Arms clutching a handbag tight to her side, eyes down, avoiding the gaze of anyone on that wet night. Steps quickened, both to avoid the cold discomfort of the light rain, as well as induced by the heightened sense of insecurity that comes with being a woman outside at night.
As I hurried my way back home, I found that particular thought of not being safe intriguing: many of these young women today leave their domains with the concept that the world is not a place for women.
The degree of this idea may differ according to specific cultural contexts, but it is evident from the wary glances as people rush to gender-based train compartments in many countries such as Indonesia that the world is not a safe place for women. Some may disagree.
After all, women, now more than ever, have the freedom to walk, drive, work, vote, and rule. But the concept that the world is not a place for women has been infused into the minds of every child about the same time they learn about Santa Claus or the bogeyman, who eats naughty children who play out too late after dark. However, unlike Santa Claus or the bogeyman, which are ultimately revealed as parents or coat on chairs, the preconceptions on gender-based threat stayed, subtly, but persistently.
There are numerous situations around the world where gender discrimination takes on violent colors, from mutilation of a girl’s healthy sexual organs, to treating wives not as people but objects traded through a deal called marriage.
Those cases scream gender disparities, often with streaks of blood, showing that the world is a horrible place to be in for females. But there are more quiet things that actually do not impale or dismember, but slowly choke the air out of our lungs and make life just slightly more uncomfortable each and every day. A lot like how a frog is slowly put to boil instead of deep-fried in hot oil.
Some people may say that the concepts that I would like to expound on in this piece of writing cannot be categorized as an act of gender discrimination, and so before taking any more steps to confront ideas such as gender-based taxing, time poverty and marital rape, let us first internalize the very definition of gender discrimination.
The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) defined “discrimination against women” as:
“Any distinction, exclusion, restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect/purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women irrespective of their marital states, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms…”
This statement aims to protect the rights of women irrespective of their life choices. It provides a parameter for women to recognize their own set of rights. Yet sexism remains deeply entrenched in our homes and work place in spite of it, which brings us to our first issue, gender-based taxing.
It is now a public secret that women earn less than men. In 2014, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research reports that women earn 79 cents to every dollar that men earn (a wage gap of 21 percent). Lesser known, however, is the fact that some tax systems around the globe directly and/or indirectly burden women.
The implications of policies that explicitly or implicitly differentiate between men and women are considered gender biases that may affect direct provisions such as income taxes or service taxes.
For example, countries with progressive rate structures for joint income tax may harm wives who earn less than their husbands, and who, most likely, does not have a say in how the household’s financial gain from the system may be used. This puts women at a disadvantage and would affect labor participation, childbearing decisions, and economic welfare in case of a divorce.
Another form of indirect gender-based pricing is through the application of Value-Added Tax (VAT) that are attached to goods. Studies have shown that women earn less than their male counterparts, but are still more likely to be the one shopping. This proves the point that although VAT is applied to anyone who purchases goods, it may have a discriminate impact upon women.
We are not wired to pay attention to how gender friendly our tax system, and, yet, talking about tax could be tedious, but it is definitely an aspect of a woman’s life that needs to be discussed, evaluated, and reconstructed.
Along with tax awareness I was taught that “time is money.” If a person does not have time, it basically equates to not having money. It is interesting to note that perhaps the very reason why women are put at a disadvantage financially over their male colleagues is because it has been proven, especially in developing countries, that women are suffering from a form of time poverty.
Women around the world do not have enough time to develop their potential, pursue an education or climb career ladders, because, ultimately, women do more unpaid work than men. It is not a myth. It exists because girls were taught that the integrity of the household is part of their responsibility, and although now girls can go to school and have jobs, that expectation is still attached to the gender.
Globally, women are doing 4.5 hours of unpaid work daily that may include child-rearing, washing and ironing clothes, or, in less developed countries, the very act of collecting water, when men around the world spend half the amount of time doing the same errands.
In India, for example, women do six hours of unpaid work, compare to one hour a day for men. At the same time, although the gap is less significant in the USA, women do an average of 120 minutes per day for unpaid household duties while men do 82 minutes.
It is not about feminists complaining about kitchen-duty. Rather it is a matter of promoting ideas of equality at grass-roots level that basically means that Mom, Dad, Sister, and Brother get the same amount of chores distributed among them so that each would have the opportunity to pursue their own interests and potentials.
This also means exploring the provision of family leave instead of just maternal leave, and providing more access to clean water and electricity in developing countries, so that women may cut down the amount of time they are doing tedious work.
Finally, a subtle gender discrimination that people simply refuse to discuss, but is one of the most disturbing ideas to date, is the concept of marital rape. Marital rape or spousal rape is a transgression in marriage that happens when a spouse forces their partner into non-consensual sex. Many countries may have various legislations on rape, but few of them actually include marital rape, because of the preconception that wives should cater to the needs of their husbands.
It can even be argued that the initial concept of marriage was not constructed to benefit the wife of today. Its aim is simply to protect her in a concept of security that befits the age of which marriage was born. This means that with a marriage a woman hands her independence to her husband, trusting that he will protect her unconditionally. But people do not talk about what happens behind closed doors.
We have heard about household abuse, but we never go into the abuse that may happen inside the bedroom. In countries such as Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, marital rape is not recognized as part of the “rape” that is formulated in legislations, and this means that women are legally bound to their rapists, essentially trapping them. If we can expose the subtle gender discriminations in taxes and time, we might as well be doing the same thing in our bedrooms.
In junior high school, I shared with my literature class that I wanted to be a diplomat. My teacher commented off-handedly in response that my dream would most definitely not be feasible. I was stumped for a good five seconds before I finally asked why.
His answer went along the lines of, “Well, what would happen if you were to get married? Your husband can’t possibly follow you around.” His remark served as a painful and sharp reminder that women do not belong in the world I envisioned.
The thread connecting all these issues – from gender-based taxing, women’s time poverty, spousal rape to my teacher’
s blatant dismissal of my rights to pursue my dream – is that the most crucial aspect of discriminations against women are all rooted in that rotten conception that women do not belong in this world.
In an age of political revolutions, democratic awakenings and technological innovation, it is about time that we start reforming how we think about women, and how we act on our streets, shops, and homes, and even in our bedrooms. Because, ultimately, women do belong in this world.
Rizkina Aliya is a first year law student at the University of Indonesia. She is an aspiring women's rights activist/space lawyer/journalist who believes that no woman can ever have too many dreams or red lipsticks.