 26th in political power

She wrote:
Of course, no index can account for everything. Declaring that one country is better than another in the way that it treats more than half its citizens means relying on broad strokes and generalities. (The experience of a domestic servant can hardly be compared with that of an executive with an M.B.A., even if their citizenship is the same.) Some things simply can’t be measured. (Is child care better or worse when provided by grandparents, or subsidized and mandated by government?) And cross-cultural comparisons can’t account for differences of opinion. (Who’s more oppressed: the girl in the miniskirt or the one in the hijab?)
Here's a snapshot of the results which were partly inspiring, partly confusing, and somewhat distressing:
In the last year, Denmark elected a female prime minister, Brazil elected a female president and a female took the helm of the International Monetary Fund. In the last decade, Ethiopia passed the most progressive abortion laws in Africa to combat unsafe abortion rates and Mali passed a law that says women are not required to obey their husbands. It seems the state of women’s rights and freedoms worldwide are perhaps better than ever before. But, large and sobering discrepancies remain. Women aren’t allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, are subject to genital mutilation in Mali and are killed for honor in Pakistan.
The ranking of the Top 10 nations that were "best" for women is as follows:
1, Iceland
Overall score (out of 100): 100.0
Justice: 100.0
Health: 90.5
Education: 96.7
Economics: 88.0
Politics: 92.8

2, Sweden
Overall score (out of 100): 99.2
Justice: 90.8
Health: 94.8
Education: 95.5
Economics: 90.3
Politics: 93.1

3, Canada
Overall score (out of 100): 96.6
Justice: 100.0
Health: 92.7
Education: 92.0
Economics: 91.0
Politics: 66.9

4, Denmark
Overall score (out of 100): 95.3
Justice: 86.1
Health: 94.9
Education: 97.6
Economics: 88.5
Politics: 78.4

5, Finland
Overall score (out of 100): 92.8
Justice: 80.2
Health: 91.4
Education: 91.3
Economics: 86.8
Politics: 100.0

6, Switzerland
Overall score (out of 100): 91.9
Justice: 87.9
Health: 94.4
Education: 97.3
Economics: 82.6
Politics: 74.6

7, Norway
Overall score (out of 100): 91.3
Justice: 79.3
Health: 100.0
Education: 74.0
Economics: 93.5
Politics: 93.9

8, United States of America
Overall score (out of 100): 89.8
Justice: 82.9
Health: 92.8
Education: 97.3
Economics: 83.9
Politics: 68.6

9, Australia
Overall score (out of 100): 88.2
Justice: 80.7
Health: 93.3
Education: 93.9
Economics: 85.3
Politics: 65.1

10, Netherlands
Overall score (out of 100): 87.7
Justice: 74.0
Health: 95.0
Education: 99.0
Economics: 83.0
Politics: 68.4
And, coming in at the very bottom, the "worst" nations for women are:
156, Sudan
Overall score (out of 100): 26.1
Justice: 21.1
Health: 29.4
Education: 70.6
Economics: 54.5
Politics: 40.8

157, Ethiopia
Overall score (out of 100): 23.7
Justice: 18.6
Health: 27.2
Education: 29.9
Economics: 79.7
Politics: 37.4

158, Pakistan
Overall score (out of 100): 21.4
Justice: 49.7
Health: 49.6
Education: 34.0
Economics: 50.7
Politics: 19.3

159, Niger
Overall score (out of 100): 21.2
Justice: 26.5
Health: 32.9
Education: 47.5
Economics: 58.6
Politics: 31.3

160, Solomon Islands
Overall score (out of 100): 20.8
Justice: 0.0
Health: 53.6
Education: 86.5
Economics: 46.0
Politics: 1.9

161, Mali
Overall score (out of 100): 17.6
Justice: 22.7
Health: 29.9
Education: 25.8
Economics: 64.3
Politics: 49.8

162, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Overall score (out of 100): 13.6
Justice: 6.5
Health: 11.4
Education: 45.1
Economics: 67.8
Politics: 27.2

163, Yemen
Overall score (out of 100): 12.1
Justice: 36.2
Health: 44.4
Education: 34.1
Economics: 48.8
Politics: 0.0

164, Afghanistan
Overall score (out of 100): 2.0
Justice: 8.4
Health: 2.0
Education: 41.1
Economics: 55.3
Politics: 16.6

165, Chad
Overall score (out of 100): 0.0
Justice: 20.7
Health: 0.0
Education: 0.0
Economics: 70.9
Politics: 22.2
You can read the entire list here.

