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Women on The Verge of 2000

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What About Tomorrow?>by Marcia Ann Gillespie
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NEWS
- Activists: The Bottom Line for '99
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-NOW Does Hollywood
-Opinion: Abortion and Crime
-Women on the Verge of 2000
-Mexico City's Women Traffic Cops
-Opinion: Guns and Lobsters
-Indian Women Sue Canadian Feds
- Under Fire: The Year of the Gun
 
 
 
Women around the globe captured headlines in 1999. Feminists and nonfeminists alike, these newsmakers made us sit up and take note, whether we agreed with their actions or not. Here's a sampling of the good, the bad, and the ferocious from the past year.
 
Megawati Sukarnoputri After Indonesia's first free election since 1955, Megawati Sukarnoputri was poised to run the country. Her Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle was the winner of the June parliamentary elections, but by October, the parliament and other government officials had decided not to tap her for the top spot. Sukarnoputri, who had grudgingly supported both East Timorese independence and the presence of U.N. peacekeeping forces there, was appointed vice president instead.
 
Samantha Gellar This February, the Children's Theatre of Charlotte, North Carolina, chose five winners in its annual young playwright's festival but performed only four of the plays. That's because Life Versus the Paperback Romance, by Samantha Gellar, contained "age-inappropriate content" (i.e., lesbian characters). Four months later the 17-year-old's play got top billing in a reading at the celebrated New York Public Theater, with Mary-Louise Parker in the lead role and technical and emotional support from luminaries in the lesbian community like Dorothy Allison and Kate Clinton.
 
