Remembering Kamla Bhasin
Feminist social scientist, author and organizer, Kamla Bhasin, a pioneer of the women’s rights movement in South Asia, died at the end of September in New Delhi. She was 75.
Considered among the most gifted trainers in gender equality in the region, and an icon in the women’s movement, over five decades she advanced women’s rights, human development, peace, and democracy, training and inspiring thousands of feminists across South Asia.
Bhasin is best known for her work with SANGAT: A South Asian Feminist Network (www.sangatnetwork.org/), which developed the capacities of hundreds of women activists from South Asian countries during the 1980s and 1990s. She also played a crucial role in the global One Billion Rising campaign, serving as South Asia coordinator.
Author of 1 9 books and countless training materials on understanding patriarchy and gender—many were translated into dozens of languages—in the 1980s, while buying nursery rhyme books for her young children, she was shocked by their stereotyping and patriarchal nature. (The fathers went to work and the mothers stayed at home to cook and take care of children. The boys went on adventures; the girls stayed home.) Bhasin responded by writing rhymes that reflected the modern household, telling stories of working mothers and girls playing sports. She published them in a book, Housework Is Everyone’s Work: Rhymes for Just and Happy Families, which was translated into several languages. One of her poems, “Because I Am a Girl, I Must Study,” stresses the need to empower women through education.
Bhasin rejected the idea that feminism is a solely Western concept, insisting it is rooted in the struggles of peoples around the world. She held that the battle for gender equality was not a fight between men and women, believing that patriarchy is damaging for men because it dehumanizes and brutalizes them. At the end of her life she believed women’s advances were at risk because of capitalist patriarchy, right-wing politics, and religious fundamentalism.
Decades ago, at a women’s studies conference in Kolkata, Kamla Bhasin raised her voice against patriarchy by striking a hand drum while chanting over and over, “Azaadi, azaadi…” Ever since, azaadi, the Urdu word for freedom that Bhasin chanted that day, has been the clarion call protestors proclaim at demonstrations throughout South Asia.
Pakistan’s Misogynist Prime Minister
When it comes to understanding women’s rights, Imran Khan, Pakistan’s prime minister, is clueless. Earlier this year, he linked women’s clothing choices to sexual violence, sparking controversy nationwide, the Hindustan Times reported. Civil society groups and activists were outraged when Khan blamed women when men raped or sexually assaulted them. It wasn’t his first outrageous gaffe. In an interview with Axios on HBO, Khan said, “If a woman is wearing very few clothes it will have an impact on the men, unless they are robots. It’s common sense.”
Khan promotes purdah—a religious and social practice of female seclusion in some orthodox Muslim communities “I said the concept of purdah. Avoid temptation in society. We don’t have discos here; we don’t have nightclubs. It is a completely different way of life,” he said. “So, if you raise temptation in society to a point—all these young guys have nowhere to go—it has a consequence.”
Pakistan performs dismally when it comes to gender parity. It dropped two places, landing at 153 out of 156 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Gender Gap Report. Seventy percent of Pakistani women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime by their intimate partners; 93 percent of women at some point will experience sexual violence in public places. Equally disturbing: one in two Pakistani women will experience sexual violence at least once.
Transgender Man Sues Virginia Prison Dept.
Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit against the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) on behalf of a transgender man incarcerated at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women who was denied medically necessary and gender-affirming care. It is one of the first lawsuits in the country filed on behalf of an incarcerated transgender man.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Jason Yoakam, who was denied a bilateral mastectomy, or chest surgery, by the VDOC; they claimed the surgery was not medically necessary care for gender dysphoria. They further denied Mr. Yoakam treatment from qualified mental healthcare providers and other reasonable accommodations.
“The only thing I am asking is to be treated fairly and have access to the same standard of healthcare that other incarcerated people receive,” Yoakam said. “It has been traumatizing, isolating, and stigmatizing to be denied health care services to treat the gender dysphoria that VDOC’s own providers have diagnosed.”
Richard Saenz, senior attorney at Lambda Legal, noted, “Mr. Yoakam is not seeking special treatment, just access to medically necessary health care and reasonable accommodations for his gender dysphoria. Every incarcerated person has a right to basic health care based on their medical needs—and should not face discrimination because of their sex.” Denying medically effective treatment for transgender men like Mr. Yoakam “is a clear violation of their constitutional and statutory rights.”
To learn more, contact Samy Nemir, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Does Less Meat Equal More Testosterone?
University of Miami urologists suggest that consuming healthy plant-based diets can have a positive impact on men’s health, including their sexual health.
They have seen positive results from men consuming a healthy plant-based diet that reduces but doesn’t eliminate meat. It focuses on eating more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes and less animal protein.
Misconceptions remain among many men about plant-based diets, according to Ranjith Ramasamy, M.D., associate professor and director of the university’s Miller School of Medicine’s Reproductive Urology Program. “Traditionally, men have thought that lots of protein, specifically animal protein, was necessary to maintain testosterone levels and indirectly related to maintaining erectile function,” Dr. Ramasamy said.
Miller School investigators conduced three studies, including two abstracts presented at the September 2021 American Urology Association annual meeting, suggesting plant-based diets may improve serum testosterone and erectile function.