That's right. The United States - the land of the free and the home of the brave - ranked 8th in the world as providing justice, health, education, economic and political advantages for women.

Apparently, despite all of the strides women have made over the years, we still believe that "all men are created equal" and have forgotten that, as the Chinese saying goes, "Women hold up half the sky".

It should be noted that China was ranked 23.

Women have, in fact, come a long way in the struggle for equality, but not nearly as far as we need to be. Elissa Strauss writes, in the "The Jewish Daily Forward" that this study illustrates how lopsided gender equality can be on a national scale, and suggests that the fight for equality needs to be continuously fine-tuned to account for a country’s or region’s strengths and weaknesses.

Looking at the rankings for this country, that would suggest that while we've made great strides in health (92.8) and education (97.3) for women, we've got some work to do in terms of justice, economics and politics - while continuing to work for continued progress in health and education.

In terms of health, I think we've really taken a hit in terms of reproductive rights for women as well as access to affordable health care.  We've got to work hard to reverse that alarming trend - especially in those "red states" where Tea Party money is funding a philosophical war on the political front.

In terms of education, we've really got to continue to provide more educational opportunities to keep girls in school, to graduate from high school and, at least, ensure post-secondary specialized training and education, including the opportunity for a college education that is on par with men.

As I look over the criteria used to determine the rankings, I think we've got a few priorities on which to focus our attention. I am looking at this with my clergy collar on, and listening for a call to mission and ministry.

Justice: Domestic violence continues to be a serious problem. We've got to do more than providing shelters and safe havens for women and children who are entrapped in a web of violence in their own homes.

What can the church do? First of all, we've got to preach and teach zero tolerance of violence toward women and children. In this instance, the Scriptural stories of violence need especially to be addressed and dismantled as potential justification for violence. On the other hand, the stories of ancient women of faith who are strong and wise need to be lifted up continually as examples for post-modern women and men and our children.

Churches also need to hold "Awareness Sundays" that address violence toward women and children in our own communities as well as around the world.  Perhaps a Confirmation Class or an Outreach Committee could visit a shelter for battered women and listen to their stories, followed by careful teaching and preaching about what Jesus had to say about women.

These are but a few suggestions I can make without breaking a sweat. Perhaps you can think of others.

Economics: Of all the criteria listed, I want to suggest that the last two need our full attention. These are: Women’s wages as a percentage of men’s and the ability of women to rise to positions of enterprise leadership.

If I had to prioritize these two, I would err on the side of women's wages. Women are most often hired and most often adversely affected by minimum wage. I think the church can be a powerful voice in this arena - especially as more and more women become clergy who are often hired because congregations know that they can expect more from women and pay less (It's the 'Target' mentality).

If we don't speak up for ourselves and our sisters, who will?

Politics: At 68.6, this is our lowest ranking. While our progress in ministerial and management positions are on a steady rise, I think our three weakest points are the percentage of women in legislative positions of leadership, percentage of women in senior positions, and the ratio of female legislators, senior officials and managers compared to male.

What can the church do? Well, here's a suggestion that is deceptively simple but far from simplistic.

I think we should exercise subversive politics and begin to try and control the language and the images in our churches.

In those places where there are ordained women, insist that any diocesan gathering should include the voices of women in the church and at The Table.  In those places that are more, shall we say, 'resistant' to the leadership of women in the church, begin where you are. In your pew.

Substitute "God" wherever there is a male pronoun for The Holy One.  Say it loud.  At a volume that those around you can hear. Use "She" whenever the Holy Spirit is mentioned.  Remain silent when any member of the Trinity or humankind is referred to in the male pronoun or male imagery.

It won't take long before others will notice. And, they'll begin to join you.

To paraphrase Mary Daley, if we can imagine God as other than male, then male will no longer be God.

These are just a few, small suggestions. You may have other, more directive ideas.

I think these criteria provide a template for the church to reactivate our call to God's mission of justice for all people - with a particular focus on women.

Hillary Clinton, who has made improving the status of women around the world the centerpiece of her tenure as Secretary of State is quoted as saying, 
The challenges of change are always hard. It is important that we begin to unpack those challenges that confront this nation and realize that we each have a role that requires us to change and become more responsible for shaping our own future.
We have that responsibility as citizens of this country, the world, and the church.

If the church is not a place of change and transformation, then we might as well blow out all the votive candles, cover up the crosses and lock the red doors at the entrance. 