Lauryn Hill In 1998, Lauryn Hill broke ground with the release of the rap/reggae/R&B hit, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which went on to capture a dozen major music awards, selling millions of copies. In '99, Hill continued to work on her urban-kid-focused nonprofit Refugee Project and to watch the revolution she had sparked: her articulate, lyrical demand for womanpower (including a no-tolerance policy for child-support dodging: "money-taking, heart-breaking . . . punk domestic violence men") met with nothing but respect from the often misogynistic hip-hop community. The cultural change, given a big boost by Hill, is beginning to pave the way for other fully clothed, self-made women in all musical genres.
Kate Hoey Just a few days after Kate Hoey started her job as Britain's first female sports minister, the Mirror, a conservative daily tabloid, ran her picture with the headline shut up woman. Fat chance. Hoey's impassioned speeches on fox hunting (she supports it), handgun laws (she opposes them), and football (she loves it) have won her an impressive number of converts. But some feminists, who think the sports minister gig is bloody wussy anyway, weren't cheering.
Wan Azizah Ismail When Anwar Ibrahim, a respected deputy prime minister in the Malaysian government, was unceremoniously fired and arrested, his wife, Wan Azizah Ismail, quickly moved into action. The charges against Ibrahim are widely believed to be trumped up by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who is said to be fearful of Ibrahim's popularity and power. Ismail has been campaigning for Ibrahim's freedom since the September 1998 arrest, and in April 1999 she formed the National Justice party, or Keadilan, to fight the oppressive rule of the prime minister. Ismail, an ophthalmologist by profession, is leading the Keadilan, which is campaigning to ban detention without trial, end state controls on the judiciary and the media, and create consensus among other parties in opposition to the prime minister. Ismail has wide popular support and plans to run in the parliamentary elections scheduled for April 2000.
Hussnia Jebara Israel elected an unprecedented 14 women to its 120-member parliament, the Knesset, last May. Also unprecedented was the election of Hussnia Jebara, the first Arab woman to hold a seat. Jebara, a psychologist, ran as a member of the mostly Jewish Meretz party, the only party to establish a quota for female candidates. She intends to press for equal rights for women and Arabs. Israeli feminists are largely supportive.
Janet Reno Having hired a slew of special prosecutors and suffered a barrage of criticism from both left and right, Attorney General Janet Reno was once again under fire in late summer when members of Congress called for her resignation. The brouhaha stemmed from her admission that she'd made mistakes during the 1993 FBI siege in Waco, Texas. Despite relentless controversy, Reno, the nation's first female attorney general, has held the position for almost seven years, longer than anyone else in this century.
Louise Arbour In May, as chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, Louise Arbour indicted the world's most wanted man, Slobodan Milosevic, and four other Yugoslavian leaders. The Canada native garnered global respect and cooperation for the war-crimes tribunals, which had previously been seen by many countries as inefficient and incapable of taking a strong stand on war crimes. She stepped down from her post in September 1999 to join the Canadian Supreme Court, becoming the third woman to sit on that nation's highest court.
Mireya Moscoso In May's elections, Panamanians voted in their first female president by a landslide. Mireya Moscoso gave six of her 13 cabinet posts to women, an unprecedented number for Panama and possibly for all of Latin America, where women hold 11 percent of cabinet positions. Moscoso-like many women leaders around the world-is the widow of the former president, from whose shadow she has not yet emerged. A purported fan of Ronald Reagan, the new president may not be the most progressive of chief executives. She'll have her hands full tackling the country's 13 percent unemployment rate and presiding over the reversion of the Panama Canal to Panama.
Anson Chan The chief secretary for administration for Hong Kong, Anson Chan pledged last March to stay in her powerful position as second-in-command of the government. But while she consistently gets much higher approval ratings than Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa, she's not expected to throw her hat into the ring for the election in 2002. Chan, who has remained a mentor to women officials in the new regime, is expected to continue safeguarding democratic reforms.
Eileen Collins The first woman to command a space shuttle, Eileen Collins launched the Columbia into space this July. In 1995, the Air Force colonel was also the first woman ever selected to be a shuttle pilot. Collins took with her into outer space (in her personal preference kit) a scarf once worn by fellow flight pioneer Amelia Earhart.
Granny D. Doris Haddock, known to her great-grandchildren and now to the rest of the country as Granny D., has been walking across the U.S. to raise awareness about campaign finance reform. The 89-year-old has a long history of activism, from performing in feminist plays in the 1930s to protesting nukes in the 1960s. This year, despite emphysema and arthritis, Granny D. has been trekking ten miles a day, six days a week, hoping to make it from California to Washington, D.C., while speaking to any politician, reporter, or regular person who wants to lace up a pair of sneakers and walk beside her. She's pressing for the passage of bills that will ban soft money contributions from corporations and wealthy groups or individuals.
Carly Fiorina In July, Carly Fiorina became the first woman to head a Fortune 100 company, and one of only three female CEOs in the Fortune 500 when she took the reins at Hewlett-Packard, the world's second-largest computer maker and number 13 on the Fortune 500 list. HP has shown a long commitment to hiring women and minorities. Fiorina, briefly forgetting her math, cavalierly told the press that her appointment proved that there was no glass ceiling.
Elizabeth Dole Combining the usual Republican entres (antiabortionism and pro-creationism) with some popular Democratic fare (child-safety locks on guns and a ban on assault weapons), Elizabeth Dole's politics could chill the bones of the most warmhearted feminist. But no one should be surprised if the first woman nominated to be president by a major party turns out to be a conservative Republican. Some of the public apparently feel that the idea of a woman president is quite radical enough.
Maria T. Vullo This fiery litigator represented the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and several other abortion providers in their fight against the 12 individuals and two organizations responsible for putting doctors' names and personal information on a Web site known as The Nuremberg Files. The defendants denied the site was a hit list, despite the fact that three doctors on it had been killed. Dr. Barnett Slepian, an abortion provider in Buffalo, New York, was crossed off hours after his murder. A federal jury awarded Planned Parenthood $107 million. The defendants have appealed. Vullo has also done pro bono work for Bosnian rape victims, battered women, and low-income women in need of legal help.
Oxygen Media Four of the most powerful women in television-Marcy Carsey, Caryn Mandabach, Geraldine Laybourne, and Oprah Winfrey-joined forces to create a women's Internet and cable channel. Carsey and Mandabach produced Roseanne, among other shows. Laybourne was the head of Disney/ABC Cable and Nickelodeon, and Oprah -well, you know Oprah. Oxygen.com was launched last summer and features financial, parenting, and health pages. The cable channel is set to debut on January 2.
Judit Polgar This summer Judit Polgar became the first woman to reach the semifinals (round five out of seven) in the International Chess Federation's World Knockout Chess Championship. The Hungarian native has been the world's highest-rated female player for a decade, and became the world's youngest grand master at age 14, beating Bobby Fischer's record by one month. Her older sister, Zsuzsa, is a former women's world chess champion.
Juli Inkster The second woman ever to win a modern-day Grand Slam in golf (taking all four major women's championships), Juli Inkster won both the U.S. Women's Open and the LPGA Championship in the same month, completing her sweep of the major tournaments. She took home a prize of $315,000 for the U.S. Women's Open, while Payne Stewart won $625,000 for the men's contest.
Radhia Nasraoui This Tunisian lawyer continues to be harassed and to have her children stalked by the police for daring to defend the human rights of students, communists, Arab nationalists, and other Tunisians. Last summer she was convicted (along with her husband and 15 students and workers whom she had previously represented) of "terrorism" and "insulting the president," among other alleged crimes. Nasraoui was given a six-month suspended sentence, but some of her codefendants are still in jail. She is barred from leaving the country or the capital, which severely limits her ability to perform her job. Her husband, Hamma Hammami, one of the leaders of the unauthorized Tunisian Communist Workers party, is in hiding.
U.S. Women's Soccer Team The finely honed skills and amazing endurance of the U.S. Women's Soccer Team brought a record 900,000-strong crowd to the Rose Bowl for the World Cup finals. It was the largest turn-out ever for a women's sporting event. An unprecedented 40 million TV viewers also tuned in to watch the championship game. The event was the culmination of 27 years of preparation, made possible by Title IX.
Mary Daly A 30-year veteran of Boston College, Mary Daly has made it her policy, almost from the beginning, to teach her feminist ethics course in women-only classes, while offering to tutor men privately. But due to a dubious lawsuit that, ironically, invoked Title IX as its defense, the radical lesbian feminist theologian was suddenly stripped of tenure and her job last spring. Daly countered with her own suit, charging the Jesuit college with denial of due process, breach of contract, and violation of tenure rights. A trial is set for summer 2000.
Hillary Rodham Clinton HRC spent the better part of the year battling on her own behalf, rather than her husband's, as she ostentatiously considered a run for the U.S. Senate seat for New York. She was accused of everything from carpetbagging, to making pathetic apologies for Bill's adultery, to waffling on important issues-all before officially declaring anything. Eight years of White House politics are sure to dog a run, but none of it would change the history-making fact of a First Lady seeking an elected office of her own.
 
