Where Are the Women?

As an adult woman, I am always looking for or tracking whether women are represented in different settings. I look at photos of national and world leaders and count the few faces of women in these groups. I go to art galleries and look for the works by women artists, often searching in vain. I notice lots of statues of military men on horses in public places and rarely see statues of women.

Children also notice the lack of female leaders and role models in public life. Elizabeth Renzetti of the Globe and Mail of Canada writes that after recent losses in national elections, for the first time in many years, Canada currently has no female premiers for any of its provinces. Renzetti cites research by Kate Graham, a political scientist at Western University, involving groups of five-year-old girls. When the girls were shown a group picture of Canada’s current premiers and asked if they noticed anything, they all did. “There’s only one girl,” the children responded. Only one of the premiers was a woman when this research was conducted before the recent election. Now there are none. The children noticed.

Renzetti notes that adults should also be concerned about the absence of women in Canada’s leadership for the following reasons:

  • Diversity promotes better decision-making when developing public policy.
  • Young women need to see themselves represented if they are to believe they can go into political life.
  • Women bring particular knowledge and life experience to policymaking that has implications for half of the population. Their perspective will be missing if they are not at the decision-making table.

On another note, Gail Collins of the New York Times writes that, at last, some statues that honor the accomplishments of women are being created by the City of New York, a city she describes as having a “wildly man-centric population of public monuments.” New York City has commissioned five new statues, one for each borough:

  • A statue will be placed in Manhattan to honor Elizabeth Jennings, a fearless twenty-four-year-old black woman who started the integration of the New York City transit system in 1854. Long before Rosa Parks, Jennings refused to leave a trolley car when told it was for whites only. Collins reports that Jennings clung to an open window frame crying “murder” when the conductor tried to pull her from the trolley. A police officer shoved her off the trolley onto the street, ruining her dress and bonnet. Her family filed suit against the street car company for discrimination and won. Several follow-up lawsuits later, segregation in the New York City transit system came to an end. A statue to Jennings will be placed next to Grand Central Station. It’s about time.
  • A statue to honor Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to serve in Congress, will be placed in Brooklyn at the entrance to Prospect Park. It’s about time.
  • Billie Holiday, the great blues singer, will have a statue in Queens. It’s about time.
  • A statue of Helen Rodríguez Trías, a pioneer in treating families affected by HIV, will be placed in the Bronx. It’s about time.
  • Katherine Walker will be honored with a statue on Staten Island. A tiny widow, Walker ran a lighthouse alone outside of New York Harbor in the early 1900s until she was seventy-three. When boats would start to sink in rough waters, she would row to the rescue and is credited with saving at least fifty lives. It’s about time.

The absence of women in public roles and public spaces sends a strong message to girls that they do not belong. It’s time for us to send a different message.


Photo by Dean Hinnant on Unsplash

International Roundup: Women Are Making Progress

Inspiring news about women’s progress comes from many parts of the world. We all need some good news these days, so I am glad to shine a spotlight on a few of them: Iceland: Katrin Bennhold, writing for the New York Times, identifies Iceland as practically a gender utopia. She explains that

  • Selling pornography has been banned in Iceland since 1869.
  • Iceland directly elected the world’s first female president in 1980.
  • Iceland elected the world’s first openly lesbian prime minister in 2009.
  • The World Economic Forum (WEF) has ranked Iceland first for gender equality for nine years in a row, using an index that includes educational opportunities, life expectancy, pay equity, and other factors.
  • Eight out of ten Icelandic women work.
  • The pay gap is due to be closed in 2022, while globally, the WEF says it will take 217 more years to close the gender pay gap.
  • A new law went into effect in Iceland on January 1, 2018, that requires organizations with more than twenty-five employees to prove they are paying men and women equally. Despite many measures of success in terms of gender equality, a gender pay gap has stubbornly persisted in Iceland and the government determined that additional measures are required to eradicate it.
Iran: Thomas Erdbrink of the New York Times reports on a small number of Iranian women who are staging public protests against the government’s strict enforcement of Islamic law since 1979 concerning women’s clothing. These brave women are removing their head scarfs in public places, placing them on a stick, and waving them for all to see. Some have been arrested. More and more small groups of women are staging these public rejections of authority. As one woman stated, “If a lot of people do this, it will have more influence,” and the numbers are growing. Oxford, England: Stephen Castle writes in the New York Times that for the first time in the thousand years of Oxford University’s existence, incoming female students outnumber their male peers. He notes that this change could reflect the growing proportion of female academics at Oxford who could be positively impacting the unconscious bias that previously screened women out of the selection process. Castle cites Sam Smethers, chief executive of a gender equality charity, as saying that this may be only a step on a longer road. “What matters is . . . what happens when they leave,” she says. “We know that women are still underrepresented in math, science and engineering subjects, and female graduates experience a pay gap on entering the workplace.” Yes, but this is still an important step. South Korea: In South Korea, the #MeToo movement has broken down a wall of silence as sexual harassment complaints now trickle out on social media, reported by Choe Sang-Hun in the New York Times. A strictly hierarchical societal code and a command-and-compliance work culture leave women in South Korea particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment and assault. The WEF ranks this country 118 of 144 in terms of gender equality, yet public accusations from actresses, a female prosecutor, factory workers, nurses, and writers in publishing houses are giving other women courage to speak out and demand change. Canada: Ian Austen and Catherine Porter of the New York Times write that thanks to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements in the United States, “Canada is reeling from a maelstrom of accusations of sexually inappropriate behavior against men in positions of power, and their swift removal.” One big difference between Canada and the United States is that Canadian politicians from all parties are calling for change and supporting the victims, unlike the government in Washington. Women in Canada are not only emboldened by the #MeToo movement, but they are also galvanized by the election of President Donald Trump. They are determined to speak out to ensure that they do not ever end up with a prime minister who is accused of (and taped bragging about) sexual assault as is the case with Trump. In fact, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been leading the push for change and his government introduced a broad definition of sexual harassment as “any comment, gesture or touching ‘of a sexual nature’ that could offend or humiliate an employee.” Have you heard more good news for women in other parts of the world? Please share your stories.   Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera English (CC BY-SA 2.0)]]>