In this exclusive interview series, we talk to: Leymah Gbowee (Nobel Peace Prize Winner), Leslee Udwin (Director of ‘India’s Daughter’ and Founder of Think Equal), Sheryl WuDunn (Co-Founder, Half the Sky Movement), Dr. Anne Summers (Feminist, Author), Professor Michael Kimmel (Founder, Men & Masculinities), Amy Richards (Founder, Third Wave Foundation & Soap Box Inc), Natasha Walter (Director, Women for Refugee Women), Professor Naila Kabeer (Professor of Gender and Development at the LSE Gender Institute), Laura Bates (Founder, Everyday Sexism), Dr. Dubravka Šimonović (UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women), Jessica Valenti (Feminist, Author) and Inna Shevchenko (Leader, FEMEN). We discuss the realities faced by women around the world, together with the subversion of women’s rights, and look at issues ranging from education, to global conflict, economics, health and policy. We discuss differences in women’s challenges between the developed and developing world, and look at possible solutions for this malignancy in our societal structure.
Following World War II, a series of military tribunals were held, where prominent members of the political, military and economic leadership of the defeated Nazi Germany were prosecuted and sentenced for crimes ranging from planning and initiating wars, to crimes against humanity (outside lines of battle) including the establishment of Jewish Ghettos in Eastern Europe, the widespread use of slave labour and the operation of “Vernichtungslager” (extermination camps such as Auschwitz, Treblinka and Dachau). In recent history, tribunals have opened to hold people to account for crimes committed during the wars in the former Yugoslavia (the ICTY) and the Rwandan Genocides (ICTR) with the International Criminal Courts launching investigations (ongoing) into conflicts in Northern Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic, Darfur (Sudan), and the Republic of Kenya. The enforced slavery and rape of between two and four hundred thousand “comfort women” held in brothels in south-east Asia during World War II, though, remains unprosecuted.
The Rome Statute (which created the International Criminal Court) defines crimes against humanity as, “…particularly odious offenses in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of one or more human beings. They are not isolated or sporadic events, but are part either of a government policy (although the perpetrators need not identify themselves with this policy) or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority. However, murder, extermination, torture, rape, political, racial, or religious persecution and other inhumane acts reach the threshold of crimes against humanity only if they are part of a widespread or systematic practice.”
Against this backdrop of impressive rhetoric, we must consider how (as is noted in ‘Half the Sky’), “it appears that more girls have been killed in the past fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles of the twentieth century. More girls are killed in this routine ‘gendercide’ in any one decade, than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century.” This book continues to discuss how there are over three million women and girls worldwide who can be fairly termed enslaved in the sex trade, “…we are talking about three million people who, in effect, are the property of another person and in many cases could be killed, by their owner, with immunity.”
This statistic doesn’t even include near million people trafficked across international borders every year (to contextualise that, Half the Sky discusses how, ‘in the peak decade of the transatlantic slave trade, in the 1780’s an average of just under eighty thousand slaves were shipped across the Atlantic from Africa to the new world’). Economically, the Global Fund for Women identify how, ” Women perform two-thirds of all labour and produce more than half of the world’s food. Yet, women own only about one percent of the world’s assets, and represent 70 percent of those living in absolute poverty.”
Where one would argue that failure to act is part of, ” a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority” we quickly begin to see that women are facing, and have suffered, one of the greatest human rights atrocities of this century.
In this exclusive interview series, we talk to: Leymah Gbowee (Nobel Peace Prize Winner), Leslee Udwin (Director of ‘India’s Daughter’ and Founder of Think Equal), Sheryl WuDunn (Co-Founder, Half the Sky Movement), Dr. Anne Summers (Feminist, Author), Professor Michael Kimmel (Founder, Men & Masculinities), Amy Richards (Founder, Third Wave Foundation & Soap Box Inc), Natasha Walter (Director, Women for Refugee Women), Professor Naila Kabeer (Professor of Gender and Development at the LSE Gender Institute), Laura Bates (Founder, Everyday Sexism), Dr. Dubravka Šimonović (UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women), Jessica Valenti (Feminist, Author) and Inna Shevchenko (Leader, FEMEN). We discuss the realities faced by women around the world, together with the subversion of women’s rights, and look at issues ranging from education, to global conflict, economics, health and policy. We discuss differences in women’s challenges between the developed and developing world, and look at possible solutions for this malignancy in our societal structure.
Liberian peace and women’s rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Leymah Gbowee is the Newsweek Daily Beast’s Africa columnist. As war ravaged Liberia, Leymah Gbowee realized it is women who bear the greatest burden in prolonged conflicts. She began organizing Christian and Muslim women to demonstrate together, founding Liberian Mass Action for Peace and launching protests and a sex strike. Gbowee’s part in helping to oust Charles Taylor was featured in the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell. Gbowee is a single mother of six, including one adopted daughter, and is based in Accra, Ghana, where she is the executive director of the Women Peace and Security Network (WIPSEN-Africa).
