Raised in Hong Kong, and the daughter of Indian immigrants, Panjabi is vice president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) based in the U.S. She explains what her role involves, as well as status of women’s rights in society.
Overall, what is the status of women worldwide?
Unfortunately, women are still unequal in much of the world, including developed countries. There are several major factors that have an impact on women’s equality, including violence, rape and sexual assault; a lack of access to education for girls in many parts of the world; a lack of access to affordable reproductive healthcare; pay disparities; a lack of family-friendly and women-friendly policies in the workplace; the devaluing of work done primarily by women such as domestic work and caregiving work; and inadequate political representation and leadership to name just a few. The work that our organization, NOW, does (in the U.S.) addresses many of these issues, championing policies and legislation that would make equality a reality for the women across the United States.
What priority should work to improve the situation of women?
Achieving equality is complex, and prioritizing one issue over another is difficult because so often these issues are all interrelated. However, if we must start somewhere, we should at least acknowledge that one in three women, globally, will face some kind of violence or sexual violence in her lifetime. We need to recognize as a global community that personal safety and security are some of the most basic needs women should have. Additionally, making sure that women have bodily autonomy to make decisions for themselves about whether or not they want to have children, how many and how far apart is necessary in ensuring their independence and equality. When women aren’t able to make decisions about their reproductive healthcare or are in situations of violence and/or sexual assault, that has a huge impact on their economic security as well.
Describe the utopian world for women.
In my opinion, a utopian world for women would be one where your gender does not determine whether or not you are treated fairly, justly and equitably under the law and by your society, no matter where you reside. In fact, that would be a utopian world for all people.
What are the greatest threats facing women today?
In addition to the issues I mentioned previously, a huge threat to women today is the fact that there are many people out there who don’t believe or quite understand how women are unequal in our society and globally. It’s incredibly important that we continue to advocate for and educate the public at large about the issues that impact women’s lives and show them that not only is it better for women if we implement better policies and laws that ensure their equity but that it’s better for all of us a society and global community when women are treated as and considered equals.
In your view, what is the region where women live better and why?
I believe that there are different policies in different countries that make women’s lives better, but there are always issues regarding women’s equality no matter where you live. We shouldn’t have to compare regions and decide it’s better for women to live here versus living elsewhere. We should be working to ensure that no matter where you are in this world and no matter your gender, that as a woman you are treated equally in your society and under the law.