Julie Su California attorney Julie Su successfully ended a four-year legal battle on behalf of 102 Thai, Latina, and Latino California garment workers (most of the group are women). The fight against the El Monte Garment Factory and several retailer defendants ended when the last of the firms ponied up a $1.2 million settlement. The plaintiffs, who slept, worked, and ate under armed guard, collected a total of $4 million, and seven of the factory's nine owners are now in jail. The case, filed by the Asian Pacific American Legal Center where Su works, set a legal precedent that led to other victories against sweatshop operators. Although her job representing the workers is done, Su continues to meet with them as friends, helping them find work, English teachers, and doctors.
Steffi Graf The only tennis player, male or female, to win four Grand Slam events four times, and the only one to be ranked number one for a phenomenal 377 weeks, Steffi Graf retired from the game this year. Her 17-year career also included gold and silver Olympic medals. The tenacity that made her number one also netted her criticism for being too serious and not warm and fuzzy enough. She was criticized, for example, when fellow tennis great Monica Seles was stabbed by a deranged Graf fan, while Graf-on a nearby court-kept on playing. She shuns the title of best woman player ever, crediting Martina Navratilova with that honor.
Deepa Mehta Fire, the first of an eagerly awaited trilogy by this fiercely feminist film director, boldly explored lesbianism in Indian culture, sparking violent protests when it was released in India two years ago. The second in the trilogy, Earth, was released in 1999. It examines the partition of India through the eyes of a female servant and the young girl she cares for. Water, the last of the three, is expected to see the big screen in 2000.
The Dinka and the Nuer Women Women delegates representing Southern Sudan's two major ethnic groups, the Dinka and the Nuer, attended a peace conference in March, calling for an end to the country's brutal civil war and signing a regional peace covenant. The women are also building makeshift schools, working to outlaw female genital mutilation, distributing food, and organizing groups of women lawyers, teachers, and widows.
 
 
           
     

Copyright Ms. Magazine 2009