The Women’s Revolution
February 5, 2014
Over the years, gender equality has taken up new meaning. With each victory in society comes the realization of increasing opportunities for women. According to a recent census, the state of women has progressed on four fronts: politics, freedom from violence, education, and the workplace.
Aquila assembled the information from G20 into a slideshow of infographics.
The current Vice Mayor of San Jose, Madison Nguyen is the first Vietnamese American to serve on the city council of any large American metropolitan area.
Over the course of her career in politics, she has addressed societal issues including public safety, education, and pension reform.
Born in 1975 in Vietnam, Nguyen arrived to the United States in 1982 after her family fled Vietnam by boat to the Philippines, settling first in Scottsdale, Arizona, and then in Modesto, California. Almost all of her education depended on government grants.
This was not the only obstacle she had to face. As a young adult, her finger was cut off in a car accident just before her Ph.D. dissertation was due and she consequently had to learn to write with her left hand. She moved to public service instead, later publishing her Ph.D. dissertation as a book that she released herself.
In her political capacity, Nguyen led the community in protesting a police shooting in 2003 of a Vietnamese mother in her home by an officer who mistook her vegetable peeler for a meat cleaver. She also organized a huge voting awareness in her community. In 2002, she helped organize a voter-registration drive targeting Vietnamese-Americans.
“The reason why I am here is because when I was doing conflict resolutions in the Asian American community I realized that we didn’t really have any representation that is South East Asian,” Nguyen said. “I thought with such a huge Vietnamese population in San Jose, about 100,000, which is 10 percent of San Jose’s population, there should be someone to represent them.”
Elected to San Jose City Council in 2005 special election representing District 7 in central San Jose after serving on the Franklin-McKinley school board, she became the city’s first Vietnamese-American council member. She was re-elected in 2006, defeated a recall effort in 2009 and was re-elected to a final term in 2010. In 2011 Nguyen was appointed by the mayor and City Council to serve as San Jose’s first Vietnamese-American vice mayor.
“I think its not just about being Vietnamese, its about being Asian American, being a woman, juggling between having a family with a young baby, working really hard, multi-tasking and a lot of women can relate to that,” Nguyen said. “In my case I also get to make policy that might impact a lot of families and the community wants to support that.”
She currently serves on the Chair of the Neighborhood Services and Education Committee, the Finance and Strategic Support Committee, and Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force, in addition to other commissions.
Hero, activist, inspiration. Few can claim to have achieved this kind of international renown, yet at age 16, Malala Yousafzai has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and serves as a global spokesperson for female rights and education.
Malala began speaking out against the Taliban in 2009 through anonymous blog posts on the BBC Urdu website. There, she described her daily life in Swat, a district of Pakistan, where the Taliban banned girls from attending schools and destroyed local schoolhouses.
“I think what she’s doing is noble and right. Everyone, no matter the race, gender, and whatnot, should always get education from as young as possible,” Gerry Zhou (12) said. “What she’s doing is setting humanity on the right track.”
That same year when the New York Times featured her story in a documentary, Malala began publicly advocating for female education in interviews and on television.
When a Taliban shooter attempted to assassinate her in October 2012 while she rode in a school bus, the incident was received with international outrage. Malala survived and has been advocating for universal access to education ever since.
“I am not against anyone, neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group,” Malala stated before the UN chamber and 500 other young education advocates. “I’m here to speak up for the right of education for every child. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all terrorists and extremists.”
Malala now lives in England with her family.
American legislation has long provided the footing for cultural revolution. The fight for equal voting rights in America resulted in the 19th amendment, passed in 1920, with the addition of the phrase, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
The struggle to establish equal rights did not end there. Over the years, the United States has witnessed a number of firsts on the political stage.
In 1997, Madeleine Albright became the first woman in America to become Secretary of State. Ten years later, Nancy Pelosi was sworn into her position as the first female Speaker of the House. On Feb. 1, Janet Yellen is scheduled to take office as the first female chair of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.
The benchmark for women in politics is hardly constant. With each new victory, short-sighted goals transform into more ambitious goals.
Such is the case with Fawzia Koofi, women’s rights activist and current member of parliament in Kabul. In her autobiography The Favored Daughter, Koofi reveals the intricacies of gender relations in Afghanistan, discussing her parents’ relationship, the numerous threats to her safety, and her high hopes for her two daughters.
“I regularly tear myself away from my children to do my work, despite knowing I might well be murdered,” Koofi says in her book. “But my job is to represent the poorest people of my nation. That purpose, along with raising my two beautiful daughters, is what I live for.”
The celebration of women in politics further highlights its deviation from the norm, some argue. The true state of our nation is in the social realities, not general legislation.
Freedom from violence
According to the National Organization for Women, 4.8 million women in the U.S. experience sexual or physical assault from a partner. The prevalence of this issue in so-called first-world countries is precisely the reality G20 tried to expose through its list of best and worst countries for women.
India ranks last on G20’s list, due to domestic violence and abuse.
“The reality is that it’s very dangerous to be a girl in India, and this needs to come to international attention,” said Manthra Panchapakesan (11), who used to live in India.
Germany, ranked second best for women, assigned jail time to 24.4% of convicted sex trafficking offenders in 2009.
“This statistic is alarming in the sense that a ‘safe’ country does not try to prevent recidivism,” Rahul Jayaraman (11) said. “It shows that women’s rights in such a modernized country is in an abysmal state.”
Girl Rising’s school-wide screening emphasized the impact of education on a girl’s life, especially for those in developing countries. The documentary raised a pressing question to the student body—how much can education for women be taken for granted?
The answer is evident in the statistics: according to Education First, an initiative of the United Nations Secretary-General, 32 million fewer girls than boys attend primary school globally. In total, an estimated 65 million girls are out of school.
Eugene Gil (11) felt that this discrepancy may be a result of society’s perception of men and women.
“It feels like there are more guys as breadwinners in society,” she said.
The U.S. fares better by the numbers. In 2010, the Department of Commerce determined that 35.7 percent of women aged 25 or older had completed four or more years of college, as compared to 27.8 percent of men. Women nevertheless are making strides in higher education.
While through the early 1900s, women generally favored teaching and nursing, women now are spreading across other fields but are still underrepresented in math and science.
Workplace equality has long served as one of feminism’s primary goals. The National Woman Suffrage Association, founded in 1869 by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, included equal pay for equal work as one of their tenets.
Today, women still receive only 77 cents for every dollar a man receives for the same work. An ongoing study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that at this rate, women will not achieve pay equity until almost 2056.
Adrienne Shih, from Taipei American School, believes that conditions for women in the workplace are improving.
“Traditional Taiwanese culture often puts women in charge of the household, but I think that this stereotype is starting to become an antiquated notion. More and more women are starting to work,” she said. “There’s a startling statistic that the birth rate in Taiwan has dropped significantly throughout the past decade simply because women are starting to work, leaving little time to start a family.”
In light of Taiwan’s first female candidate running for presidency, Adrienne harbors a “positive outlook for the future.”
This piece was originally published in the pages of the Winged Post on Jan. 27, 2014.