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08. March 2009

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International Women’s Day: Nothing to Celebrate!

A commentary by Edit Schlaffer and works of Xenia Hausner

Last Saturday, Angela Merkel asked Russia’s Putin whether he would serve his wife Lyudmila breakfast on International Women’s Day. He assured her that they will at least breakfast together and that he would give her a present.
Women’s Day has highly official backing in Russia. Men are at work on the home front; this is a point of honor on this day. They are also expected to give flowers to their wives and work colleagues.
International Women’s Day is a national holiday in Russia, China, Vietnam, and Bulgaria. But this is where the good news ends.

While local female politicians get invited to receptions, the desperate pleas of their sisters go unheard.
The Iranian women’s forum against fundamentalism just sent out an emergency call to the international community to avert the stoning of 37-year old Ashraf Kalhori. Her crime: infraction of moral laws. She has already spent seven years of her 15-year term in jail. The height of the punishment will be stoning. But now, she is to be stoned immediately. The victim is guaranteed a slow, drawn-out death. Buried to her neck, stones, whose size is strictly prescribed, will beat down on her. The courageous activists in Iran argue that Teheran affords itself these draconian violations of human rights because the regime presumes that Western governments will not involve themselves in these internal affairs in a decisive manner. And they are right.

Hülya Gülbahar, a lawyer from Istanbul, reports the findings of a study on the security situation of women in Turkey: 71% of women there live with mental and sexual violence. At least Turkey is a country that is in entry negotiations with the EU, making this is exactly the time to find emphatic solutions. This search been partially successful. The new Turkish criminal law shows progress and has prompted an EU-wide campaign. The translation into reality still stands in front of us and is a further chapter in the history of Turkish women and a fitness test for EU membership.

Role model European Union?

But the EU also does well to look at its own situation. The European Union is home to 250 million women. In the next 12 months, four high-powered leadership positions will again be available in the Union. For the past 50 years we have had the same family photo: an army of gray suits. The campaign “Females in Front” is attempting to gather one million signatures. This is the prerequisite for establishing the principle of equal treatment of the sexes in the Treaty of Lisbon. It is interesting that the covenant has to be implemented with a “citizen’s initiative.”
The campaign title is very appropriate: “250 million women in the EU and not one is good enough?” Especially when one considers the numbers of female graduates at universities. It seems to help women very little to shine intellectually; to the contrary, the part-time job terrain is their historic playground. Part-time work is a holding pen and guarantees that women do not fully showcase their competencies and thus cannot threaten the old power relations.

Women 2009: increasingly educated, but enduringly disadvantaged—this is unfair but makes no economic sense. It is a worrisome finding and an indication of the waste of public resources.

Backlash on the international stage

And now for the progressive terrain of radical forces: the introduction of Sharia is making headway, which is not just a problem for the individual regions, but also has geopolitical consequences. In Somalia, which is now firmly in Islamic hands, women have come under the radicals’ the line of fire. A brave teacher who sought to keep open a girls’ school despite regular attacks, for example, says that the price of freedom is now too high.

First Lady Michelle Obama has also spoken up and assures us that the president has defined the balance family and career as one of the most important political concerns. This is also urgently necessary, for the US is one of the few countries worldwide that does not have paid maternity leave. The other countries are Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and Liberia. Now that America has a president that builds on grassroots activities, the women’s hour has struck. Pressure from below, from the mass of disadvantaged women, will likely reach the epicenter of power in America.

Women power disempowered

In the World Economic Forum’s 2008 Global Gender Gap Index, which measures the gap is societal status concerning income and political presentation between men and women, Austria lies in the middle.
The countries that already are on top– like Norway, Finland, and Sweden – have since continued to advance. Austria is still missing in the Top 20 Hit list, where countries like Mozambique and Trinidad are represented.

Worldwide, women do two-thirds of routine work, but only receive 10% of total income. One year after leaving college, women globally earn 20% less than men, with a guaranteed decline. In ten years, their income is 31% less than men’s. Austria therefore does not have to be too ashamed for the bad news of the past weeks that it shines as the taillight in the EU ranking of unequal gender compensation.

The first International Women’s Day in 1911 exceeded all expectations and brought thousands of women to the street, including in Austria. Almost 100 years later women are again coming together in Vienna. For example in a luxurious setting in a gala event in a City Hall. The entrance fee, however, lies between 450 and 80 Euros. Even the women’s agendas have become part of the money machine of event culture.

This article was published in the Austrian newspaper “Der Standard” on March 7th 2009.

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