Leymah Gbowee has spoken publically numerous times on the issue of women in conflict situations. She was a panelist at several regional and international conferences, including UNIFEM’s “Women and the Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration and Repatriation (DDRR) Process,” and the United Nations Security Council’s Arria Formula Meeting on women, peace, and security. In October 2007, the Women’s Leadership Board at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government honored Ms. Gbowee with the Blue Ribbon Peace Award. This annual award is given to individuals and organizations that have made a significant contribution to peace-building through innovative strategies that promote women’s leadership in peace processes on the local, national, or international level. Other honors include: Recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, Recipient of the 2010 John Jay Medal for Justice from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Recipient of the 2009 Gruber Prize for Women’s Rights, Recipient of the 2009 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, Recipient of the Women’s eNews 2008 Leaders for the 21st Century Award.
Leslee Udwin was voted by the NY Times the No 2 Most Impactful Woman of 2015 (second to Hillary Clinton), and has been awarded the prestigious Swedish Anna Lindh Human Rights Prize (previously won by Madeleine Albright). She ha also been named Safe’s Global Hero of 2015, Global Thinker by Foreign Policy, and has won the Best Producer Award (women in Film & Television) for her ground-breaking documentary “India’s Daughter”.
A filmmaker (producer and director) and Human Rights Campaigner, Leslee is no stranger to successfully campaigning films. Her productions include “Who Bombed Birmingham” (starring John Hurt) for HBO / Granada TV, which directly led to the release of the ‘Birmingham Six’ after 17 years of wrongful imprisonment, and “Sitting Targets” (for BBC Screen 2) which chronicled her real life struggles against Britain’s most notorious criminal landlord, during which she set a legal precedent in the High Court of England. Her feature films for her production company Assassin Films include “East is East” (awarded upward of 35 other prestigious awards worldwide, including a BAFTA for Best Film, and the London Critics’ Circle Producer of the Year Award for Leslee).
Leslee’s first documentary and her debut as a director, multi-award winning “India’s Daughter”, has been critically acclaimed around the globe, provoked a global discussion about gender equality and violation of the rights of women and girls, and sparked a movement.
The perspective and insights yielded by the 2½ journey whilst making “India’s Daughter”, have led Leslee to be founder and CEO of an NGO (UK and US based) – Equality Studies Global Initiative. The intiative aims to bring the missing 3rd dimension to the world’s school-going population: human rights education in values, respect, empathy, on a compulsory basis and from the first day of a child’s journey at school. Leslee is working with the United Nations Human Rights Office on this global human rights education mission.
Sheryl WuDunn, the first Asian-American reporter to win a Pulitzer Prize, is a business executive, lecturer, and best-selling author. She is co-author of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, a New York Times best-selling book about the challenges facing women around the globe, published in 2009 by Knopf and featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Colbert Report and other network television shows. Ms. WuDunn also helped launch the development of the Half the Sky multimedia effort – creating a thoughtful, effective philanthropic strategy that includes an online social game and a documentary series.
With her husband, Nicholas D. Kristof, she has co-authored two other best-selling books about Asia: Thunder from the East and China Wakes. Ms. WuDunn won a Pulitzer Prize with her husband for covering China, along with the Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Lifetime Achievement. She has also won other journalism prizes, including the George Polk Award and Overseas Press Club awards. Ms. WuDunn has also won a White House Project EPIC award, and she has been a judge for the State Department “Secretary’s Innovation Award for Women’s and Girls’ Empowerment.” In 2011, Newsweek cited Ms. WuDunn as one of the “150 Women Who Shake the World.”
She graduated from Cornell University, where she is a member of the Board of Trustees, a member of the Board’s Finance Committee, a former co-chair of the Board’s Academic Affairs Committee and former member of the $4 billion endowment’s Investment Committee. She earned an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and an M.P.A. from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School, where she was a member of its Advisory Council. Ms. WuDunn received an honorary doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania and Middlebury College.
Anne Summers is a journalist and author who is editor and publisher of Anne Summers Reports. Her latest book is The Misogyny Factor (NewSouth, 2013). Her previous books were The Lost Mother: A Story of Art and Love (MUP, 2009, 2010) and On Luck (MUP 2009). She writes a regular opinion column for the Sydney Morning Herald. In November 2012 she began publishing Anne Summers Reports a lavish free digital magazine that promises to be ‘Sane Factual Relevant’ and which reports on politics, social issues, art, architecture and other subjects not covered adequately by the mainstream media. In September 2013 she began her series of Anne Summers Conversations events with former prime minister Julia Gillard in front of a packed Sydney Opera House.
Anne was chair of the board of Greenpeace International (2000-2006) and Deputy President of Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum (1999-2008). Her book The End of Equality was published in 2003 and her autobiography Ducks on the Pond came out in 1999 She ran the federal Office of the Status of Women (now Office for Women) from 1983 to 1986 when Bob Hawke was Prime Minister and was an advisor, on women’s issues among other things, to Prime Minister Paul Keating for a year prior to the 1993 federal election.
In 1987 in New York she was editor-in-chief of Ms. – America’s landmark feminist magazine – and the following year, with business partner Sandra Yates bought Ms. and Sassy magazines in the second only women-led management buyout in US corporate history. In 1989 she was made an Officer in the Order of Australia for her services to journalism and to women. In 2011, along with three other women, Anne was honoured as an Australian Legend with her image placed on a postage stamp.
