Tuesday, August 26, 2008

88 Years & Counting to Equality for Women

Today is the 88th anniversary of the day U.S. women won the right to vote. For me, it is a day for mixed feelings of celebration on the one hand and disappointment on the other. It is also a reminder that for millions of women around the world the right to vote pales in importance to their continuing  bondage in families, communities and countries controlled by men of brutality and warped thinking.

Years ago, before 9/11, before the U.S. government showed any concern for the enslavement of women by the Taliban, I realized that no woman, anywhere, should feel free as long as any woman had to accept enshrouding in a burka and gross limitations on her very freedom to move about in her own community.

I also can not wholeheartedly celebrate the status of women in America, despite the progress we have made. The United States is still one of only 8 countries that has not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (known as CEDAW). This is both a bill of rights for women and an agenda for action. It deals not only with civil and legal rights but also reproductive rights, and therein lies the rub for U.S. approval. Parties to this international treaty are supposed to guarantee that women have the right and the information "to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children." 

Of course, signing is easy, and better that the U.S. not be hypocritical in signing and then , as is the case with other countries that have signed, including--and this blows my mind-- Afghanistan continue to discriminate against women.

There's another reason many American women can not celebrate today: Hilary Clinton will not be the one crowned as the Democratic nominee for president. As a life-long feminist, I share the feeling of opportunity missed, of not experiencing the thrill in the gut of seeing a woman at the pinnacle of power. But I was one of the feminists who could not support Clinton because she refused to acknowledge her mistake in supporting the Iraq War. For me, this ruinous, cruel war, made possible by deceit and deception, trumps women's rights. I believe that Hillary, not Obama, would be accepting that nomination if she could have admitted her failure to see through the Bush Administration lies and denounced them.

So what now? Should feminists who hoped to see a woman in the White House spite themselves by supporting McCain and the Republicans who disdain women's rights? Please, no. With Obama we have a chance at least of seeing the U.S. not only sign CEDAW but maintaining and perhaps--if we elect enough liberal members of Congress-- expanding our reproductive rights. With McCain, we'll go backwards.

As we watch Obama accept the nomination in the coming days, we should take a moment to meditate on the efforts of all the women who have struggled to give us the freedom we do enjoy today. And in that meditation, find the strength to continue that struggle, even if we must wait again to see a woman president.

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