Afghan Women Now Citizens; Too-Male Book Review?

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Cheers

The head of the United Nations women’s rights committee said this week the recent adoption of a constitution for Afghanistan marks the beginning of a new era of gender equality in the country.

The Afghan Constitution, adopted on Sunday, explicitly guarantees that men and women have equal rights and duties before the law.

“This is a significant victory for women and girls in Afghanistan who barely three years ago were completely excluded from all spheres of life and faced systematic violations of their human rights on a daily basis,” said Ayse Feride Acar, the chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

Afghan women’s rights activists harshly criticized an earlier draft of the constitution for not specifically granting women the rights of citizenship.

By promoting gender equality, the constitution will serve as a “vital starting point” for the country’s transformation, Acar said, because it “legitimizes the important role played by women and girls in Afghanistan in reshaping their future and in rebuilding their country.”

Article III of the constitution states that in Afghanistan, “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.” Some Afghan women’s rights activists worry that this article may supercede the equality clause.


Jeers

A new study from Brown University says The New York Times Book Review overwhelmingly favors books and book reviews written by men.

The study looked at 53 issues of the Sunday book review published consecutively between 2002 and 2003 and found that 72 percent of all books reviewed were written by men and 66 percent of all reviews also carried a male byline.

“We’ve known for a long time that if little girls just see books that show pictures of doctors as men, it doesn’t occur to them that women can be doctors,” Brown adjunct professor Paula Caplan told The Village Voice. “Similarly, when you see mostly men’s names in the Times Book Review, even if you don’t consciously count them, it creates a context. It narrows what occurs to girls and young women as possibilities for their lives.”

The study was compiled by Caplan, a clinical psychologist and author who specializes in women’s studies, and Mary Ann Palko, a psychotherapist in private practice.

In an e-mail exchange provided to The Village Voice by Caplan, Book Review editor Charles McGrath informed Caplan that “we don’t have any plans at the moment for changing how we review books,” adding, “I’m not convinced that we are guilty of a male bias–either consciously or un-.”

McGrath wrote that “in the eight years I have been here we have been making a conscious effort to use more women reviewers and, more important, to use more women on the more prominent, attention-getting books.” He added that women have long written the back-page essay, that the Times includes more female authors on its lists of recommended books than it used to, and that women outnumber men on the Book Review staff.

As for the attention to male authors, he wrote, “more books are written by men than by women.”

Caplan appealed to Times public editor Daniel Okrent, who had been copied on the correspondence. Okrent wrote back, “If there’s no continued progress, you may have reason for complaint. But as it stands, I think the fair-minded would have to agree that he’s making every effort to move in the direction that you would like to see.”

— Alexandra Poolos is Women’s eNews’ assistant managing editor.

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