In 1975 her book Damned Whores and God’s Police changed the way women were perceived in this country. This bestseller was updated in 1994 and, again, in 2002 and stayed continuously in print until 2008 – an incredible 33 years.
Dr. Michael Kimmel is one of the world’s leading experts on men and masculinities. He is the SUNY Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University. Among his many books are Manhood in America, Angry White Men, The Politics of Manhood, The Gendered Society and the best seller Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. With funding from the MacArthur Foundation, he founded the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities at Stony Brook in 2013.
A tireless advocate of engaging men to support gender equality, Kimmel has lectured at more than 300 college, universities and high schools. He has delivered the International Women’s Day annual lecture at the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council of Europe, and has worked with the Ministers for Gender Equality of Norway, Denmark and Sweden in developing programs for boys and men. He consults widely with corporations, NGOs and public sector organizations on gender equity issues.
He was recently called “the world’s most prominent male feminist” in The Guardian newspaper in London.
Amy Richards is Founder of Third Wave Foundation, and author of Manifesta – After graduating cum laude from Barnard College in 1992 with a degree in Art History, Amy Richards embarked on an unexpected career as a feminist activist, writer, and organizer. What began as a summer project, Freedom Summer ’92, a cross-country voter registration drive, eventually led Amy to co-found the Third Wave Foundation, a national organization for young feminist activists between the ages of 15 and 30. Amy’s leadership and visionary work launched her as a primary spokesperson and leading voice for contemporary feminist issues.
Amy is most popularly known as the author of Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future (co-authored with Jennifer Baumgardner and published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2000 with an anniversary and updated edition published in 2010) and as the voice behind Ask Amy, the online advice column she has run at feminist.com since 1995. Amy is also the author of Opting In: Having a Child Without Losing Yourself, about feminism and motherhood, and the co-author of Grassroots: A Field Guide for Feminist Activism.
For more than a decade, Amy led Third Wave as it grew from a small grassroots organization into a national institution. During her tenure Amy created and sustained the organization’s signature program areas and initiated public education projects such as “I Spy Sexism,” encouraging people to take action on the injustices that they witness every day, and “Why Vote?” Amy was also the interim project director for Twilight: Los Angeles, a film by Anna Deavere Smith, where she oversaw a national educational program that addressed race in America. She has also worked with Scenarios USA helping with the distribution of their teen educational videos, and with the Columbia School of Public Health on a project addressing the long-term negative health consequences of welfare reform. She served as a cultural attaché to the U.S. Embassy in Russia where she consulted on women’s issues in that country. She is also very involved with the organizations on whose boards and advisory committees she serves, including the Sadie Nash Leadership Program, Chicken & Egg Productions, feminist.com, Ms. Magazine, and Fair Fund. In the summer of 2009 Amy was in residence at the writer’s retreat Hedgebrook.
Natasha Walter was born in London in 1967. She read English at St John’s College, Cambridge University, and then went to Harvard as a graduate student on a Frank Knox Fellowship. Her first job was at Vogue magazine, she subsequently worked as a reviewer, columnist and feature writer at the Independent, the Observer and the Guardian and became a regular broadcaster particularly on BBC2’s Newsnight Review and BBC Radio 4’s Front Row. In 1999 she was a judge on the Booker Prize, and in 2013 a judge on the Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize). In 2014-2015 she was the Humanitas Visiting Professor in Women’s Rights at Kings College, Cambridge University.
In 1998 her first book, The New Feminism, was published. She is a passionate advocate for the rights of women and children who seek asylum in the UK , and in 2006 she founded the charity Women for Refugee Women. Her second book, Living Dolls: the Return of Sexism, was published in 2010. Natasha’s first novel, A Quiet Life, will be published in June 2016.
Naila Kabeer is Professor of Gender and Development at the Gender Institute, London School of Economics and Political Science. Prior to that, she was Professor of Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at London University and Professorial Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex where she worked for many years. She has also worked as a Senior Research Fellow at the Department for International Development, UK between 2009-2010. She was the Kerstin Hesselgren Professor at the University of Goteberg, Sweden in 2004-2005 and Senior Sabaticant with IDRC Regional Office in South Asia in 2005-2006.
Her research interests include gender, poverty, social exclusion, labour markets and livelihoods, social protection and citizenship and much of her research is focused on South and South East Asia. Her publications include Reversed realities: gender hierarchies in development thought, The power to choose: Bangladeshi women and labour supply decision-making in London and Dhaka and, more recently, Gender and social protection in the informal economy and Can the MDGs provide a pathway to social justice? The challenge of intersecting inequalities. She has carried out extensive training and advisory work with national and international NGOs (including Oxfam, ActionAid, Women for Women International, BRAC, PRADAN and Nijera Kori) as well as for a number of international development agencies (including the UNDP, UNICEF, World Bank, SIDA, NORAD and UN Women). She is currently on advisory editorial committee for the journals Feminist Economics, Development and Change, Gender and Development and on the board of the Feminist Review Trust.
Laura Bates is the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, an ever-increasing collection of over 100,000 testimonies of gender inequality. The project has expanded into over 20 countries worldwide and become internationally renowned, featuring in media from the New York Times to the Times of India.
