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Women's Rights


In 2002 Mukhtar Mai was publicly gang raped at the order of the tribal council in her Punjab village as punishment for an alleged [and vigorously denied] relationship by her younger brother with a woman of higher caste. Mukhtar Mai defied the culture of acquiescence, took the men to court and won. Her case became a cause celébre around the world in regard to violence against women and intense pressure was placed on Pakistan to amend their arcane rape laws, which they finally did in November 2006. Thousands mobilised to her support. She has been feted by global leaders such as Condolesa Rice and Bill Clinton and is now devoting her life as an activist to “ending the oppression of women through education”. With the funds awarded her by the court in compensation she established schools in her village where she still lives. Although illiterate she runs a daily BLOG to further her cause. Mai showed enormous courage in defying the state, male dominated culture and religious views to pursue her case through drawn out court appearances over several years. One woman, standing tall made and is continuing to make a profound difference.

Throughout the world women are subject to oppression and discrimination. In developed nations their average salaries are about 25% less than men’s for similar positions. Some countries still deny women the vote, there are comparatively few women in senior corporate or political positions and women control a minuscule proportion of the world's wealth. Some male dominated religious institutions conspire with cultures and governments to deny women access to contraception and abortion while at the same time there is inadequate access to gynecological health care. According to UNICEF women in Sub Saharan Africa face a 1 in 13 chance of dying as a result of childbirth with some countries as high as 1 in 7. This compares to the developed world where the average is about 1 in 1500 and as low as 1 in more than 5,000 in many countries.

Beyond health and education discrimination, women are frequently victims of male violence. It’s a more common cause of injury or death in the developed world than cancer or vehicle accidents. About 25% of women in Europe will experience violence at some time in their lives. Large scale child prostitution and trafficking of women for sex in poor countries exacerbate the global situation. The situation is almost certainly worse in parts of the developing world where discrimination is entrenched, statistics and police support sparse and reprisals for speaking out a near certainty. There are dramatic exceptions as in Mukhtar Mai’s case, where she turned around her culturally weak position through the justice courts and now pushes for schooling and the “end of oppression with education”.

Other bottom of the Pyramid projects often favour women because research has demonstrated that they are more likely to network and less likely to use the project as a source of community power, and that as a consequence the project is more likely to be successful. Muhammad Yunus, recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, has proven that women are key players in eliminating poverty and generating social development. The Grameen Bank (www.grameen-info.org/) Mr Yunus founded in 1976 allows the poor to develop their own businesses through micro-credits, and of the 6.83 million borrowers 97% are women.

Assisting women through enterprise is seen as the way in which to break the poverty trap towards improved economic wellbeing and as a consequence health care and education.

Photo credit: Leila M - www.flickr.com/photos/sisterscorpion/64940091/