Women "hold up half the world." They do so while often faced with great challenges, including discrimination and unequal treatment in church and society, sexual exploitation, poverty and disease, as well as dangerous environments. Concurrently, as organizations and groups work for equal rights for women and as women of many cultural and religious backgrounds band together, there is hope that the world order can slowly change towards equality and well-being for all women and men.
In a predominately patriarchal, white-dominated society, women around the world are striving to be treated and respected as equals in church and civil organizations. This is most challenging for minority women of color who are economically-disadvantaged; they frequently have to overcome violence in many forms -- such as sexism, racism, classism, and militarism.
In many religions, women are not only not treated as equals, they are subjugated to repressive, controlling living situations. A clear example for the world of this was how the Taliban treated women in Afghanistan. Afghan women and girls still "suffer extreme repression in parts of Afghanistan."
In the Roman Catholic church, the hierarchy resists ordaining women to priestly ministry. Even when religious and civil laws allow for equal treatment of women, they frequently endure discrimination and isolation from male colleagues reluctant to give up power and prestige.
There are countries, characterized by poverty and over population, where female offspring are not valued as are male children. Thus, female infanticide is common.
In most countries, even where women bear more of the work and family responsibilities, women's earnings have not kept pace with that of men. Women continue to struggle to break through the "glass ceiling" that historically has been a barrier to advancement in the workplace.
The trafficking of people for prostitution and forced labor is one of the fastest growing forms of worldwide criminal activity (including the United States). With revenue amounting to billions of dollars each year, trafficking of human beings is the third largest source of profit for organized crime, after drugs and arms. (For more information about trafficking, read these newsletters.)
Estimates vary widely on the magnitude of modern-day slavery. In 2006, the U.S. State Department estimates that 800,000-900,000 people are trafficked each year worldwide, including in the United States. The overwhelming majority are women and children. Deprived of the most fundamental human rights and subjected to threats and violence, these modern-day slaves are made to toil under horrific conditions in brothels, sweatshops, homes, and fields. Women are the predominant targets of traffickers and suffer harm of a different nature and degree than male victims.
Particularly in the agricultural, clothing, and poultry industries, immigrant workers are regularly underpaid, receive little if any benefits, work long hours in unhealthy and unsafe environments, endure racial and ethnic discrimination, and receive less legal protections for basic human rights. Women face sexual harassment.
In the United States, workfare, which spread across the nation after the 1990's welfare reforms, has created a new and highly vulnerable class of workers . Most are single women with children who already lacked adequate protections or a safety net.
Except in countries with state-sponsored education and health care, such as Cuba, those who are poor suffer because of inadequate or unaffordable health care, educational opportunities, and housing. This is true even in "rich" countries, such as the United States, where 51 million people, including 7 million childred are uninsured.
The growing demands of the sex industry across the globe have encouraged the proliferation of sex trafficking. Western men pay for "sex tours" in countries where they will be provided with young girls. The spread of AIDS, rather than diminishing the growth of this industry, has led traffickers to seek even younger girls, who are more likely to be disease-free.
Sadly, dangerous environments for untold numbers of women and children include their own homes, a place that is meant to be nurturing and life-sustaining. The basic types of domestic violence are physical assault, psychological and emotional abuse, and attacks against property and pets. In about 95 percent of reported cases in the U.S., the victims are women and the offenders are men. Fifty percent of all homeless women and children in the U.S. are fleeing domestic violence; 31 percent of all women killed in the U. S. are murdered by their husbands, ex-husbands, or boyfriends. Nearly one-third of U.S. women report being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives.
In areas of war and conflict, rape is used as an assault against women and as an humiliation for their male family members and their ethnic communities. Women are not only tortured and killed, as are their male counterparts, but they frequently endure more mistreatment at the hands of their captors and of those in authority due to their vulnerability as sexual objects.
Women's issues are being raised and addressed within international laws and conventions, by governments, and by diverse groups and organizations. While there are conflicting religious values, perspectives and agendas (such as the pro-life and pro-choice movements), there is common ground: that women deserve to be treated with respect and dignity as equals with men.
Two of the international legal instruments that address abuse of women are the Convention for the Suppression of Traffic in Person of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (The Trafficking Convention), approved by the United Nations in 1949, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW; yet still not ratified by the United States), adapted in 1979 by the U.N. General Assembly.
A group of prominent women religious leaders from various faith traditions are organizing a women's international peace-building coalition, the Global Peace Initiative of Women, to promote peace and reconciliation. The coalition's first major meeting was held in October 2002, in Geneva, where more than 500 women helped launch the initiative.
By bringing together women of different political and philosophical convictions, WILPF (Women's International League for Peace and Freedom) seeks to address the causes of war and to work for constructive peace. Mary's Pence collects and distributes funds for the self-empowerment of women. Amnesty International has a special focus on the women's rights. FaithTrust Institute is an international, inter-religious resource center educating religious and community leaders for effective responses to and prevention of sexual and domestic violence. Captive Daughters is a non-profit organization "dedicated to the prevention of sex trafficking of children through education." Mothers Acting Up is dedicated to mobilizing the gigantic political strength of mothers to build a peaceful world for the benefit of children.
To participate in shaping a respectful and just world for women around the world: