dissabte, 4 d’octubre de 2008


Black Friday in the United States traditionally is the day after Thanksgiving that signals the start of the holiday season sale. At daybreak, people line up before department stores to get the special “early bird” bargains. In Europe, black Saturday falls in the last weekend of July, when the French and other Europeans set off in droves for their Mediterranean holiday destinations, and highways get jammed with traffic.
This contrast could serve as a metaphor for the difference in lifestyles on either side of the Atlantic. Americans work more hours per week and have less vacation time, but they have more money to spend. Not only does a higher percentage of American adults work, but they also work more hours per week and more weeks per year. In 2004, the French worked 28% fewer hours per person than Americans, and the Germans and Dutch each put in 25% fewer hours, and the money they earned was correspondingly lower—almost 30% less income per person than Americans received.
According to the MIT economist Olivier Blanchard, Europeans simply enjoy leisure more than Americans do, even if it means that they have less money. In his view, this difference in attitude explains the income gap between Europe and the US.
But not everybody agrees with Blanchard. Some economists point out that high tax rates in Europe make work less rewarding – and thus leisure more attractive. Other economists see Europe’s powerful labor unions as an important determinant in European attitudes towards work. After all, employees do not negotiate individually the length of the workweek. During past economic downturns, labor unions in Europe negotiated a reduced workweek or more vacation time with no reduction in wages.
Moreover, Blanchard fails to note that the preference for leisure is not gender-neutral. The transatlantic difference in hours worked can be explained in part by comparing the labor input of European women to the input of American women. While American women work 36 hours per week on average, Dutch women put in only 24 hours per week, while German women work 30 hours. French women with a job work on average 34 hours per week, but the percentage of women who work outside the home in France is almost 20% lower than in the US.
Are European females that much lazier than American females? The answer depends on whether one considers the time women in Europe spend on domestic work. The economists Ronald Schettkat and Richard Freeman have calculated that American women spend ten hours per week less on cooking, cleaning, and childcare than European women do. Instead of performing these household jobs themselves, Americans pay other people to do them. Americans eat more often in restaurants, make ample use of laundry, dry-cleaning, and shopping services, and hire nannies to take care of young infants.
Indeed, in the US, one finds all kinds of personal services that do not exist on a similar scale in Europe. A manicure, carwash, or a massage is often only a stone’s throw from one’s home. Doorman buildings provide round-the-clock service to residents and dog-walkers look after pets during the workday. In New York City, one can get help during the weekends to prepare meals for the coming week, with a culinary expert to advise you on the recipes, buy the groceries, and do part of the cooking.
In other words, American women work more hours and use the money they make to hire people to do the tasks that they can’t do because they’re working. By contrast, European women work less and have less money to spend on services. In their “free time,” European women are busy cleaning the house and looking after the children. On balance, therefore, European and American women work about the same amount of hours.
Meanwhile, more wealth is created in the US than in Europe. After all, women professionals do not have to choose between a career and children, but can enjoy both. By spending part of their extra income on household jobs and personal services, American women limit their workload while creating demand for service jobs that wouldn’t exist otherwise. To put it inelegantly, two birds are killed with one stone.
In Europe, no birds get killed at all. Highly educated European women who have children either stay at home or work part-time and get stuck in low-end jobs. They take care of the household and children themselves. Meanwhile, there are not enough service jobs in Europe to put everybody to work. The social benefits paid to the out-of-work increase the tax burden on labor income, which in turn discourages women from full-time work. The leisure trap thus keeps both the best educated and the least educated out of the workplace.

Heleen Mees is an economist and author of a book on European Union law.

by Heleen Mees and Femke van Zeijl.

Truth is often said to be the first casualty in wartime. But if the real truth is told, it is women who are the first casualties. In conflict zones, the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF recently observed, sexual violence usually spreads like an epidemic. Whether it is civil war, pogroms, or other armed conflicts, all too often women’s bodies become part of the battlefield. The victims of large-scale sexual atrocities range from baby girls to old women.
In Darfur, janjaweed militia kidnapped a 12-year-old girl and gang-raped her for a week, pulling her legs so far apart that she was crippled for life. The biggest fear of rape victims in Darfur, however, is that they will never find a husband. Under sharia law, raped women are prosecuted for adultery or fornication. Last year, at least two young women in Sudan were sentenced to death by stoning. As Refugees International observes: “The government is more likely to take action against those who report and document rape than those who commit it.”
In the wars now savaging the Democratic Republic of Congo, rape victims also take most of the blame. After being raped, Congolese women are banished by their husbands and ostracized by their communities. Often they are genitally mutilated by a gunshot or tossed on a fire naked.
In cultures where girls and women are married off and chastity is central to womanhood, all is lost for a woman who loses her honor. The subsequent stigma often is a heavier burden than the assault itself. So it should be no surprise that most of these wounded girls and women keep silent.
During the Balkan wars of the 1990’s, women were raped for the purpose of bearing the enemy’s children. According to European Union estimates, 20,000 women in Bosnia alone were victims of rape. The women have been largely left to themselves, traumatized by their experiences and condemned to a life of poverty.
In 1945, an estimated two million women were victims of the Red Army’s sexual cruelties – not only German women, but also Jewish women in hiding, concentration camp survivors, and resistance fighters. According to the German journalist Ruth Andreas-Friedrich, the shame felt about “lost honor” created an “atmosphere of suicide.” In April 1945, there were more than 5,000 suicides in Berlin. Husbands, fathers, and teachers pressured women and girls to end their own lives after Russian soldiers raped them because their “honor” was their major concern.
For many girls and women, non-marital sex remains worse than death. So it is all the more striking – and painful – that for so long this specific war crime has received little attention. During World War II, the prohibition on rape by soldiers was well established in international law, but the post-war Nuremberg and Tokyo war crimes tribunals prosecuted only a handful of cases.
During the genocide in Rwanda, mass rape was the rule. But sexual assault was included only accidentally – and secondarily – in the Rwanda Tribunal’s indictments. After a Rwandan woman spontaneously declared before the tribunal that she and other women had been raped before the massacre, a female judge followed up and revealed the enormous scale of sexual violence against women. The Rwanda Tribunal was the first in history to describe rape as a possible act of genocide.
In 2001, the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia in The Hague condemned the systematic rape of women as a crime against humanity. In the landmark Foca case, the ICTY convicted three Bosnian Serbs of rape, torture, and enslavement of Muslim women in 1992. Girls, some of them just 12 years old, were gang-raped for weeks.
Yet the perpetrators of wartime mass rape and other forms of sexual violence usually are not prosecuted. Recently, the Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga became the first prisoner to be tried at the International Criminal Court in The Hague for the recruitment of child soldiers. Yet the indictment’s failure to mention violence against women is a “huge shock” to the victims, according to Congolese human rights organizations. In a petition, they asked the ICC to investigate mass rapes committed by all parties in the conflict.
The impunity that is characteristic of these heinous crimes must stop. Rape and other forms of sexual violence against women should be openly discussed by governments, members of parliament, militia leaders, and opinion leaders. Prosecution must become the rule. The ICC and other tribunals must give a clear signal to the perpetrators.
For women who have been victims of rape, there are no monetary benefits, memorials or mourning rituals. That must change as well. There should be a monument to the Unknown Raped Woman at the ICC. Maybe then its judges would pay closer attention to sexual violence against women.