Civil rights, Inequality and Social Justice, Women

Women in the 21st century

Mar 22 2021

By Fernando Ayala* – Wall Street International Magazine

The fight for equal rights continues

The collective Las Tesis interprets the performance “A Rapist in Your Path” together with hundreds of women

The present century must be the century of the definitive liberation of women in those societies where they are still undervalued and discriminated against – that is, in most countries of the world, with the exception perhaps of Northern Europe. It is true that the level of exclusion is not the same in all countries and even within the same country, depending on cultural, educational or religious factors. What is uniform is the atavistic machismo that has dominated and continues to dominate the centers of familial, cultural and political power all over the planet. Is it natural that men have appropriated all spaces – except motherhood, for obvious reasons? At this stage of human development it has no justification whatsoever, but reversing this situation is a titanic task that depends on the will of women and men who are aware that inequality as we have known it is intolerable.

From the gender perspective, none of the great revolutions that humanity has known and that have preached justice, freedom, class emancipation or equality, have addressed the situation of women and give them the same rights that men have had the monopoly until today. In philosophy, thinkers such as Hegel proclaimed that women were responsible for the family and the home, whereas men were responsible for the state, that is, for governing and politics. Nietzsche was famous for his well-known misogyny, which he also recorded in his books. Marx did not devote many pages in his voluminous work to the contribution of women’s labor to the development of capitalism, that is, to the reproduction, education, and domestic work of wage laborers.

The women’s movement, defined as a political struggle against patriarchy, gained strength for suffrage in the 19th century and then materialized in the 20th century, where it won one of the first great victories: the right to equal suffrage, which was eventually accepted and is now virtually universal. A few centuries earlier, a handful of women had gained access to universities, by then a territory exclusively for men. There is no symmetry between development and women’s political rights. While in countries like Chile women’s suffrage was legally allowed in 1934 for local elections and in 1949 for presidential elections, in developed and democratic Switzerland it was not possible at the national level until 1971, after a second referendum. The last canton to recognize women’s suffrage did so only in 1990 and not by the will of its inhabitants, but by the Federal Court.

The struggle to extend rights expanded after World War II, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, which included the freedom to make decisions about one’s own body, as was the case with abortion in more developed societies. In many countries, there is still a long way to go before people have legislation that respects their right to choose. As never before, the issue of sexual harassment has been placed on the public agenda thanks to the courage of women and the media in general, which have helped to spread it. In the workplace, equal pay for equal work will be another step to put an end to discrimination. This struggle has been led by the feminist movement, which is spreading with varying strength across the planet due to the brutality of patriarchy as it occurs in the most conservative societies, where religion is also a direct or indirect form of government. There have always been women who were aware that because of their gender they were not only excluded from power, but also subjected to a division of labor as a kind of natural order: taking care of their home, children and husband, and, in case of disaster, of the wounded. Those who dared to rebel or oppose male power paid dearly.

In her latest book, entitled The Soul of a Woman (Mujeres del Alma Mía), Chilean writer Isabel Allende gives an emotional account of her personal journey towards feminism. She describes her own story and those of many others who were not as fortunate as she was, and recounts dramatic cases she had to witness. She remembers how, when she first complained about gender discrimination, her mother said to her, “That’s the way the world is, it’s always been that way,” and tried to convince her of the futility of her protest. She refers to her alienation from the Catholic Church, which occurred when she observed the total exclusion of women at Mass and in the Church hierarchy.

She believes that the ultimate expression of macho vanity and patriarchy lies in military pomp, the use of uniforms, medals and, of course, the monopoly of arms. Throughout history, war and military triumph have been the ultimate expression of male power, with the rape of women being the first trophy taken possession of by the victors, whether they are old, young, or even only young girls. Since the creation of the United Nations after World War II, five countries have monopolized power over war and peace, controlling the world’s highest body, the Security Council, composed of the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France. These countries have always been ruled by men, with the exception of the United Kingdom during the years of Margaret Thatcher. Of the nine Secretaries-General that the United Nations has had, all have been male. It is time for a woman to chair this body that theoretically represents world government.

In 2019, four Chilean women who form a transdisciplinary collective in the city of Valparaíso under the name LasTesis launched A Rapist in Your Path (Un violador en tu camino), a 10-minute performance that denounces the patriarchal state and the acquiescence of the system that protects and reproduces it. Their work is based on the study of theorists of gender violence, such as the Argentine Rita Segato and the Italian Silvia Federici, the current of Marxist feminism. They debuted in November 2019, transmitting a universal message that quickly went viral on social networks and reached dozens of countries, including some places where, as in Turkey, it was harshly repressed by the police. There, the female parliamentarians made use of their immunity and presented the performance in the plenary hall, to the astonishment of the deputies. This year, plague permitting, LasTesis plans to launch a new performance with 80 women on stage, including works by feminists such as Judith Butler, Paul B. Preciado and María Lugones, as the collective emphasized in one of the few interviews they have given, in which they explain the vision of their work.

The current wave of denunciations of discrimination and abuse of women at all levels must be maintained so that a definitive step forward towards total equality of rights can take place. This requires laws that are compliant and respected so that it does not become a passing thing, like what was experienced in the ’60s and ’70s of the last century, where nonetheless important advances were achieved. This requires the firm commitment of the political class, that is, of political parties, governments, civil society and, of course, international organizations, especially the United Nations, which already in 1945 declared “equal rights for men and women”.

Appealing to cultural traditions is not an argument to continue humiliating women, as happens in many societies under the pretext of religion or customs. In the past, among many other examples, there was the so-called right to “pernada” (ius primae noctis) as part of the agrarian, feudal and traditional culture in many, many countries. Today, it seems that it has practically disappeared. On the other hand, the offering of preadolescent girls in marriage has not.

Promoting an international day without the obligation to wear the headscarf in the Islamic world would be a powerful sign of solidarity with the women who are forced to do so on a daily basis. In short, it is no longer just a matter of the discrimination to which women have been subjected, but of seeking absolute equality of rights and duties between the sexes. No more and no less.

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* Former Ambassador, is a graduate economist at the University of Zagreb and holds a master’s degree in Political Science from the Catholic University of Chile. He is currently consultant in Rome for FAO on South-South cooperation, academic and parliamentary issues. For 36 years he worked for the Chilean Foreign Service, since 2004 in the rank of Ambassador. He quit the diplomatic career on March 10, 2018. He was Chile’s Ambassador to Vietnam, Portugal, Trinidad and Tobago, Italy and to the UN agencies based in Rome.

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