Emma Watson For President of the World

Emma Watson’s speech earlier this week at the United Nations on gender equality gave me chills – and I didn’t even watch the video of it. Merely reading the text of her speech made me feel so inspired and empowered, and it also prompted me to do a little more investigating on the economic, political, and sociological treatment of women around the world.

“The more I have spoken about feminism the more I have realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating,” Emma noted. “If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop.”

She almost rebranded the term “feminism,” and pondered why it has taken on such a derogatory meaning in the past. She literally could not have said it any better.

“[M]y recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word,” she said. “Apparently I am among the ranks of women whose expressions are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating, anti-men and, unattractive. Why is the word such an uncomfortable one?”

Emma challenged society’s weariness of feminism with the following statement, which just blew me away because it was so incredibly articulate:

“These rights I consider to be human rights but I am one of the lucky ones. My life is a sheer privilege because my parents didn’t love me less because I was born a daughter. My school did not limit me because I was a girl. My mentors didn’t assume I would go less far because I might give birth to a child one day. These influencers were the gender equality ambassadors that made who I am today. They may not know it, but they are the inadvertent feminists who are. And we need more of those.  And if you still hate the word—it is not the word that is important but the idea and the ambition behind it. Because not all women have been afforded the same rights that I have. In fact, statistically, very few have been.”

Gender inequality goes beyond the mere idea of feminism. When men and women are not treated equally, society as a whole suffers. The UN has published tons of statistics on women’s rights and roles worldwide.

  • Women make up only 1/5 of the available legislative/parliamentary seats around the globe. Only 9 women serve as Head of State (out of almost 200 countries), while 15 serve as Head of Government.
  • The wage differential between women and men varies from country to country. In some countries, women make nearly 1/3 less than men, while in others they make 10 percent less than men. Either way, that’s definitely not equal pay for equal work.
  • “Women farmers tend to produce 20 to 30 per cent less than their male counterparts because they have less access to vital inputs such as seeds, fertilizers and tools.”
    • However, if women were given equal access to these inputs, agricultural output would rise 4 percent, which would in turn decrease the number of hungry people around the globe by nearly 20 percent.
  • Women are four times more likely to be the target of intimidation tactics in political elections.
  • Women make up only 10 percent of police forces around the world. However, research shows that women are much more likely to report sexual assaults in areas where there is a greater presence of women in the police force.

There are a handful of treaties spelling out women’s rights, ranging from the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women to the 2000 UN Security Council Resolution (technically not a treaty, but noteworthy nonetheless) on Women, Peace and Security. Time and time again, these documents have recognized women’s rights to be treated equal, but have also recognized that women and children are more likely to be denied these rights – particularly in times of conflict.

Part of the reason why I’m so impressed with Emma’s words is that I’m fairly certain she wrote them herself. If it was another actress or singer, I am almost certain (based on my own experience in the foreign policy field) that they would have had a team from the UN, a government agency, or an NGO actually draft it. But Emma is an Ivy-League educated, A-Levels butt kicker, and she has always proved herself to be incredibly articulate and passionate about human rights.

I know Emma’s British, but can we please make her head of a high-level government office in charge of gender issues? Although I suppose asking her to work for the UN is best – she can spread her brilliance around the globe and help ladies everywhere.

If you haven’t had a chance to hear or read the speech in full, check out the video here and the text here.

The Constitutionality of NYC’s New Public School Calendar

Yes, I'm well aware that this is not a photo of the Bill of Rights.

Yes, I’m well aware that this is not a photo of the Bill of Rights.

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday that he supports a state bill calling for the closure of the city’s public schools on at least two Muslim holidays. He was not willing to say whether the bill will be amended to cover other religious groups’ holy days.

The bill is a positive move toward acceptance of Muslims and their religious traditions. It shows that the New York legislature recognizes the city’s large Muslim population, and also respects its religious beliefs. If this bill does pass, it will be a small step in the direction of recognizing major religious holidays apart from Christmas.

However, as wonderful as the sentiment behind the bill is, the change to the school calendar gives rise to a legal question: is it constitutional for a public school system (meaning one that is run and funded by the government) to designate certain religious days as official public holidays, but not designate other religious days as such?

The background

Before answering that question, a brief explanation of the bill’s history and purpose is in order. Mayor de Blasio’s comments during a radio interview came just one month after the bill was introduced in the New York State Senate, and they have been lauded by the city’s Muslim community.

The bill states that its purpose is “[t]o designate as school holidays in the New York City School District the first days of the Muslim holidays of Eid Ul-Fitr and Eid Ul-Adha, to allow Muslim students, teachers and staff to celebrate these important holidays.”

de Blasio hinted that the holidays will not be added to the public school calendar immediately, but he has hopes that they will be soon.

“The goal is to get there,” he said. “I’ve said repeatedly —it will take time. It is complicated in terms of logistics of school calendar and budget, but it’s something I want to get done in a reasonable time frame.”

He also mentioned that schools would be closed to mark the Chinese New Year, as well as the Lunar New Year, which are two holidays that the original bill does not address.

So, is it constitutional or not? 

Here’s a lawyer-ly answer for you: it depends. We (being the general public) don’t have all the facts surrounding the senate’s decision. There is some evidence that the bill satisfies the some (but not all) of the criteria set forth by the Supreme Court for these types of “establishment clause” cases. If the policy stays the way it is, a judge will likely rule it unconstitutional. In order for this policy to be upheld, the state must change the policy so that schools are closed on other minority religions’ holy days.

Just as a refresher, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution stipulates that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” This portion of the First Amendment is split into two clauses. The first is known as the “establishment clause,” while the second is known as the “free exercise clause.”

If someone was to challenge the new school calendar, the challenge would likely be framed as an establishment clause issue. This means that the challenge would be scrutinized based on the requirements of the Supreme-Court-created Lemon test.* The test, which was developed in the mid-20th century case Lemon v. Kurtzman, requires that for a state law, regulation, or policy to adhere to the establishment clause, 1) it must have a secular legislative purpose, 2) its principle or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion, and 3) it must not foster excessive government entanglement with religion.

The state would have the burden of proving that the three Lemon factors are met. There is a strong argument to be made that the bill satisfies the first Lemon factor, but the possibility that the state can satisfy the other two Lemon factors is slim. Continue reading