Laura writes regularly for the Guardian, Independent and TIME among others. She was the recipient of the Georgina Henry Women in Journalism award for Innovation at the 2015 British Press Awards.
Laura works closely with politicians, schools and universities worldwide, as well as bodies from the United Nations to the Council of Europe to combat gender inequality. She is also Contributor for Women Under Siege, a New York-based organisation working against the use of rape as a tool of war in conflict zones worldwide, and she is Patron of Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Support, part of the Rape Crisis network.
Laura was awarded a British Empire Medal in the 2015 Queen’s Birthday Honours List. She has been named a Woman of the Year by The Sunday Times, Cosmopolitan, and Red magazine and was named 9th on the BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour Power List 2014. She received the 2014 Oxford Internet Institute Internet and Society Award alongside Tim Berners Lee.
Laura’s first book, Everyday Sexism, was published by Simon and Schuster in 2014 and her second, Girl Up, will be published in April 2016. Everyday Sexism was shortlisted for the Waterstone’s Book of the Year award and Political Book Awards Polemic of the Year, and named one of the Bookseller’s Top 10 Non Fiction Books of the Year.
Dr. Dubravka Šimonović was appointed as Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2015, to recommend measures, ways and means, at the national, regional and international levels, to eliminate violence against women and its causes, and to remedy its consequences. Ms. Šimonović has been member of the CEDAW Committee from 2002 to 2014. She headed the Human Rights Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Croatia and was the Minister Plenipotentiary at the Permanent Mission of Croatia to the UN in New York. She was also Ambassador to the OSCE and UN in Vienna. She co-chaired the Ad hoc Committee (CAHVIO) of the Council of Europe that elaborated the Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention).She has a PhD in Family Law and published books and articles on human rights and women’s rights. Learn more, log on to:
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
Jessica Valenti – called one of the Top 100 Inspiring Women in the world – is a columnist for theGuardian US and the author of four books on feminism, politics and culture. Her third book, The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women, won the 2010 Independent Publisher Book Award and was made into a documentary by the Media Education Foundation. She is also editor of the anthology Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, which was named one of Publishers Weekly’s Top 100 Books of 2009.
She founded Feministing.com, which Columbia Journalism Review called “head and shoulders above almost any writing on women’s issues in mainstream media.” Her writing has appeared inThe New York Times, The Washington Post, The Nation, The Guardian (UK), The American Prospect, Ms. magazine, Salon and Bitch magazine. She has won an IBIS Reproductive Health Evidence in Activism Award, a Choice USA Generation award and the 2011 Hillman Journalism Prize for her work with Feministing.
Jessica is also a widely sought-after speaker who gives speeches at colleges, organizations and events across the country and abroad. She is also frequent media commentator and has appeared on The Colbert Report, CNN, MSNBC, PBS and TODAY show, among others. She received her Masters degree in Women’s and Gender Studies from Rutgers University.
Inna Shevchenko is an activist, feminist campaigner, speaker and writer.
She is the actual leader of International women’s movement FEMEN, the worldwide known movement of topless activists that stage their manifestations against patriarchy, especially dictatorship, religion, and the sex industry.
Shevchenko is a high-profile activist and a campaigner. She was born in Ukraine where she grew up and studied journalism in Taras Shevchenko National University in Kiev and worked as a press-officer of Kiev’s city mayor. She joined FEMEN in 2009.
In 2011 she and 2 other FEMEN members have been brutally tortured in Belarus by KGB after FEMEN’s topless protest in support of political prisoners in Belarus, Minsk.in
In 2013 she was granted political asylum in France. Inna fled Ukraine right after her famous demonstration against union between church and state when she cut-down with a chainsaw a 7-metre high Christian cross that was located in the centre of Kiev illegally. The demonstration initiated big debates. Main Russian TV channel reported a false information that the cross was a memorial for victims of stalinism. After that, Shevchenko has became a target for death threats and the former Ukrainian president Yankovich called for her arrest.
In France she initiated a transformation of Ukrainian FEMEN group into an International movement. Inna is curating the work of dozen of FEMEN branches from Paris where she established a training base for feminists activists.
In December 2012, the French magazine Madame Figaro included Shevchenko in its list of the world`s top 20 iconic women of the year. Shevchenko is also a contributor to international press as a writer and an often speaker at feminists, secularists and humanists events across the globe.
Q: What does it mean to be a woman in the modern world?
[Leymah Gbowee] This question comes with a lot of misconception about the interaction between women in the developed and developing world. When it comes to the issue of rights, in both developed and developing worlds there are different understandings and interactions of those rights. Whilst women have a global understanding of what rights may be, there is a line dividing how people interact culturally. So, if you’re asking how it feels to be a woman from the developing world in the developed world: when I’m in a developing world, I understand my world. When I’m in the developed world, there’s a lot of contradiction and confusion because this is not my reality. The way I interact with the developed world is on the basis of how the developed world has been projected to me as a free, equal place for women. But then you come in to this world and see huge disparities in pay, increases in violence and abuse, conversations about sexual and reproductive health and rights being led by men instead of women, and you ask yourself, “So, why do we have such a contradiction?” Whereas in my world, reproductive health and rights conversations are primarily championed by women. You rarely ever see men on a panel or on TV talking about family planning or birth control. All the advocacy and public conversations around these things are led by women. So, when it comes to the question of “developed” and “developing”, it all has to do with the misconceptions and stereotypes people hold about how other worlds operate.
