Empowering Women to Empower Themselves

Quenby Wilcox Having It All


Every time I turn around, I encounter another organization that is dedicated to 'Empowering' women. But, when one starts to scratch the surface, moving beyond the rhetoric, it is clear that very few understand, and much less address, the harsh realities women face into today's world.

Since one of the most widespread and pervasive factors 'disempowering' women today (and why we, in turn, need to be 'empowered') are family divorce courts. If anyone really wanted to 'empower' women, their first step would be to take draconian actions against the judicial actors who are creating rampant corruption and chaos in the courts. At present the 'regulatory function' of lawyers, judges, court-evaluators, mediators, psychologist... (the list goes on and on), is performed by their respective professional associations. There is a definite conflict of interest here, and the situation is one of the 'fox guarding the hen-house,' with these association becoming complicit, and accessory after the fact, to negligence and corruption in the courts when they fail to investigate and sanction allegations of misconduct – which is what they do in the vast majority of cases.

While governments are quick to espouse rhetoric and propaganda that presumes the highest level of integrity and transparency in their courts (and amongst court actors), statistics, reports, and testimonies across the Internet tell a very different story. As the recently released documentary Divorce Corp states on their website, "Family courts are a dark corner of the judicial system where fiefdoms and tyrants still thrive, where the supreme law of the land is routinely ignored, where children are taken hostage for profit, and where lives are destroyed as a matter of course."

While this 'lawlessness' affects everyone who falls into the 'Wonderland of Alice,' court system, women and children are disproportionately affected – in the past few decades condemning tens of millions of women to lives of perpetual poverty, and millions of children a chilhood filled with court-sanctioned torture and neglect at the hands of a custodial parent (globally).

The situation is further complicated by the fact that NGOs, the media, and governments are detracting attention away from the challenges women face in western courts by shining the light on Muslim courts and Sharia law. They give the impression that everything is "hunky-dory" in the 'West,' with violence and oppression of women a singularly Muslim problem in the East.

It is in this vacuum, that discrimination against women in family courts has been allowed to thrive and prosper for decades, with the whys and wherefores discussed in my blogs Window-dressing, Smoke Screens, and Hell-fire Rhetoric and Wolves in Sheep's Clothing are Guarding the Hen House.

Then to add insult to injury, when governments are "called out" by the international legal community to explain the horrible mess they have created in their courts (Gonzales vs. USA and Gonzalez Carreño vs. Spain), they claim that "their hands are tied," and that, essentially, they have lost total control of their judicial systems («responsable mais pas coupable» - reminiscent of the '80's, and a similar global, political scandal of the time).

If we examine the past 50+ years of feminism in the 'West,' we can see that by restricting the 'Battle for Equality' to equality in the work-force, without any regard for women's rights in the family and marriage, oppression of women will change forms, but not disappear. As Dr. Arlie Russell Hochschild states in The Second Shift, "[w]hile women's entrance into the economy has increased women's power; the growing instability of marriage creates an anonymous, individualistic "modern" form of oppression... Today, when a woman can legally own property, vote, get an education, work at a job, and leave an oppressive marriage, she walks out into an apparently "autonomous" and "free" form of inequality... Patriarchy has not disappeared; it has changed form."

In looking to empower women, and combat their oppression, NGO's needs to move from linear, 'tunnel-vision' approaches of the past to multi-sectional ones which take into account the different variables women face in modern societies. The widespread idea that 'liberating' women from oppression is accomplished only through education and access to the remunerated work-force has proven to be a faulty assumption.

The feminist movement of the past 50 years has failed to adapt to the changing panorama of challenges women (and societies) face when women move into the work-force en masse, and have done all too little to challenge and change the discriminatory attitudes and prejudices that are 'empowering' abusers in the courts. So it is time to re-think the whole equation, and come up with some effective solutions, rather than continue producing band-aid solutions to the plight of oppressed women and children across the globe.

As countries 'develop' and become more 'modern' – and women obtain financial independence and security outside the marriage – societies and patriarchal norms are metamorphosing, and finding new ways to 'keep women in their place,' with family courts a powerful tool at their disposal. In order to counter-act these state-sanctioned, 'forces of oppression,' women's rights groups must step up to the plate and start building a new platform and ideology – one that embraces the human rights of women within the home, marriage, community, and work-place; rather than a patchwork of laws and empty political rhetoric, that are no match to the Backlash to Feminism which has dominated the playing field in the past decades.

Women will only be empowered, when the forces disempowering them are recognized and dismantled, and when public authorities and agencies are ready to do their jobs with a minimum of diligence and integrity.