International Women’s Day

While I “celebrate” International Women’s Day with a lunch and a talk by that famous defender of women’s rights, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, I thought it might be worth taking a moment to think about the broader picture. (Time: “Justice Scalia Mouths Off On Sex Discrimination“)

What does this day mean in the developing world? Duncan Green has a nice post on “what to celebrate, what to condemn“, rounding up much of what the blogosphere has been saying. I think, in short, that we have “come a long way” but there is clearly a long ways to go in ensuring women have equal rights and opportunities. And, of course, we may want to extend this category of rights to other forms of gender discrimination. We can think of the developments and trends at both the global and local levels.

At a global level, there has been the development of treaty law. In my International Law class we cover the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and I have them read Beth Simmons’ interpretation of that convention’s impacts (Mobilizing for Human Rights). She shows that these conventions have had their greatest impacts on countries that are neither strong democracies (who do much of this anyway) nor completely autocratic. The very act of ratification for that large group of countries in the middle enables activists and others in their organization and their ability to place demands on their own governments. In Japan, for instance, she shows it changed the political opportunity structure surrounding government employment practices (they began hiring more women). Last year, Nauru, became the most recent state to ratify CEDAW. (We have not.)

I had a brief view of developments in efforts to improve the opportunities for girls in the late 1990s. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I was lucky enough to be a part of a team that helped start a Peace Corps Ghana Gender and Development program and set-up a national girl’s education confence. (Jennifer Miller was really the leader in this, bringing her ideas from a similar program in Niger. Heather Moran rounded out the team.)

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