Equal Rights Needed Here First

Response to Chicago Tribune’s “What are our women fighting for?”

There is a myth circulating around the world that women’s rights in the West are perfect. Thus any other body of rights is automatically labeled as discriminatory. In his column Derrick Z. Jackson propagates this myth by claiming, “It would be a travesty of American women, who have fought for equality to the level of dying in the military, did all this dying only to watch the burials of women’s rights in Iraq” (“What are our women fighting for?” Aug. 15).

Jackson fears that the inclusion of Islam in the Iraqi constitution will “allow clerics to paternalistically restrict the rights of women in marriage, divorce, abuse, child custody, and inheritance- to a point that looks worse on paper than under Saddam Hussein.” Jackson’s mistake is that he does not realize that even in countries where on paper there are equal rights between men and women, reality is most times different.

In the United States, the country that is sending its troops to free Iraqis, women and men have equal rights according to its Constitution. Let us not forget that it was not until 1920, more than 140 years after the nation was founded, that this equality was recognized with the passing of the 19th amendment allowing women to vote.

American women who are crying over the rights of their counterparts in Iraq should look into their own lives to see what true inequality means. Since 1789 only 33 women have served as U.S. Senators. Today there are only 14 female senators, 0.14 percent of the Senate, even though women make up 51.3 percent of the population. There is no law like the Iraqi law that guarantees women 25 percent of seats in parliament. America has yet to have a women president, though several countries with strong Islamic influences have embraced top women leaders. And according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the real median earnings of men who worked full-time and year-round in 2003 were $40,668. But the real median earnings of the comparable group of women were $30,724, 24.5 percent less.

Jackson ignores the reality of women’s rights in his own country and wants to fight Shariah law by using two examples of what he believes will happen if Islam remains in the constitution. The case in Nigeria he refers to is true, but he forgets to mention the rest of it. Neither of the two women was stoned because the Shariah Court of Appeal in Nigeria ruled that the convictions were invalid. Just as there is an appeals system set up in the United States with justices who are not elected making up the Supreme Court, there will be appeals courts in Iraq that ensure laws are rightfully adhered to.

And how can Jackson imply that because one woman in Iraq was slapped by a man and did not fight back means that somehow women’s rights in Iraq do not exist? There are women in the United States that put up with years of domestic abuse. Between 1 and 4 million women annually are victims of domestic violence. An estimated 73 percent of these women do not report this abuse (National Institute of Justice). Does this mean women’s rights are non-existent here in America?

It makes no sense that Jackson demands of Iraq the rights the United States does not even have for its own women. If the constitution passes in Iraq, this does not mean that the American women soldiers there have fought in vain. If this is the constitution both Iraqi men and women choose, then this is the constitution the rest of the world must accept and respect. Jackson is belittling the work of American soldiers when he insinuates that Iraqis do not know what is best for their own country.