Contrary to the belief that eating more animal protein improves erectile function and testosterone levels in men, Miller School investigators found no impact on testosterone levels from a healthy plantbased diet; they did find a positive impact from eating more plant-based foods and animal protein on erectile function, according to Miller School urology resident Ruben Blachman-Braun, M.D. A study he conducted found that plant-based diets are associated with a decreased risk in men experiencing erectile dysfunction.
Raping Wife Not Illegal, Indian Court Says
A Mumbai judge ruled recently that a husband forcing sexual intercourse after his wife said no could not be considered illegal. The judge ruled that the accused, “being the husband, cannot be said that he committed any illegal thing,” according to an article in the India Times. While acknowledging it was “unfortunate” that the accused’s wife had suffered paralysis, the judge said neither the husband nor his family could be held responsible.
In her complaint, the woman alleged that soon after her marriage in 2020, her husband began imposing restrictions on her, taunting and abusing her, the newspaper reported. She claimed that a month after their marriage, her husband had sex with her against her wishes. When he did it a second time, the woman said she fell ill. Her doctor said that she has paralysis down her waist.
Elsewhere in India, in a sign of incremental progress, the high court in Kerala recently acknowledged that marital rape, while not a criminal offense, “is a valid ground for divorce.”
Domestic Violence: Biden Builds Back Better
To combat the scourge of domestic violence—and all other forms of genderbased violence—the Biden administration is allocating $450 million in additional funding to strengthen support for providers combating domestic violence and sexual assault. The funds will also be used to assist survivors in their short- and long-term transition away from their abusers.
In an October 1 proclamation to inaugurate Domestic Violence Awareness month, President Biden said the bill includes “a commitment to funding culturally- specific, community-based organizations to address the needs of survivors in historically marginalized communities.” He said they also allocated “an additional $550 million for domestic violence shelters and supportive service providers to develop and employ COVID-19 detection and mitigation strategies and help survivors access health care during the pandemic.”
In the fiscal year 2022 budget, the administration proposed a $1 billion grant program to be administered by the Violence Against Women office, and more than doubled investments through the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act. The president also signed into law the Crime Victims Fund Act, which increases resources available to thousands of DV survivors.
To accelerate these initiatives, the White House Gender Policy Council is working on a national action plan to end gender-based violence, the president said. The council is collaborating with the state department and other federal agencies to strengthen prevention strategies and to respond to gender-based violence globally. The administration is committed to preventing and improving response to intimate partner violence in the military, and to strengthening the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). “Authoring and championing VAWA remains one of my proudest legislative achievements as a senator,” Mr. Biden said, adding, “Its reauthorization is long overdue.”
COVID and Learning: Boys Are at Risk
This past school year, Chicago leaders pointed to grading and attendance numbers as evidence the pandemic had caused more academic damage for the district’s Black and Latinx students. But data obtained by Chalkbeat shows even more dramatic disparities when gender is factored in. Black and Latinx boys, who have long faced the largest gaps in the district, saw steeper drops in attendance and a sharper increase in failing grades than girls. The boys also saw only a modest uptick in A’s, which at the high school level increased markedly for white and Asian students, and for Latinas. “This past year was really difficult for everyone,” said Jenny Nagaoka of the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research. “But it’s really striking to see the outcomes for young men of color.”
Comparing pandemic student outcomes to previous years is tricky, given the profound shift in how students learned. Still, emerging national data appears to back up Chicago’s numbers about the uneven impact on boys and young men of color.
Experts are only beginning to dig into why male students might have been harder hit, but are urging districts to invest in efforts tailored to boys’ needs as part of a national pandemic recovery push. Such efforts, if successful, could be significant.
Nationally, young men of color have remained less likely than girls to graduate from high school—there’s a 15 percentage point gap between Black boys and girls in Chicago—and then go on to college and well-paying careers.
Closing the Global Gender Gaps
The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index annually ranks gender-based gaps using four key measures: economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; health and survival; and political empowerment. It tracks progress towards closing these gaps over time. This year, the index tracked 156 countries. For the 12th time, Iceland was rated the most gender-equal country in the world. The top 10 were:
The five most-improved countries in the overall index in 2021 were Lithuania, Serbia, Timor-Leste, Togo, and United Arab Emirates. They narrowed their gender gaps by 4.4 percentage points or more. Timor-Leste and Togo are also among the four countries (including Côte d’Ivoire and Jordan) that managed to close their economic participation and opportunity gap by at least a full percentage point in one year. Three countries have been assessed this year for the first time: Afghanistan (44.4% of the gender gap closed so far; ranked last, at 156th); Guyana (72.8%, 53rd); and Niger (62.9%, 138th.)
Significant disparities exist across and within various geographies. Western Europe has progressed the most towards gender parity (77.6%), and further progressed this year. North America is second most advanced, (76.4%), also improved. It is followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (71.2%), and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (71.1%). Next is East Asia and the Pacific region (68.9%), one of the most-improved regions, just ahead of Sub-Saharan Africa (67.2%), and surpassing South Asia (62.3%). The Middle East and North Africa region remains the area with the largest gap (60.9%).
At the current relative pace, gender gaps can potentially be closed in 52.1 years in Western Europe, 61.5 years in North America, and 68.9 years in Latin America and the Caribbean. All other regions will take more than 100 years to close the gap: 121.7 years in Sub-Saharan Africa, 134.7 years in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 165.1 years in East Asia and the Pacific, 142.4 years in Middle East and North Africa, and 195.4 years in South Asia.