[Leslee Udwin] Being a woman in today’s world is extremely difficult, frustrating and feels unjust and oppressive; all the dark adjectives I’m afraid. The rigid patriarchal system that has existed since time immemorial has created gender inequality and insists on it stubbornly.
Whether you’re in the developing or developed world, being a woman is hard- it’s just a matter of degree and characteristic country to country. I’m utterly convinced of this.
Generally, and everywhere- as a woman, you have to actively, constantly, fight against the restrictions imposed by patriarchal structures. You have to fight by having to prove your worth. As a documentary film-maker, it was assumed that I [as a woman] was not up to the ‘challenge,’ the dangers, the difficulties, the legal-hurdles. You feel routinely patronised as a woman, assumed to be less-capable than a man, assumed to be weaker. In most societies, you have to fight for equal pay to do the same work…. You have to fight objectification and fight being judged by a cynical media industry that sexualises you.
[Anne Summers] It depends where they live. For some women, the opportunities have never been greater; for others, they are few..
Hillary Clinton has said that it’s never been a better time to be a woman, and that any woman, wherever she is- is better off than she would have been in the past. In the broadest sense this is true, but women around the world are experiencing so many problems that I would be reluctant to generalise.
In developed ‘western’ countries, women’s legal status has improved vastly from a century ago and women have virtually-equal rights when it comes to participating in society. Those equal rights however, are not translated into equal opportunity.
Every country, every demographic, every group of women is still treated differently and un-equally when compared with men (and we see this very graphically at the highest levels in politics).
[Professor Michael Kimmel] Being a researcher, not to mention, being a guy, I think I can tell you what women say to researchers more easily than I can pronounce on what women think. For most women, being a woman today means that you can be anything you want to be- and that has both good and bad parts.
Research shows that women believe that there should no obstacles to their entering any field to do anything they want, and achieving any dreams they have. They feel they should be able to integrate work and family life, and be as independent and autonomous as men are. However, if you can now be anything you want, it’s inevitable that you will bump-up against certain obstacles in getting there.
A lot of woman feel that in order to be a successful woman today, you have to be perfect in every-arena. You have to be the best mum ever, the most dedicated worker ever, the most fantastic spouse, and so on. The increased pressure on women makes them feel that as much as you can have it all, that you have to now do it all too.
[Amy Richards] In this decade, the very notion of what it means to be a man or a woman has been called into question. On the one hand, this is beautiful- it’s taking us to a place of individuality, recognising that our strengths and weaknesses are individual rather than being ascribed by our gender or sex. For too long, we [women] have been limited by not being valued enough and men have been limited by society’s views on masculinity. This is new territory… For centuries, we’ve been dependent on being ‘men’ or ‘women’ and even if politically, we’re ready for this new world, it could well-be that it will take people longer to accept this as being the way things are.
Right here, right now, in 2016, it’s a powerful moment to be a woman, but a particular type of woman. If you’re a rich, highly-educated or heterosexual woman… it’s a great time, and you’ll be thriving in a woman-positive culture. There are still however, a vast number who are struggling and we can’t just look at how well women have ascended, we have to look at the many more who are still yet to.
In my generation, the value of Women has accelerated but I’ve also seen the numbers struggling grow triple-fold. The issues of why women are struggling has been suppressed.
In most other parts of the world, if there is a percentage of people experiencing violence at home, eating disorders, poverty and so on – those communities and governments pause and ask what’s happening in their society which is causing this. In the United States? We say ‘what’s happening to YOU that means YOU are having this problem…’ that’s becoming more pronounced globally. If YOU are struggling, it’s considered YOUR problem and often the societal or systemic circumstances behind why are ignored.
[Professor Naila Kabeer] I think we have to start with a distinction. Across the world, there are men and women who have become something akin to ‘global citizens,’ these rich, affluent individuals live a very unique and privileged life, occupying a space very different from the rest of us. So let’s put them to one side.
For most people from poorer countries, life is characterised by risk, uncertainty and insecurity. Nothing is guaranteed. You feel you are not in control of your circumstances and destiny, and there is no functioning state that you can turn to when you need support. Women are more vulnerable in these contexts because they are far more dependent on others around them, particularly the dominant men in their families. They have to cope with life from a position of dependency. They have to live with the knowledge that no matter how hard they try, things may not turn out as they would like because they are dependent on the good will and discretion of others, very often for their very survival. Their vulnerability is partly a product of the fact that there may not be state support or civil society organizations or market opportunities that might help to mitigate their situation of dependency.
[Laura Bates] The question of what it means to be a woman in today’s world has a million answers and that is part of the problem.
In some ways, to be a woman in the modern world means you’re empowered, powerful, ambitious, have opportunities (that for many generations women didn’t have)- but for many women around the world, their experience is quite different. These women are silenced, face inequality, and are the victims of physical or sexual violence (impacting 1 in 3 women worldwide).
