In the drive for equality, haven’t we forgotten something? This is the first part of a symposium in which MercatorNet canvasses ideas for improving the status of women by 2020. Please send us your comments and ideas on this important subject.

Carolyn Moynihan: Beyond equality, the question of meaning

This year began with The Economist applauding the economic empowerment of women across the rich world as “one of the most remarkable revolutions of the past 50 years.” A Pew report drew attention to the “rise of wives” in terms of education and their economic contribution to the home. Is the struggle for equality nearly over in the rich world? And when it is, what then? Is there anything else?

Yes, there is. When the last glass ceiling has been shattered we will have to confront the fact that there are still two sexes, and ask what that means. What does it mean to be a woman? What are women’s specific characteristics and strengths? How can they be fostered and brought into play for the benefit of everyone?

People running the gender agenda do not want us to ask these metaphysical questions. They will tell us it is a bid to tie women and men up in sex-role straightjackets again. Let’s ignore their protests. We have to address once more the meaning of being a woman, or a man, or we will never get out of the blind alley where a woman’s dignity is reduced to her income and whether her husband does half the chores at home.

Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet.

Angelina Kakooza-Mwesige: Education the top priority for African women

One way in which the status of women in Uganda and in Africa as a whole can be improved by 2020 is to ensure that their education is given paramount importance.

A traditional woman in Ugandan society for most of the former British colonial rule and some time after had a defined role. She was the dependable “wife/mother” who was responsible for all the practical chores in the household, waking before dawn and taking her rest late in the evening way after everyone else. Her opinions were hardly expressed; she was economically dependent on her husband, unable to make decisions of her own, and respectful of her husband’s every wish and whim. Her education was not a priority for she was viewed as a means of family enrichment, especially at the time of her marriage when the income obtained by her family from the bride price would be realized.

Over the years this scenario has been changing. Ugandan society now values the education of a woman not only for her nurturing role but as critical to the development of a healthy nation. This is illustrated by a number of highly educated Ugandan women who have joined the service and political ranks of what was previously thought to be exclusive male territory. She is now to some extent able to voice her opinions, make informed decisions and be economically independent. We need to extend this recognition of women’s equal dignity to all African women.

Dr Kakooza-Mwesige Angelina is a paediatrician in the Department of Paediatrics & Child Health, Makerere University College of Health Sciences, Kampala, Uganda.

Lea Singh: Dressing for respect

many women today, throughout my teens and twenties I was a good girl
who dressed provocatively without giving it a second thought. To me,
that was simply fashion; it was what I saw in magazines and on TV, it
was fun, it made me look pretty, and it gave me a sense of empowerment
and freedom. I thought that my dignity was actually boosted by this
fashion; such is the legacy of feminism.

The shocking secret is that the perspective of many men is quite the
opposite. Because such clothing invites them to see the woman as an
object, I was actually reducing my human worth and dignity in their
eyes. This is a seriously undervalued cultural misunderstanding. In his
book Gut Check, Tarek Saab writes of the “uncomfortable, daily
martyrdom” that many good men are forced to fight each day in order to
keep their thoughts chaste in a society saturated by scantily and
seductively dressed girls and women.

Every woman has the power to make her dignity easier for men to
recognize and respect, just by the clothes she reaches for in the
morning. I hope that by 2020, more women will be making that choice.

Lea Singh is a wife and mother of a young and growing family in Ottawa, Canada.

 Jennifer Roback Morse: Motherhood within marriage is a worthy choice

I have a radical idea for promoting the dignity of women: the idea that giving birth to children inside marriage is good and worthy use of one’s time and talent. This idea has come under assault from many directions.

We hear that intelligent women should use their minds, by giving priority to career. Taking care of children is for losers with nothing better to do.

We hear that independent women should not rely on men financially. It is better to have a child alone, or to be childless, than to be financially interdependent with the child’s father.

We hear there is no urgency to having children. If you haven’t found a husband, if you haven’t made the time to become a mother naturally, you can always use artificial insemination with donor sperm, to become a mother at the time of your own choosing.

If we accept these ideas, we lose essential features of being a female human: an appreciation of woman’s natural life-giving powers, of woman’s desire for lasting relationships, and of woman’s intrinsic delight in bringing forth new life.

Male and female are two different ways of being human. Without women being women, men too, are diminished. The uniquely feminine becomes obscured to us all, much to the loss of woman’s intrinsic dignity.

Jennifer Roback Morse, PhD is the Founder and President of the Ruth Institute, a project of the National Organization for Marriage.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet