Many times in these chapters, the authors detail the valiant and well-meaning attempts of first-world aid groups and social justice-promoters to garner support for equality of women through the signing of petitions and the collection of money to ensure the safety of women worldwide. Let me be clear, I value and support the ideas of these people. Let me also be clear, I think it is a cultural misnomer to use tactics that yield success in the first world and attempt to apply them to third world countries, with the expectation of the same results.
LAWS DO NOT PREVENT INJUSTICE; PEOPLE PREVENT INJUSTICE.
Yes, laws are necessary. However, unless there are people to support and uphold these laws, they are essentially useless. So, before we try to change words on legal documents, we ought to try and change the thoughts in the minds of perpetrators of injustice. This is what many call “bottom-up” change, because it starts with the citizens and then affects the legislation at the “top” of the society, a.k.a. the government.
As an example, in the first-world country of Sweden, the country outlawed prostitution in 1999, with incredible results: prostitution declined by over 40% in first few years of the law (Kristof and WuDunn 31). However, we must examine the cultural and social interactions that made this result possible. I’ll summarize one reason why this tactic worked.
In countries where there is regulated and accountable law enforcement, laws are typically viable. In countries where there is little law enforcement (or, at best, a corrupt law enforcement), we cannot expect laws to change the land.
Even the authors identify a great point in terms of the ineffectiveness of laws, even in first world countries: Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for rights that the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendment technically “secured,” for African Americas. Yet, it took a Civil Rights Movement in order for these laws to be carried out.
The second aspect of why laws cannot be the only force of change: Because the culture of the country can prevent the laws from being effective. We can “legislate morality” of women’s equality and rights, but until we change the culture of misogyny, which underlies most of the violence in these third-world countries, we cannot expect true, sustainable results.
In the fourth post of this blog, I went into detail about the practice of Female Genital Mutilation. Although it is not a common practice, there are some northern African countries that deem it culturally acceptable (and even necessary) for many women. However, some women were able to stop this practice through education of the disease-causing instruments and bacterial infections caused by the procedure. The success rate for these educators is incredible. They were able to severely limit the practice in hundreds of rural areas. As of lately, Nigeria officially “outlawed” FGM, but this has been least effective. The culture rejects this legislation because it is not in-line with their beliefs.
While this seems like a third-world issue, the reality is that with technology, first-world countries have access to subordinate women, too: pornography. In Ross Douthat’s article “Is Porn Adultery,” he argues against the mentality that just because “everyone” does it, it’s okay. He claims that by using porn as a excuse for extra-martial relations, it is essentially telling one’s spouse that she/he is trapping and limiting the spouse’s desires.
To liken this to the book, this mentality that marriage and monogamy inhibit men allows for the subjugation and oppression of women. Yet, unlike in developed countries, the more likely outlet for this “need” is real women, in brothels, not women behind screens. For Douthat, it’s not about ignoring the temptation, but rather it’s about choosing a more decent way to live that does not violate marriage or another person.
One interesting way to prevent the culture of women’s inferiority is to allow them to provide for their families. Kristoff and WuDunn interviewed some men (previously domineering and rude towards their wives) whose wives had received micro-finances. The women pursued weaving, cloth-making, and embroidery, as well as other businesses. Now that the women were making money, their husbands gained more respect for them. They are allowed to walk outside by themselves, and they may in fact be the breadwinner in the family. This simple “role reversal” in the family has helped many women achieve their goals and has prevented parents from selling daughters into sexual slavery for money.
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KIVA was recommended in the book as one of the best micro-loan avenues. Who knows—your loan could begin providing income for a family and simultaneously change the life of a wife and daughter. That one change can affect the way a village operates; that village can affect a region; that region can affect a country. And that country can begin making laws that will be upheld because the people value women and girls for their minds and spirits, not their bodies.