A woman’s problem?
© Robert Anderson PhD
This article first appeared in DevZone in New Zealand
Apart from all the rhetoric on gender equality spouted in so many countries, the pattern of excluding women from political and economic power continues. The latest Iraq debacle forms a perfect example. While there is little doubt that Saddam Hussein was a dreadful tyrant, albeit fully supported by the US until recently, his homeland philosophy was worthy in many respects. This was especially true for Iraqi women.
After the “liberation” of Iraq by the US/British coalition, it is questionable as to which is now worst, his reign or that of the invading forces? Iraq, including its hospitals, has been bombed to a radioactive rubble, and the more extreme factions are fighting to gain control of the country. If this control comes about, it is likely that Iraqi women will suffer most. A return to the Koran’s strict sharia law will bind them in a cruel servitude. While Hussein held power, he ensured that all women were allowed to study and enter university. The overall level of literacy in Iraq was also commendable. One 14-year-old Iraqi girl recently wrote on the Internet that, “We are living in hell. We have only four hours of electrical power in the 24 hours of the day, no security, no water, no peace and there are always explosions and bombcars... Thanks to God we are all fine, but who knows in the next time we may get hurt.” She explains that in a recent explosion, “Two of those who died were children about 10 years of age and they used to bring us fuel for our electrical generator.”  
On New Zealand television recently,[i] journalist Robert Fisk posed a question: How would Iraqis rather live? Under a dictator, with power, water, food, schooling, healthcare and jobs, even if fearful of being taken for interrogation, or under an invading force, in what former Pentagon employee, Kurt Nimmo, describes in ‘Another Day in the Empire’ as “a hell-hole of polluted drinking water, destroyed hospitals, intermittent electricity, sectarian violence, and Israeli-styled check-points situated on a landscape polluted with depleted uranium.” The future fate of Iraqi women, like those of Afghanistan, in this now “liberated” country can only be imagined.
The position of women in central Asian republics seems to grow worse every year. This is in spite of these nations supposed commitment to international conventions on women’s rights.
Hello Pot, Kettle Calling
It is ironic that the very country that decided to illegally “liberate” Iraq is itself an abuser of women’s rights. In the US today, women are forced to choose between escaping their abuser and keeping a roof over their and their children’s heads. Every day in the United States, an average of four women are murdered by their husbands or partners. Violence and discrimination against women - at the family, community, state, and global levels - is affecting women’s access to adequate housing.
The American branch of Amnesty International (AIUSA) has begun a project on the relationship between domestic violence and lack of adequate housing. This is due for release in 2007. AIUSA was one of eight coordinating organizations that, on behalf of UN Special Rapporteur on Housing, Miloon Kothari, arranged for a US Consultation on Women and Housing. Eight Canadian and ten American women testified recently to their housing experiences as domestic violence survivors, including how violence forces women to flee their homes; the kinds of housing discrimination domestic violence survivors face; loss of child custody as a result of
domestic violence; legal and/or regulatory obstacles to gaining adequate housing; and the effects of poverty, racism, and gender discrimination on access to these needs.
Humiliation of the Powerless
There are 148,200 women in state and federal prisons in the US. In federal women's prisons, 70 percent of the prison guards are male. Records show that the guards have subjected female prisoners to rape, sexual extortion, and other demeaning acts. Male guards retaliate, often brutally, against female inmates who may attempt to complain about their sexual assault and harassment. A 1997 study by the US Department of Justice showed that women were over-represented among low-level drug offenders, were non-violent, and had no prior criminal convictions. They were not involved in criminal organizations, but nevertheless received sentences comparable to "high level" drug offenders under the sentencing policies. According to the Boston Globe, "nearly 26 percent of the nearly 2000 men and women crowding Massachusetts prisons for drug crimes are first-time offenders. Worse, nearly three out of four drug traffickers who do get charged in major cases, but agree to forfeit substantial drug money to prosecutors, bargain their way out of the long sentences. The result: those with no money or information to trade face the hard mandatory sentences."
Closer to Home
In New Zealand, we do not hold a clean slate as far as violence and abuse of women are concerned. Every five weeks, a woman is killed by her partner or ex-partner.[ii] There were 3312 recorded cases of sexual offences in 2002/2003, 57.2 percent of which were resolved.[iii] This number is growing. In 1999, statistics pointed to the over-representation of Maori women and children among those using women's refuges and this has not changed appreciably. In the same year, 3085 Maori women and 4851 Maori children, compared with 3899 non-Maori women and 4636 non-Maori children, used the National Collective of Independent Women's Refuges (NCIWR).* This abuse costs us all highly. Domestic violence in 1994 was estimated to cost between 1.187 billion and 5.302 billion dollars[iv] every year. It is unlikely that it is getting less.
One of the most concerning aspects of violence in homes is the risk to children. During the 30,340 family violence incidents attended by NZ Police in 1996-1997, there were 38,000 children present at the crime scene: 28,621 were under 10 years old and 9844 were aged between 10 and 16 years.[v] The effects on these children’s lives can be devastating. Celia Lashley, in her ground-breaking book, The Journey to Prison, made exactly this point, and with her wealth of experience we should take serious note of it. We all have an obligation to eliminate violence generally, and against women particularly. When Amnesty International (AI) launched its worldwide campaign to Stop Violence Against Women, AI's Secretary General Irene Khan said, "This is not something that just happens over there, it happens here. It is not something that only happens to other people, it happens to you, your friends and your family. Until all of us, men as well as women, say 'no, I will not let this happen,' it will not stop."
Robert Anderson BSc (Hons), PhD (4 February 1942 to 5 December 2008)
Robert Anderson was a Trustee of Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Genetics, now known as Physicians and Scientists for Global Responsibility; www.psgr.org.nz. He authored The Final Pollution: Genetic Apocalypse, Exploding the Myth of Genetic Engineering and several other publications on environmental, health and social justice issues. 
View his lectures on this website.
Address enquiries for Robert Anderson's publications to  e-mail naturesstar@xtra.co.nz.

* As at September 2009, NZ Statistics put the estimated resident population of NZ at 4.33 million of which an estimated 1/8th are Maori; www.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/population/estimates_and_projections/ NationalPopulationEstimates_HOTPSep09qtr.aspx.    

[i]  TV NZ, October 2005
[iii] NZ Crime Statistics 2002-2003, Office of the Police Commissioner -August 2003.
[iv] Snively S, Coopers and Lybrand, (December 1994) The New Zealand Economic Cost of Family Violence.
[v] New Zealand Police National Family Violence Co-coordinator's Internal Report, (1997).