David Rothkopf of Foreign Policy published a column in the latest edition of the magazine, discussing the abysmal state of women's rights around the world, carrying forward the message that the inability to fully integrate women into the politico-socioeconomic structures of the world is our greatest civilizational failure. I might add war, hunger, and poverty to the list, but even in these cases women remain a foundational aspect as a group that is affected, but are also key to any successful resolution of these issues.
I have written previously on the question of women's roles in international affairs with respect to political empowerment, and generally agree with Rothkopf's sentiment that women do need to be better represented around the world in politics, business, and society. However, calling it a civilizational shame is melodramatic and hardly realistic. A bigger civilizational shame, in my mind, would be the destruction of the library of Alexandria, the looting of the Iraqi National Museum in 2003, or the indiscriminate annihilation of Syria's historical heritage – Damascus is the second oldest known city on the planet. This is humanity's greatest shame by any measure.
We have to keep in mind one fact: the wheel has been invented. Putting women in high esteem within a society has been done before and can be done again.
The better half of the species is central to the solution of the world's chronic problems, not just for the basic viability of a society, but also its socio-economic development through education, socialization and labor mobility. Rothkopf is right in highlighting the fact that women are underrepresented in various institutional arrangements, be they parliaments or firms, but his piece is little more than an assessment of the failings of the status quo and he does not engage the development streak well enough with respect to the various aspects of societal growth.
Rothkopf is also cynical about how much has been done in the way of improving women's rights in the last century – and, yes, it does fall short and more is required. The achievements, however, are by far not as insignificant as he makes them out to be. Women successfully participate in politics, business and society at all levels and that is a reality that would have been inconceivable two generations ago and the examples are too many to list. Even if women continue to be a minority, it will be a gradual process of opening inherently conservative and male-dominated institutions to full-blown gender egalitarianism.
We can better explain and somewhat correct David Rothkopf's point with philosophy: one of its fundamental laws is that changes in quantity lead to changes in quality. Put simply, a qualitative change occurs after a requisite accumulation of quantitative factors. Applying the law means that the gradual chronicle of small steps towards the liberation of women – whether it would be better maternity leave programs in the West or something as unbelievable as women in Saudi Arabia getting the right to ride bikes – is leading in a direction towards greater gender equality in the world.
In the overarching perspective, there is a need to focus on creating changes in the culture and habits of the attitudes towards women around the world – women have to actively seek it and men have to re-evaluate the status quo considerably in order to move forward.