Big year so far for gender equality

Arianna Erdman, Editor In Chief

     From the NFL protests to Hurricane Maria to the U.S./North Korea political tensions, it’s hard for those who follow the news to see anything positive happening in the world. However, that doesn’t mean there’s no positive news. In fact, while people have been protesting for change in some sectors of society, in other areas, there have been great strides made to the progress of people both in America and abroad. In this past week alone, two significant events occurred that could really change the game in the struggle for gender equality here at home and around the globe.

     One of these new developments happened right here in the United States, specifically in our United States Marine Corps. For the first time in American military history, a woman has successfully completed the USMC Infantry Officer Course, considered one of the most physically and mentally demanding officer courses in the U.S. military. The unnamed Marine was able to graduate with the rank of Lieutenant and, upon deployment, will be assigned to the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton. While 36 women have previously attempted the course, none had succeeded prior to this woman. The course is a grueling, 13-week-long trial that tests multiple attributes, including strength, endurance and leadership. Candidates are required to complete long marches, difficult obstacles, weapon assembly and show the capacity to carry up to 152 pounds of gear, to name a few tasks. While the process to integrate women into the military has been extremely slow, since it was only last year that all combat positions were opened to women, the various branches of the military have not shied away from praising those women who complete the tests that have been standard for their male counterparts for decades. The military, with this development and the addition of three women to the U.S. Army Rangers including one infantry officer, have hopes that women will soon be integrated into special operations positions as well.

     In another development for women and gender equality, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has passed a decree declaring that women are to be permitted to drive vehicles for the first time in the country’s history starting next June. This debate has spanned several years and seen many women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia arrested for driving vehicles in protest. While there was no law on the books preventing women from driving, the ultra-conservative Islamic nation did not allow women to receive the permits needed to drive, and the requirements of male guardianship and permission to do most things in public prevented all but the wealthiest of women from even traveling far from home. And, while women were permitted as of 2015 to vote and to hold public office and are allowed to work outside the home, the cost to have a driver has thus far prevented many women from seeking out employment. With the lowering demand for oil and subsequent drop in oil prices, this decree comes as a part of sweeping economic changes that the new king has planned in order to keep Saudi Arabia’s government successful. A committee will have 30 days to determine how the law will be implemented and what, if anything, will have to be changed in order to allow women to drive legally as men do. And, while conservative clerics are clinging to the notion that driving will cause a social downfall or ruin women’s ovaries, the younger generations of Saudis are pushing for changes to make the nation more appealing to foreign visitors as well as themselves. While many might wonder why women driving is such big news in 2017, it is a great leap forward for the last remaining nation that did not allow women to drive.

     So far, 2017 has proven to be full of changes around the world for women’s rights and gender equality activists. India joined multiple nations in passing a law allowing women to take the first day off of their periods each month without penalty if they need to. New York passed a new child marriage law which would ban marriage before the age of 17 completely, and only with a judge’s permission could someone wed at age 17. While the world has a long way to go, seeing as these laws are considered revolutionary, this year has proven that there is forward momentum on critical human issues, and that gender issues are being seen as critical issues in governments across the world.