We live in a time of both enormous progress and empowerment for women, but against a background of huge inequality, with a long way to go.
[Dr. Dubravka Šimonović] I would say that be a woman in the modern world means to be able to face and efficiently respond to different challenges. Nowadays in many societies, the role of women is no longer associated exclusively with the care of the household and the children. The most significant is increased number of women with education, reaching or even surpassing that of men in many areas of the world, while in some others, like South and West Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa, women continue to be deeply disadvantaged. Their education and presence in the work force is growing, and they are now often performing jobs traditionally assigned to men. In many countries, women are advancing and claiming their right to substantial equality with men in all the spheres of life and many are struggling, also at a public level, to obtain that, while in others, women are still kept outside the public debate, remaining unaware of their own human rights. Indeed, differences exist among and within countries, where race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status, together with gender, are factors that influence deeply women’s lives and perspectives. Depending on these variables, the progresses made and the problems still present may differ a lot. However, I think that at least some common feature is shared by majority of woman in the modern world, meaning the presence of some form of gender based discrimination or gender based violence in their lives. As I said at the beginning, to be a woman in the modern world means to be able to respond to lot of different challenges including sex and gender based discrimination. Daughters, students, mothers, workers, wives, grandmothers and widows: these are only few of the roles women are asked to interpret today. In all of them, a great deal of gender based social norms determines their life. Indeed, discriminatory gender stereotyping in itself is a pervasive human rights violation. As has been underlined by the CEDAW Committee in its General Recommendation No. 19: “Traditional attitudes by which women are regarded as subordinate to men or as having stereotyped roles perpetuate widespread practices involving violence or coercion….” For example, it is a form of violence when, in the name of a cultural and traditional standard, a girl is subjected to genital mutilation, loosing forever the possibility to enjoy and decide for her own sexual and reproductive life. It is again a form of violence when a woman is a victim of traffic, forced to give her body to strangers and used as a tool in the hands of the ones who control her life. It is a form of violence against the girl child is forced or even kidnaped for a “forced marriage” and deprived of her childhood and education. It a form of violence the fact that a mother in one part of the world is forced to witness the death of her children, because of hunger or sickness, and the fact that many women are dying during the childbirth due to un availability of medical services. “Gender-based violence is the most atrocious manifestation of the systematic and widespread discrimination and inequality that women and girls continue to face around the world. Violence against women affects one in three women globally”. Therefore, being a woman today means to be ready to fight for your rights and for a life free from violence.
[Jessica Valenti] We’re at an interesting time for women… we have so many rights, and have come so far… and enjoy a lot of rights and privileges that we’ve fought hard for. The strange downside is that we have a veneer of ‘work being finished.’ There is a superficial idea being put-forward that women have come so far and have done so much that the work of feminism is done. This is a very seductive, ‘you go girl!’ statement, and something I find interesting, and a little strange.
Right now in the USA, Hillary Clinton’s run for the presidential nomination is impacting the way we’re talking about gender and women’s issues. Here we have a woman who is the democratic front-runner for president, and so it’s very easy for us to sit back and go ‘wow, look at how far we’ve come!’ but…. At the same time… she’s facing an extraordinary amount of sexism.
Women have come a long way, but we have a long way yet to go.
[Inna Shevchenko] As 100 years ago, same now, to be a woman is rather challenging by definition. Many will argue that society moved forward in the last decades and women got more rights. And such statement will be fair enough. Yes, women got more rights as society evolved, however, they still have less rights and opportunities than male members of the society. The gap remains visible and such a fundamental aspects of egalitarian society as equal pay or job opportunities, childcare etc, security remain anti-women even in the most develop and so-called democratic states.
Moreover, the historical oppressors of women, such as religious institutions, sex-industry, dictatorship weren’t abolished and continue to destroy destinies of many of my fellow sisters every day across the globe. To give a birth to a girl in some Indian provinces is considered a bad omen which leads to killing of the new born females, in the Middle East and Islamic states women are often obliged to hide themselves from society under the dark veils as if they are guilty for being born women, in Eastern European, African and Asian countries women are often forced (either by someone or by the situation) into sex-slavery. Pope Francis is campaigning across the globe to forbid abortion for women, Erdogan is claiming politics is not a woman’s issue, female mayor of Cologne states that women should have a particular code of conduct and stay on the distance from foreign men… To be a woman today, means to participate a life quest for survival.
Q: What does it mean to be a man in the modern world?
[Professor Michael Kimmel] For the past few decades, the story has been that men’s lives have been changing dramatically, while their attitudes about “being a man” haven’t shifted as much. The workplace of today looks nothing like the set of ‘Mad-Men’ – my father’s life looked like Don Draper’s, I grew up thinking my life would be like Don Draper’s but it looked nothing like that, but my 17-year-old son has no such expectations.
There have been enormous changes in men’s working lives and relationships. Statistics show that men are doing far more childcare and housework than they ever have been for example. Although our lives were changing, the ideology of masculinity had been staying relatively the same. We were charting a gap between what men thought it meant to be a man, and the lives they were actually living.
Recent data suggests that the ideology of masculinity has begun to shift. Men are now incorporating into that traditional definition of masculinity, qualities like caregiving, affection and nurturing alongside strength, stoicism and power.
