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    11 april

    Violence and education: Saving women

    Author: Ekaterina Kurbangaleeva, no comments

    Some countries like France pay millions in penalties for failure to observe quotas on female representation in executive government bodies, whereas other countries are proud of the first five students to get A’s among girls who still graduate from secondary school. That said, the wellbeing of a country or a family is not guaranteed the absence of skeletons in the closet or lingering problems from the past, which seem to be rooted in the gloomy Middle Ages. How different are women’s problems?

    Each country, and each family for that matter, has its own special concerns and problems. This becomes clear when they meet together like at the 63rd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. The commission met in New York last March. They talk about the same issue and it is possible to see the entire range of opinions, assessments, achievements and problems. I can’t say that only women spoke on behalf of official delegations at the session. About 20-25 percent of speakers were men.

    Naturally, Western European countries are all at one pole in the context of female issues. They are fighting to increase political representation in government bodies and for the rights of people with different gender orientations or, as a representative of Lichtenstein put it, “men and women of all sexual convictions.” There were those who spoke officially on behalf of the LGBT communities of 24 countries (the minister of Spain) and those who consider their cabinet feminist (the minister of Denmark). Another urgent task is the adaptation of female refugees from the Third World countries. An indicative example is the Canadian Minister for Women and Gender Equality, an Afghan Canadian as she called herself. While still quite young, she came to Canada with her family as a refugee.

    The poor African and Asian countries are at the other pole. Their goal is not just to get girls to school but to encourage them finish it.

    A “blossoming complexity” is between these two poles. Women’s employment is a major problem for the rich Arab countries. This is understandable. Women lead a comfortable life there and have many children. Why should they work? Meanwhile, they want to meet UN requirements. China is concerned about female health and the need to increase mass screenings for cancer. For all of its impressive economic growth, India has only recently allowed women to open bank accounts and access loans. This is presented as a major national achievement. The Latin American countries focus on granting women equal access to government social services. Incidentally, their representatives often raised the subject of domestic violence, which is of special interest to me.

    For reference: according to a national public opinion poll conducted by VTsION last December, 73 percent of respondents consider violence towards women to be a very important issue and every other woman is afraid to face it in her own family, not in the street, but at home, in her household.

    Indicatively, judging by how often speakers emphasized this problem, domestic violence is a very urgent issue either in poor, mostly non-Muslim countries or in advanced northern states, as well as in the post-Soviet space. As for the Arab countries, this problem does not exist at all, although we used to think in terms of dependent women there. It is not simply rare but virtually unthinkable: how can anyone raise a hand against a child or a woman? Later, experts said in the lobby that domestic violence was closely related to alcoholism.

    So it transpires that domestic violence is predominant among the very poor and hence undereducated countries or those where heavy drinking is extremely widespread.

    That said, the representatives of every other country talked about the adoption of new laws on protection against domestic and sexual violence, which involved stricter punishment, the criminalization of such offences, and the opening of protection centers everywhere. Against this backdrop, Russia looks like a gloomy advocate for domestic tyranny with its February 2017 law decriminalizing battery.

    Some interesting facts deserve special attention. Slovakia, which is relatively close to Russia in mentality, recently celebrated two historic records: 20 percent of men went on an official paternity leave, and one-third of ministerial positions went to women. Or take Afghanistan with gender units in 55 of its ministries.

    About 95 percent of all women are educated in magnificent Singapore, something that many countries strive for. Next to this is an advanced and no less brilliant Japan with its lingering problem of sexual violence against women. The first female president was elected in Trinidad and Tobago, something even the US has not achieved. In the Philippines, women are provided with grants to receive higher education. Hungary allows a woman with a child up to 3 years old to work part time and encourages companies to hire them.

    In general, regarding the impression I had after attending the 63rd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women — and I don’t consider myself an expert on gender equality — the Russian state is more progressive than Russian society. Apparently, this is the influence of the Soviet period. Compared with other countries, Russia looks fairly proper in terms of the package and amount of social services. This is so if we ignore the amounts of the monetary benefits, of course. But apparently, women themselves are not eager to defend their rights, go into politics, give their daughters a decent higher education, or encourage them to have a career.

    For example, according to the official data announced by a Russian delegate, the rate of female employment in Russia is not very high — about 63 percent. As for the notorious law on “decriminalizing battery,” I think this is a shining example of the state following in the wake of public opinion.

    Listening to reports presented by official delegations from various countries that swear fealty to UN Sustainable Development Goals, the Beijing Declaration and the Platform of Action, including Muslim nations and the Vatican, reporting achievements and their efforts to follow this set of indicators, you understand that the position of international institutions is very powerful. Of course, you can spit into the wind and maybe even stand and face the consequences, but in the long run resistance makes no sense.

    That said, where is the fragile line between coercion, when you have to break centuries-old traditions and mentality, and freedom of choice when it comes to humanitarian values? (Experts call it a clash of civilizations, the difference between the principle of the universality of human rights and the principle of cultural relativism that prioritises the specific national system of values.) When should we consider this specificity and when should we brush it aside without hesitating? Does this line disappear at some point or does it become less insurmountable? Or is it simply destroyed by outside influence?

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