Arab Women in Revolution: Reports from the Ground

Part: 12

U.S. and Arab Women: Both Demand Democracy

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

While Arab women are working for democracy, American women are trying to make democracy work, says Susan Rose. In both instances, women's involvement and equality are necessary to create a stronger and healthier democracy.

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Fighting Alongside Men

Despite feminist movements, in some parts of the Arab world women have been kept isolated, controlled within family structures and denied equal participation in Arab society. Many confront basic human rights issues, such as access to education and literacy; freedom of expression; guardianship laws and inheritance rights; and protection from violence and discrimination.

But these recent revolutions have brought women to the battlefields. They are fighting alongside men to achieve democracy. Women have become part of the ongoing political dialogue and their voices are heard through blogs, YouTube, Facebook and various political alliances.

Our demands are the same, said Faizah Sulimani, a protest leader from Yemen, in an article in the Guardian. They are "similar to men, starting with freedom, equal citizenship and giving women a greater role in society."

In the United States, meanwhile, voters are fed up with politicians' inability to resolve our country's serious economic and social problems and are losing patience with their sexual peccadilloes. The list of disgraced elected officials is lengthy and the pressure to resign from office has come from constituents, party representatives and the media.

To help meet their needs, American women are demanding greater representation in the public arena. The 2012 Project is a national campaign to gain gender balance by increasing the number of women in elected office. The percentage of women currently in Congress is only 16 and in state legislatures across the country it is 24 percent. Other women's political organizations, (including Emily's List, the National Women's Political Caucusand the Women's Campaign Forum) continue also to recruit and support women for elected office.

Perilous Times

These are perilous times for the American feminist movement. The threat of decreased Social Security income and the elimination of Medicare as well as health care reform add up to a frightening picture for women and their families. The safety net that many rely on may disappear.

Further adding to this lack of security are job losses.President Obama's proposed American Jobs Act is designed to put people to work, but women have lost 300,000 jobs since 2009, according to the National Organization for Women. Women continue to earn only 77 cents to the dollar that men receive. Not only do women need employment, but they need livable wages and training for better paying jobs.

Having greater female representation may help. Studies by the New Brunswick, N.J.-based Center for American Women and Politics show that women in public office are more likely to enact policy that will improve the lives of women and their families. A critical mass of women in public office could make the difference in preserving economic and social gains that women have achieved in the past, as well as push through further gains.

In both the Arab and American worlds, women are fighting to get or retain economic and social justice. Whether suffering under brutal dictators or sexually abusive politicians, we are bound together in a global effort to help all women obtain equality and freedom.

Part of making democracy work is establishing women's equal opportunity to participate in society and having their voices be part of decision-making. Research has shown a correlation between the belief in gender equality and the principles of democracy.

From Cairo to California, freedom and equality for women will create a stronger and healthier democracy. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated it most eloquently when she said: "Women's progress is essential for global progress."

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Susan Rose is a former executive director of the Los Angeles City Commission on the Status of Women and is retired from the Santa Barbara Country Board of Supervisors. Currently, she serves as vice chair of the Santa Barbara Human Rights Watch Committee.

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