MNSU alumna and author talks women’s inequity

Dr. Antonia Felix gives a global perspective on women’s rights and politics

Joshua Schuetz
Staff Writer

The 2019 History Convocation at Minnesota State University, Mankato, featured the work of numerous students in the program Thursday, April 25. But it was the speaker, Dr. Antonia Felix, who stole the show.

Dr. Felix is an award-winning author who has written biographies of numerous political figures, including Senator Elizabeth Warren (now a presidential candidate), and Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

On Thursday, Dr. Felix discussed the lives of women throughout the world. She discussed the experiences of political figures in her biographies as well.

“Sonia Sotomayor routinely experienced disrespectful if not degrading treatment while serving as a federal district judge,” Dr. Felix said, “She listened to male lawyers stand before her bench and tell her how to run her courtroom, as if she had no idea what she was doing.”

Dr. Felix’s work is not just concerned with women in American politics. She studies the rights of women and laws pertaining to women’s rights across the globe, focusing specifically on Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as the U.S.

“10 years ago, Afghanistan passed the Elimination of Violence Against Women law to ramp up the penal code with new penalties for rape, forced prostitution, acid attacks, forced suicide, selling and buying women for the purpose of marriage, the giving away of women to settle disputes, beating and fifteen other violent crimes,” Dr. Felix said.

Unfortunately, reactionary forces in the country have stymied women’s rights. “The President signed the decree, but parliament did not ratify it and has still not ratified it,” Dr. Felix said, “The conservative male majority in the parliament do not support this law.”

“The law is also ignored by the very authorities assigned to enforce it. EVAW institutions regularly refer women’s cases to mediation by informal councils,” Dr. Felix said. “These referrals to circumvent the formal legal system apply to the most serious crimes.” Sometimes, those very councils order attacks against women in the first place.

Pakistan also has its struggles. “The facts about Pakistani women’s lives are pretty disturbing. Up to 80 percent have experienced domestic violence. Every day, six women are murdered or face attempted murder. Eight are raped, 11 battered and assaulted, and 32 abducted,” Dr. Felix said. “But supporters of women’s rights in Pakistan are not giving up.”

Activists have pushed for legal reforms to improve women’s rights in both countries, and progress is being made. More schools are being set up for women, and stricter penalties are being administered to those who violate the rights of women and girls.

When it comes to protecting and representing women, the US still have yet to progress, even though it boasts better protection for women than many countries. 

Dr. Felix stated, “Even after the 2018 election, when a historic number of women were elected, the U.S. ranking for the percentage of women in a lower house may surprise you. We’re No. 75.”

The U.S. has not passed the Equal Rights Amendment, which would guarantee equal rights regardless of sex. While America has made a great deal of progress with respect to women’s rights, it, and the rest of the world, have a long way to go.

Header photo courtesy of Flickr.

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