As the United States mourns the loss of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we find ourselves in crisis over women’s rights in the United States. Justice Ginsburg’s nominated replacement, Amy Coney Barrett, would be a disaster for women’s equality. Legally, Barrett opposes reproductive rights, LGBTI equality, and access to comprehensive health care; personally, she advocates that women should be subservient to their husbands. Barrett, and her ilk, are part of a global trend of religious fundamentalists seeking to dismantle modern egalitarian gender policies.
Barrett, and the majority of conservatives that she will join on the Supreme Court, will be a grave threat to the progress we’ ve made on gender equality in the United States. Here, and around the world, when religious fundamentalists come to power: they roll back women’s rights, degrade human rights standards, exacerbate discrimination, and stoke violence. People may mistakenly believe that women’s rights is on a natural trajectory towards progress in the U.S. and other liberal democracies. Yet, evidence around the globe demonstrates that when religious fundamentalists take power, the human rights of half the population are severely denigrated.
In countries such as Iran, Pakistan, Brazil, and India when religious fundamentalists come to power, progress on women’s rights unraveled. In Iran, before the 1979 revolution, women were doctors, lawyers, university, and political leaders. When religious fundamentalists took power was one of the first issues to attack and repeal was progress for women. Similarly, in Afghanistan, when the mullah’s took power, rollbacks to women’s rights were first.  Looking at these two countries today, it is easy to forget the progress that was dismantled. My Afghan friend at the University of Washington recently showed me a picture of her mother and father sitting in a park holding hands in the 1970s in Kabul. The picture could have been taken in London; both of them are wearing summer clothes and holding hands. Less than a decade later, many of their individual liberties, from clothing- choices to public displays of affection, would be banned. In India and Brazil, Prime Minister Modi and President Bolsonaro are part of a growing global trend of national leaders who openly belittle women with little recourse. Worldwide, progress is precarious for women’s rights.
Western societies are not immune from these threats. In Poland and Hungary, leaders have recently closed gender studies departments of national universities; banning classes and research on gender studies. Polish leaders are actively repealing women’s reproductive rights, and established new “LGBT-free zones.” Emboldened by religious doctrine, right-wing leaders re-assert male dominance in national policies. As in the U.S., the current president even jokes about sexual assault towards women.
Women’s rights should not be narrowed to the limited scope of abortion. Maternity leave, political representation, universal childcare, equal pay are all critically important policies for women’s equality. And yet, choice, and reproductive rights can be a barometer for how women are treated in a country. When abortion is illegal, it is the single largest cause of death in countries for women of child bearing age. Leaders have asserted anti-abortion campaigns in Chile and Argentina as a “cultural value”, disregarding the danger for vulnerable women and human cost of not having access to reproductive health care. When abortion is illegal, women die. This may be the reality of American women in the near future, when fundamentalists such as Barrett rise to power.
Women were not ‘given’ the right to vote; they fought for it. Historically, women are not given anything, rather they worked for decades in advocacy, protest, and building public support for progress on an issue, such as equal pay in the work place.  As RBG once said, “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.” Around the world, women have fought hard for their rights. These rights are often the first targeted when conservatives come to power. American women have lost a lot of ground over the last four years during the Trump Administration. Barrett, and other fundamentalist leaders, could derail decades of progress for women in the United States. I hope readers actively think about how they will vote, and support the local, national, and global battle for women’s equality.
The views in this article are the authors alone and do not reflect the views of any institution.
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