From the grandeur of political chambers to the most private corners of women's lives, there exists a troubling pattern: leaders driven by a desperate desire to influence. Their dominion stretches far beyond the walls of their offices; it invades households, governs bodies, and restricts personal choices. Recent remarks and actions by influential political figures expose an alarming tendency: an insidious urge to control women's decisions, from their reproductive rights to their very choice of clothing.
Across the globe, from China to the United States, India to Iran, powerful individuals, whether presidents or politicians have harnessed their authority to impose their ideologies and biases upon women. What compels this relentless pursuit of control, and at what cost to humanity?
In this article, we scrutinise the unsettling statements of these global leaders, reflecting on the audacity that drives men in positions of power to prescribe the path of women's lives.
Xi Jinping's Vision for Chinese Women
Chinese President Xi Jinping's recent call for women to play a critical role in shaping a "new trend of family" is a telling example of how men in power seek to control women's choices. Xi's proclamation comes at a time when China faces the challenges of an ageing population and a record decline in birth rates. While it may sound like an emphasis on women's importance, the subtext is a concern over declining birth rates, framing women primarily as child-bearers rather than individuals with personal aspirations.
This vision underscores the significant obstacles women in China face when deciding to embrace motherhood. High childcare costs, workplace discrimination, career impediments, and societal pressures all contribute to the reluctance of young Chinese women to start families. The startling statistics reveal a 10 percent decline in birth rates in 2022, reaching a record low since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949. These challenges are compounded by China's decades-long one-child policy, which casts a long shadow on the nation's birth rates.
Trump's Dismissive and Demeaning Comments
Former US President Donald Trump's comments and actions towards women provide a stark example of how men in power can perpetuate gender disparities. His denials of sexual assault allegations and derogatory remarks towards women, such as calling author E. Jean Carroll "not his type" and referring to Stormy Daniels as "Horseface," demonstrate a disregard for women's voices and experiences. Trump's dismissive attitude towards the #MeToo movement, advising denial and pushback on women's allegations, perpetuates a culture where survivors' stories are often invalidated.
Furthermore, Trump's comments about Hillary Clinton's marriage demonstrate how even the most accomplished women can face unfounded scrutiny regarding their personal lives when in positions of power. These comments seek to undermine women's credibility and perpetuate harmful stereotypes about women's roles.
The Iranian Regime and the Taliban: A Disturbing Parallel
Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi's vow to enforce mandatory dress codes, including the hijab, is a troubling illustration of how men in power use legal means to control women's choices. This move comes as increasing numbers of Iranian women challenge traditional dress codes. Raisi's derogatory language, referring to some women as "ignorant" and claiming that they "needed to be woken up," is a reflection of the patronising attitude held by men in power.
Raisi also alleges that some women have been "trained by foreigners" to undermine the Iranian government, casting women who seek autonomy and freedom of choice as enemies of the state. Such remarks reinforce the idea that women must conform to the values prescribed by men in power, suppressing their individuality and voices.
It echoes the Taliban's policies in Afghanistan, where women are barred from public spaces and education if they do not adhere to a strict dress code. The Taliban's statement that "women's faces should be hidden" and their belief that women lose their value if men can see their uncovered faces is a stark example of how deeply rooted this issue is in various parts of the world. Under the Taliban's rule, women's choices are stifled and their agency is extinguished, reducing them to mere instruments of a patriarchal society.
India: Men Who Think They Know Best
In India, the problem manifests in different ways. Various political figures have made disconcerting statements that reflect a deep-seated attitude towards women's choices. From blaming sexual harassment on women's attire to making sweeping judgments about women who drink, these leaders perpetuate stereotypes and reinforce the idea that women must adhere to rigid cultural norms.
In one instance, MP Minister Babulal Gaur blamed short clothing for sexual harassment, thereby shifting the responsibility from the perpetrators to the victims. The case of Mulayam Singh Yadav dismissing gang rape with the words "boys will be boys" exemplifies a disturbing tendency to trivialize sexual violence and blame the victims. His sexist comments about women's hair and Sharad Yadav's dismissal of women with short hair as "par kati" elites further underline the deeply rooted misogyny within the political landscape.
Beyond political circles, sexist comments and attitudes are pervasive in society. Botsa Satyanarayana's assertion that women should not venture out after dark and his victim-blaming comments regarding a brutal gang rape illustrate a societal issue that transcends the realm of politics. Similarly, the former chief minister of Haryana's proposal that women should marry young to prevent sexual assault suggests a society where regressive ideas continue to influence policy decisions.
Another disturbing facet of the control over women's choices in India is the belief by some leaders that they know what is best for women. MPs advocating for women to have more children, often framing it in the context of religion, is a reflection of the belief that women's primary purpose is to bear children. Such remarks highlight a deeply ingrained patriarchal mindset that restricts women's choices and agency.
The Global Backlash Against Women's Rights & Choices
Recent reports, such as the UN Women's 'Gender Equality Attitudes Study 2022,' shed light on the persistent gender disparities and discriminatory social norms that continue to hinder progress. Shockingly, 19% of respondents believe there are acceptable circumstances for domestic violence, and attitudes towards women's political participation and roles in the workforce remain regressive.
The media's portrayal of traditional gender roles further reinforces harmful stereotypes, contributing to the overarching problem of controlling women's choices. The media's tendency to depict women only in traditional roles, such as wives and caregivers, and men as providers for the family, also exacerbates the issue.
The disheartening reality is that gender disparities are worsening, and it may take another 286 years to close the global gender gaps in legal protections for women and girls. Afghanistan stands as the most extreme example of this regression, with the Taliban banning women from education, work, and public life. China, under a tight grip of social control, censors feminist content and limits freedom of expression. Poland has targeted women's rights activists, while the United States grapples with increasing restrictions on reproductive health and rights. South Korea, too, has witnessed anti-feminist initiatives, illustrating a global shift towards regression.
The control of women's choices by men in power is a deeply entrenched and pervasive issue that transcends borders, cultures, and political systems. The comments and actions of leaders worldwide reflect a distressing pattern of control, misogyny, and a reluctance to let women define their destinies on their terms.
The question remains: who gave these men the right to decide how women should live their lives? The answer is complex and rooted in centuries of entrenched power dynamics, but it is one that demands change.
Views expressed by the author are their own.