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Clara Zetkin Avenue
Scurrying around Manhattan on a blustery morning a few weeks ago, I
happened to glance up while waiting for the light to change in front of the public library. Beneath the green and white sign reading Fifth Avenue was another, also green and white, and printed in exactly the same lettering:
Clara Zetkin Avenue. Gee, I thought for a split second, if Rudy Giuliani is naming a street for the grande dame of German socialism, he can't be as bad as I thought. But will New Yorkers really start telling taxi drivers to make a right on Zetkin? Then I saw the bent wires fastening the sign to the post, and realized what was going on: Some lefty prankster was reminding us that the next day, March 8, was International Women's Day.
Well, the great day came and went with barely a ripple of attention here in the United States-although I understand that, over at the United Nations,
Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali gave a speech about the need to do more for women, which in the case of the United Nations shouldn't be too difficult. Maybe the local indifference is why I find myself filled with gloomy thoughts about the worldwide situation of women. Here we are, at the end of the twentieth century, and not only have hundreds of millions of women around the globe yet to obtain even the barest minimum of human rights, but the notion that they are even entitled to such rights is bitterly contested.
Consider, for example, the horrors documented in the State Department's annual human rights report, which focused on women this year for the first time: genital mutilation in Africa and the Middle East, bride burning in
India, sexual slavery in Thailand, forced abortion and sterilization in
China. Imagine the firestorm of international protest if any of these practices were imposed by men on men through racism or colonialism or
Communism! Well, you don't need to imagine: Just compare the decades of global outrage visited, justly, on South Africa's apartheid regime for denying political, civil and property rights to blacks, and the cultural-relativist defense advanced on behalf of Saudi Arabia and other ultra-Islamic regimes for their denial of same to women. Nobody's calling on American universities and city governments to disinvest in those economies. In Iraq and a number of other Middle Eastern countries that are not theocracies, a man can with impunity kill any female relative he feels is "dishonoring" him by unchaste behavior; in Pakistan, the jails are full of women and girls, some only nine years old, whose crime was to be the victims of rape. I suppose Benazir Bhutto will get around to them after she finishes persuading the world that her mother is trying to undermine her government because of a sexist wish to see a son, rather than a daughter,