Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Women's power: A story with sharp divide

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN
updated 3:10 PM EST, Fri January 4, 2013
Hillary Clinton in Kolkata, India, last May. Clinton said that women still suffered from a 'glass ceiling' in politics.
Hillary Clinton in Kolkata, India, last May. Clinton said that women still suffered from a 'glass ceiling' in politics.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Frida Ghitis: Hillary Clinton illness and New Delhi rape tell different stories about state of women
  • She says women's equality faces sharp divide; some ascend, most kept powerless
  • She says Egypt's new constitution presents time-bomb for new oppression of women
  • Ghitis: Progress for women needs strong legislation, education, sometimes protests

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter: @FridaGColumns

(CNN) -- As the New Year approached, millions anxiously followed the news from two very different parts of the world about two very different women -- women whose lives somehow touched us, whose fate seemed, somehow, linked to all of us.

The world held its breath when word came that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was hospitalized in New York. The news arrived at a time when we were trying to absorb, with profound sadness, a seemingly unrelated drama unfolding thousands of miles away. In New Delhi, a 23-year-old woman, a university student on her way home after watching a movie with her boyfriend, was brutally raped and beaten by a group of men. She later died from her injuries.

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

The parallel stories point to a sharp divide in the worldwide struggle for women's equality. While women have made major strides, in some cases reaching the pinnacle of power, the most fundamental human rights -- such as freedom to go outside without risking harassment and physical attack -- elude millions, and full equality remains an unreached goal for most.

iReport: 'She could have been me'

Clinton, one of the world's most powerful women and an icon of the global fight for women's equality, has returned home and doctors say they expect a full recovery. In India, the plight of an anonymous woman nicknamed "Nirbhaya," Sanskrit for dauntless, has become a turning point for the country. (That we don't use Nirbhaya's real name proves the grotesque reality that being raped remains a source of shame for the victim.)

Nirbhaya's ashes have been scattered, and it seems her death was not in vain. The attack sent tens of thousands of people -- men and women -- into New Delhi's streets and pulled the thick cover from India's unspeakable rape statistics. Most rapes go unreported for good reason. Of the more than 600 cases filed with the Delhi police last year, only one resulted in conviction. Powerless rape victims often resort to suicide.

News: Clinton's future 'as good as her past,' docs say

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



The contrast could not be sharper with the woman many call simply Hillary. Speculation about whether she will run for president in 2016 is unending. The day she was hospitalized with a blood clot, we heard that she again came in first in Gallup's Most Admired Woman poll, finishing at the top for 11 years in a row and a total of 17 times since 1993, more than anyone in Gallup's history.

She is probably the world's best-known woman and unquestionably one of the most influential. But she is only one of many who have reached so far. Women lead some of the globe's biggest, most important countries. Chancellor Angela Merkel heads the government of Germany, Julia Gillard leads Australia, Dilma Rousseff is president of Brazil, and the list goes on.

American voters just elected 20 women to the Senate, the largest number in history. And yet, that's just 20% of the seats. It's sad we find this an accomplishment worth celebrating.

The push for equality has unleashed push-back. Rape, we are told, is about power. In traditional societies, men see improvements in the status of women as a challenge to their own. Sexual assaults by gangs of self-congratulating, hyperventilating men, whether in New Delhi, in Cairo's Tahrir Square or somewhere in Somalia, amount to chest-pounding assertions of dominance from fearful, cowardly individuals. In countries with strong laws and changing attitudes about women, the number of rapes has been plummeting.

Opinion: End global rape culture

India's social problems
Hillary Clinton's blood clot explained
The legacy Clinton will leave behind

Then there are the murders and attempted murders. Last year we saw Pakistan's Taliban try to kill Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old girl who demanded nothing more than the right to an education. And last month, in neighboring Afghanistan, gunmen murdered Najia Sediqi, the provincial director of women's affairs.

Between the two extremes in women's status, we have a much less dramatic -- but still crucial -- struggle.

The women of Egypt, who stood on the front lines of the revolution, will now have to live with a new constitution that commits the state to "preserve the genuine character of the Egyptian family" and vaguely notes the "duties of a woman toward her family," opening the door to who-knows-what efforts by the state to keep women in their place.

In the United States, where progress is indisputable in so many areas, women still make, in the aggregate, 76 cents for every dollar men earn.

Inequality is pervasive in areas that are subtly important. Despite having a female secretary of State, and even, possibly, a female secretary of Defense on the horizon, Washington remains a "city of men," as the writer Micah Zenko noted, with women woefully underrepresented in the corridors of power, in think tanks and in academia.

Women's minds and ideas don't receive an equal hearing on the national stage partly because, as one survey showed, only 20% of all op-eds are written by women, and just 15% of columns dealing with foreign policy and security issues.

Opinion: House GOP failed women on Violence Against Women Act

Every women walks on the path laid painstakingly and deliberately by people like Hillary Clinton, or accidentally, tragically, by women like Nirbhaya. The road to women's equality, it turns out, is paved with potholes, quicksand and death traps.

There is a reason so many feel a close connection to Hillary Clinton and to Nirbhaya. Their stories, like those of 3 billion others, are of women seeking to make it in what is still today mostly a man's world.

As Clinton recovers and as the people of India work to build a positive legacy from Nirbhaya's death, the obvious lesson is that much work remains ahead. Strong headwinds will push against women's progress, but progress can be achieved through urgent legislation, through patient education, and when necessary -- as it is now -- through mass protests and unrelentingly firm demands.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:26 PM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT