We called 1992 the Year of the Woman. In November of that year, women gained four seats in the U.S. Senate and 24 in the House of Representatives. The gains included Senator Carol Moseley-Braun, the first African-American woman senator and California became the first state to be represented in the Senate entirely by women – Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. In the United States, women made political strides like never before.

Now it seems that 2006 will be another Women’s Year – just not in America. On Jan. 15, Chilean voters elected the country’s first ever woman president, Michelle Bachelet. In Argentina, first lady Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is polling higher than her husband and recently won a race for the Senate. In Peru, Lourdes Flores is polling equally with her male opponent for the presidential elections. In Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was sworn in as the first woman president anywhere in Africa earlier this year. Zambia may see Edith Nawakwi as the second.

Tarja Halonen, the first female president of Finland, faces a runoff following her lead over two male competitors in the first round of elections for her second term bid. Last November, Angela Merkel became Germany’s first female chancellor following an incredibly fierce election. All over the world, women are stepping into positions of power.

Meanwhile, in the United States, women’s rights are under attack. From the dangerous belief that feminism has outlived its necessity or usefulness to the backlash from “men’s rights” organizations and pro-male activists, we’ve not only failed to keep up with the rest of the world, we’ve actually taken steps backwards.

This year began with the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. His likely appointment to the court creates a dangerous situation for women. While women take on several leadership positions in Latin America, Africa and Europe, women in the United States are once again faced with being treated like children or chattel.

Alito seeks to impose the same abortion restrictions on married woman as are already imposed on minors, simply replacing “parent” with “husband.” Apparently women, like children, are incapable of making informed, responsible decisions about their own bodies. Men, who lack the capacity to become pregnant, are clearly the better, more rational judges.

Ideally, abortion would be a decision a married woman would make with the love and support of her husband, but this is not an ideal world, and no judge should need to be reminded of this.

Forget the risk to our freedom of choice Alito poses – there are too many women whose lives would be put in danger by this restriction. Alito would like to tell frightened women that they either need to inform their husbands, putting themselves in serious danger, or prove to a judge that they are being abused. Whose lives exactly are we valuing?

Thirty years ago, Bachelet was imprisoned, tortured and exiled by then dictator Augusto Pinochet. Now she runs the country. Liberia, whose disastrous 14-year civil war ended a mere three years ago, now has a woman standing at the helm. In the United States, however, the land of “equal rights,” the lack of progress is astounding. How have we fallen so far behind?

Maybe this year we’ll learn.

Stoll can be reached at

jstoll@campustimes.org.



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