We have the challenges of change before us: Justice, Health, Education, Politics and Economics. 

Choose one and start to work on it. Today. You know what to do: Work locally and think globally. Each one, teach one.
Call the sisterhood together to help you. Ask a few of the brothers to assist you. Get the leadership - ordained and lay - of your church community involved. Work across the spectrum of age and gender and race and sexual orientation.

I believe this survey calls us to do God's mission together, with as much passion and energy and generosity as we can muster. 
The world is too small a place for anything but a generous heart and it is too dangerous a place - especially for women and children - for anything less than a passionate commitment to the mission  of God.


Kirkepiscatoid said...

I am chuckling b/c Trinity-Kirksville is doing a book group as we speak on the MDG's. We were talking about some of this stuff last night! I think I'll forward a link to this to the rest of the group.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Have you noticed that the highest percentage of the MDGs have to do with the status of women?

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Indeed I have. Mostly I have thought about how if Mom or Grandma learns to read, the kids will learn to read, if for no other reason than "they just will, because that's what they see in the day-to-day."

I have thought back to my own life story. I was one of those odd little children who was a "self-taught" reader. But it really wasn't "self" because what I saw was my Granny reading the newspaper all the time, and telling me "what's in the paper." I wanted to read the paper too. It was as simple as that, I believe.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

As simple and as important as that. Which is why I still weep when I think about how many books I gave away when I moved here. With each one, I said a little prayer that it would get into the hands of a woman or girl-child who would be changed by what she read.

Matthew said...

I am, of course, beaming with a bit of pride and also a bit of chauvinism being a Scandinavian American that my people and my grandmothers extended family (still in Denmark and Sweden) topped the list. Scandinavian culture is homogenous (and sometimes stifling) but equality for women has been taken seriously for a long time, longer than the USA and sexism is not nearly as tolerated or visible as in this country (and I was in Denmark just a few months ago and did not see backsliding). Also Iceland has the first and only nation in the world with an openly lesbian head of state, president or prime minister (and cool that the first gay or lesbian was not a gay man). Also if you think homophobia and sexism are linked (as i do) scandinavia has gay marriage, at least 3 of the 4 do.

Turtle Woman said...

Fascinating, and I have always advocated for a woman's state... an entire country run by women, granting aslyum to women worldwide fleeing male dominance. It would be incredible... if we can have Jewish homeland, why not a WomanLand? That would really be thinking big! But the Scandanvian countries look really interesting, and the entire Arab world and most of Africa looks pretty pathetic. Extreme poverty and extreme patriarchy seem to go hand in hand.

My big idea of the year is to publish all incomes in America, so that every company has to answer for it's low wages for women. We'd have the boys dead to rights, when every income became public knowledge. And every company could be analyzed by pay gaps, and would have to completely equalize the wages within 90 days.

Only when women have high incomes, and be completely free to have a life without needing male income will we see what women are truly like. Otherwise we have a lot of women suffering in marriages to men who control the money, and I would guess that if women had valid economic power, lesbian couples would skyrocket!!

walter said...

Well 4, the international scope of our missionary mystic affirmation we are balancing and defining all right. The chosen people has been defined in women, people of color and LGBQT people for the transformation of the American middle class. I believe up to present time the most powerful spiritual theological movement beyond gender’ tension is in the God of Life Inherent and in the One Complex Organism when affirming our Christian faith in the Holy Spirit. The recording and publishing venues I have chosen as the vehicles to affirm our Freedom Theology. Let us put our hands together and pray with Hilary Clinton and Jessie Jackson for the gift of unpacking some of the challenges that confront America and enhance our responsibility among the new chosen people for the shaping of our own future. Please keep in mind the chosen vehicles, recording and publishing, as I work to more clearly define and aggressively pursue the parameters of our theology and faith. In the name of the One Organism who keeps us centered and focused we stay centered in the moment lyrics and liturgy of life awakening the fullness and mystery of life; because now it is not too far afield to suggest that there are things deep within the human spirit that are firmly imbedded, dormant, latent and inactive but always positive, even though they may be destructive rather than creative, hoc est corpus domine.

Walter Vitale

Brother David said...

Off Topic -

An interesting aside is the new Kelsey Grammer series on Starz, Boss. He plays the corrupt mayor of Chicago who just found out that he has a terminal disease that will make him loose control of both his mind and his body. He is estranged from his daughter who is an Episcopal priest in an inner city Episcopal parish. I could not tell, but she may be the rector of the parish.