Everything Women in the World Still Can’t Do

There’s no denying women have made incredible strides toward equality in recent years. In 2018, a record 257 women won nominations for Congress. Female entertainers received landmark Emmy nods. Brave survivors of sexual harassment and assault galvanized the world to speak out through milestone movements like Time’s Up and #MeToo.

More than ever, the adage “the future is female” felt like a promise. A 5-year-old girl named Ava convinced Pizza Express to stop using straws after writing the restaurant a letter about how “very bad for animals” they were. In Florida, a 14-year-old young woman named Taylor raised $100,000 to send girls to see (and be inspired by) the female-led Wrinkle in Time.

And yet, while we’re celebrating all these accomplishments and contributions and the strides we’ve made during Women’s History Month, it’s important to remember that there are many things women in the world still can’t do. Make no mistake, though; despite the protestations of those who wish to silence us, we are not living in a post-feminist society. Anyone who would suggest as much is clearly speaking from a place of privilege. So in the spirit of holding space for the progress still left to be made, we’re taking a look at some of the things women still don’t have the equality to do.

Attend sporting events

Watching a ball game, maybe even while enjoying a beer, is a pastime we tend to take for granted here in the U.S. But in October 2018, Iran made global headlines for a milestone moment — for the first time in 35 years, women were allowed to attend a sporting event (a soccer match between Iran and Bolivia).

After the match, however, the country returned to its previous ban on such behavior that has been in place since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The country’s general prosecutor, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, went so far as to proclaim he would order Tehran’s government to legally prosecute any stadium officials who bend the rules for women.

Take paid maternity leave

If you’ve been pregnant and worked for an employer who extended paid maternity leave, consider yourself a part of the privileged few — especially if you’re from the States. It’s common knowledge that women in the U.S. are guaranteed three months of maternity leave, per the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. However, employers are not required by law to offer paid maternity leave. Of course, therein lies the conundrum. How can a woman take three months time off and reasonably provide for her family (which now includes a newborn) without any pay?

There is a silver lining here, and it’s that of the 193 countries in the United Nations, only a few don’t offer some sort of paid maternity leave: New Guinea, Suriname, a few islands in the South Pacific and the U.S. And although some companies in the U.S. do give their employees paid maternity leave, they’re in the minority. According to a National Partnership for Women & Families survey, only 16 percent of American companies pay employees on parental leave.

Fight on the front lines of combat

In 1997, Demi Moore starred in a little film called G.I. Jane about a woman who challenges gender norms by enrolling in the elite and historically all-male combined reconnaissance team training unit. Everyone expects her to fail, but she’s badass Demi Moore and doesn’t. The film brought up many questions about whether women could physically handle war combat as well as whether men could mentally stand to see a woman being physically harmed. It took another 16 years for then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to remove the U.S. military’s ban on women serving in combat.

And while nearly every country in the world features military forces with females, only a small handful actually allow those women to serve on the front lines: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, India, Israel, Kurdistan, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Turkey, the U.K. and, yes, the U.S.

Menstruate without unreasonable stigma (& even restrictions)

In the Chhaupadi culture, menstruating women are relegated to sheds and huts during their period and stripped of their rights to speak to men, eat certain foods or lay in a comfortable bed. In Orthodox Judaism, women cannot sleep in the same bed as their husband until after their seventh “clean” day of menstruation followed by ritual bathing. At numerous temples and mosques in India, menstruating women are kept from entering church due to the idea they are “unclean.” All over the world, women are shunned during their period in ways ranging from public ridicule to quite literally being banned from buildings and activities.

It also merits mentioning that 250 million women and girls globally lack access to safe and affordable menstruation products.

Leave the house without asking a man’s permission

If you’re rolling your eyes hard at the idea you would ever ask your spouse (or any other man) for permission to leave the house, relish the right. Certain countries, like Yemen and Saudi Arabia, operate on a “male guardianship” system. Because this system essentially implies women are not full citizens, they must consult a spouse, brother, husband or son before making critical decisions about their own lives. This means no applying for a passport, no traveling abroad and sometimes no leaving the house.

Study mining & other fields

Do mining and engineering sound like fascinating fields of study to you? Well, you’d better not live in China. The country’s labor laws make it impossible for women to enter into certain programs deemed “unsuitable” out of “respect for women’s safety.”

In fact, according to BBC, Beijing’s People’s Police University restricts the female portion of the student body to 10 to 15 percent. The theory? There aren’t that many jobs for women after graduation, so why let them waste their time (or their male professors’ time) on a university education? “Some jobs are really inappropriate for women,” professor Shu Jisen told BBC in 2013. “If they force their way into these jobs, they will waste energy that can be better used elsewhere.”

Share a motorbike (or other spaces) with men

It might seem nonsensical to say out loud, but it doesn’t make it any less true — in Indonesia’s Aceh province, there exists a ban on unmarried women riding on the back of a motorcycle driven by men. This isn’t the only asinine moral restriction passed by the province, which practices Sharia law.

In order to help women be “more well behaved,” a law handed down in 2018 decrees that women are not allowed to dine out with men unless they are married to or related to those men. Furthermore, women who are alone or with a family member at restaurants or cafés after 9 p.m. should not be served.

Wear pants

In the U.S., little is seen as unacceptable anymore when it comes to a person’s fashion choices. The way people dress simply serves as an extension of their personality or an outlet for creative expression. But Article 152 of the Sudanese public order law dictates that a woman can be convicted and sentenced to 40 lashes for wearing a “revealing outfit.” What makes this particularly tricky is that what qualifies as revealing is left up to the “public order system,” which has its own special courts, police force and ideological laws.

The result? Women who dare to wear trousers as opposed to the traditional Sudanese female garb of long, flowing robes may be lashed and issued a fine for wearing an “obscene outfit.”

Use a cell phone

Imagine how much you use your cell phone on a daily basis. Or more to the point, how much that cell phone aids in your independence. A ton, right? Well, men in certain Indian villages realized this and decided to implement a ban on unmarried women using mobile phones. The penalty imposed for women who are caught could be a fine upward of 2,000 rupees ($31). The charge of these men and male lawmakers is that unmarried women and girls using cell phones will be perceived as indecent and/or create a “disturbance” in society.

This is especially debasing when you consider that India is the world’s second-biggest market for mobile phones, with more than 1 billion users in the country.

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