This change of ideology has signified the modern man..
Q: How did feminism come into your life?
[Anne Summers] I was around 20 when I first realised the inequality women were facing. I was at university, doing what I wanted to do, and living with freedom. At that time, I didn’t see any impediments or restrictions on my life because I was a woman. I learned (mainly through reading, initially) that I would be denied equal pay when I left university and went out into the workforce and that I would be expected to give-up my ambitions in order to have children, and that society depended on this structure.
My initial journey into feminism (what was then called women’s liberation) was through Marxism which taught me that the perpetuation of society and the state was dependent on women’s labour.
When I left university, the very first job I went for was with the ABC (Australia’s equivalent of the BBC). I didn’t get the job, but when I looked at the pay-scales (which were published) I saw that, as a female graduate, I would have received less pay than a boy who had received just a high-school education. This was at a time before it was illegal to not have equal-pay, but in truth the law hasn’t had a huge impact, and these practices continue- even today.
Imagine how that made me feel? A boy with just a high-school education was able to earn more money, for the same job, as a girl who had been to university…
[Jessica Valenti] Like many women, I was probably always a feminist. I always had an acute sense of what was fair and unfair and noticed things that were sexist, albeit perhaps without the language to describe them as-such.
It wasn’t until I first took a gender-studies class, and learned about what feminism was, that I called myself one. It was a personal transformation followed by a political one… It’s like one day you think, ‘hey! There’s nothing wrong with you! There’s nothing wrong with the fact that you’re smart, opinionated and occasionally loud! The fact that those qualities are not respected in women isn’t because you’re bad, it’s because society is…’
We are living at perhaps the most important moment in feminism, a lot of which is due to the internet. 10 years ago, if you were interested in feminism or were a feminist, you actively sought out feminist texts or organisations. Young men and women are often coming to feminism by accident now, they will see something that’s been re-blogged… they will see something in a google search… I’ve been speaking at colleges on this topic for about 10 years. I always ask people, “who here identifies as a feminist?” a decade ago, 3 people in a room of 100 would raise their hand. Now? Almost everyone does.
The landscape of feminism has changed dramatically in terms of who identifies as feminist, how active people are on the issue, and how much feminist issues are considered in the mainstream. When female stereotypes are put forward now? They’re often beaten-back in a way that simply didn’t happen years ago.
Technology is opening the conversation too. Abortion for example is still a stigmatised issue, but the fact that we have hashtag campaigns like #ShoutYourAbortion and the fact that people are telling their abortion stories shows that these conversations are happening in a way that was unheard of before. Women can engage with feminism and activism in a way that feels comfortable, they can read and remain anonymous or be more active.
Women can choose their own adventure in feminism.
Q: What does feminism mean to you?
[Professor Michael Kimmel] Feminism is nothing more than the belief in gender-equality, and coming from a country from the United States or Britain, one knows that the ideas of what’s right, fair, democratic, just and egalitarian are a part of our core values as a society. The question is not why I support gender-equality, but why doesn’t everyone?
Women and men are not equal, they should be. Period. If you believe that observation? You support feminism too.
I became an activist for gender-equality because the women in my life had experienced discrimination and violence, and told me about it. I thought it was wrong, and decided to do something about it! You know what? Every single man reading this article will know what this feels like. Every single man reading this knows what it’s like to love women, support them, and want them to thrive. Why? Every man is a son, a father, a husband, a partner, a lover, a friend, a colleague… we know what it’s like, we know the stories women tell us, and it’s time for us to put into practice how we support that….
[Amy Richards] Over the years, I’ve evolved my definitions of, and relationship to, feminism. Some of this has just been the confidence and comfort you get with age.
Initially, I was very dependent upon feminism. It had been ascribed to me through textbooks, organisations and campaigns. I saw feminism as a movement on the margins that was pushing towards the centre. Over the past 40 years, I’ve seen a more diffuse feminism that’s in our homes, and something we carry with us every day.
More people are now able to connect with feminism in a way that feels unique to them, but the danger is that when someone says ‘where’s the feminist movement?’ we don’t have those 10 lobbying organisations that are 1 million strong, but rather we have 1 million organisations that are 100 strong.
Initially, feminism was about changing policy, and creating laws that are more inclusive, and make-up for where society has lacked. It’s been about giving an identity to the struggles women face against each-other, and against men. In this sense, feminism had a legal and judicial task.
I was raised with equal pay laws, with sexual harassment being illegal, with sexual assault being illegal and yet all of these things still happen. What’s contributed to the conversation more recently has been the notion of what people can do individually that amplifies the political and legal changes we have already seen.
I used to say that feminism followed the dictionary definition around the full social, political and economic equality of all people. That has value still, but for me… this makes us feel divided around our differences, and not unified. We’re meant to think that if we’re gay, we’re marginalised, that if we have an alcoholic parent, we’re marginalised, that if we’re poor, we’re marginalised and that the forces keeping us in that situation are the same.
Feminism is about bringing more of our whole and true selves forward, and seeing these factors as strengths and weaknesses. It’s society that says we’re broken, but you know what? We all are and why not unify around that!
[Laura Bates] Everybody deserves to be treated equally, regardless of their sex. Very simply and clearly, that’s what feminism means to me.
Believing that women have the right to economic, social and political equality to men is the basis of feminism- and if you apply that definition, I hope very few people would be able to say they are not feminists.
I came to feminism firstly, through personal experiences of inequality, sexual violence and harassment. In 2012, I had a group of such experiences in a relatively short space of time and that prompted me to talk to other women and girls and ask them if they’d experienced these things too. I was completely overwhelmed by the responses. I thought that perhaps one or two women would have an experience to share from some point in their lives, but every single woman I spoke to shared experiences that happened to them every single day. Women told me about experiences they’d had on the way to meet me that day, or how in their workplace, male colleagues would take clients to a strip-club at lunchtime and missed out on deals. They told me how they were followed in the street, licked, touched, harassed, abused, you name it…
The severity and universality of sexism shocked me. It made me realise how little awareness there was around it.
The majority of women I spoke to told me that until I asked them outright about their experiences, they had never told anyone. Why? They thought it was just normal life and didn’t want to make a fuss.
Sexism is a major problem, affecting women’s lives on a daily basis.
[Inna Shevchenko] I learned about feminism quite late, when I was 19. I was born and grew up in Ukraine, the country where women work full time, often have few jobs, and take care of house and family. I always saw strong women around me, they all were strong and had a hard life… They were strong but not independent. Nobody ever talked about women’s conditions, rights. I was studying journalism in the best university of Ukraine where during 5 years of my studies feminism was never mentioned. I actually learned about feminist ideas and history when I joined FEMEN, the only visible women’s group in Ukraine. We had to learn about feminism ourselves, first expressing anger and outrage about our own conditions, conditions of our mothers, sisters, after reading literature and combining our own experiences with what we learned from the academic books.
Today, being convinced and proud feminist, I believe feminism is one of the most beautiful ideas, this idea is in the heart of humanism. As many other beautiful and necessary ideas for the changes and development of society, feminism have suffered a lot of criticism, have been and often is misunderstood or deliberately misinterpreted. Which simply reveals that feminism is a threat for today’s system and the representatives of patriarchy consider feminism as a danger to their system and status. Feminism is an idea of equality, and nothing else. Feminism is a way to build a society in which one group can not dominate over another, in which there are no privileged and oppressed, in which opportunities are given to all, not to selected. Feminism is in the heart of fighting all forms of inequality and discrimination because it is an idea created and defended by the most unequal and discriminated, the women.
Q: Why do we put women on a pedestal, yet subvert them?
[Professor Naila Kabeer] We need to topple women off the pedestal, they shouldn’t be up there. I once saw a poster responding to the idea that ‘women are from Venus, men are from Mars’ which said very simply: men are from earth, women are from earth, deal with it!
Pedestals are not the place to put women, you are putting way too much responsibility on a group of people who are just as human as everyone else, as likely to be as horrible as everyone else, and as likely to be nice. It is true of course that women are responsible for much of the caring work in the world, but many of them did not have much of a choice about it. It was assigned to them by their society and other options were closed off.
Often when a woman does something horrible, people often gasp and say, ‘how could a woman do that?’ I think, so what that she’s a woman? There is no inherent virtue in being a woman, she can be just as awful as the next person. We need to knock women off the pedestal, and put them back to earth like everyone else but treat them equally with everyone else.
Your gender should be as irrelevant an aspect of yourself as your ethnic origin. When I’m working in the UK it’s inevitable that I bring a certain experience because I grew up and was educated in India and Bangladesh. However who I am today is unrecognisable from who I was in those days. To pin an identity on you based on your gender or your ethnicity singles you out, it doesn’t put you on a pedestal, it puts you on another planet.
Q: What is the scale of violence and injustices against women in our world?
[Dr. Dubravka Šimonović] As I anticipated before, today violence is still present in the lives of majority of woman around the globe and, therefore, it is still widespread, systemic and structural and is still too often accepted and tolerated. “Intimate-partner violence is a problem affecting millions of women all over the world. Research on homicide resulting from intimate-partner violence reflects, almost without exception, that females are at greater risk than males, and that the majority of female homicide victims are killed by male intimate partners. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime studies also confirm that in many countries, intimate partner/family-related homicide is the major cause of female homicides.” Moreover, “the killing of women accused of sorcery/witchcraft has been reported as a significant phenomenon in countries in Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands”. Or again, “certain cultural norms and beliefs are the causal factors of harmful practices resulting in violence against women, such as crimes committed in the name of “honor””. In addition, “during armed conflict, women experience all forms of physical, sexual and psychological violence, perpetrated by both State and non-State actors, including unlawful killings. Such violence is often used as a weapon of war, to punish or dehumanize women and girls, and to persecute the community to which they belong”. In all these cases, many are the factors that contribute to the maintenance of the status quo in different areas. Economic conditions, technological progress, geographical and physical realities are added to cultural conventions, stereotypes, ignorance and traditions. Moreover, where the patriarchal system is deeply rooted in the society, women are subordinated and not represented enough, not taking part in fundamental decision making processes or policies building decisions. Moreover, it is important to notice that the concept of violence against women cannot be separated from that of discrimination against women, the two being intertwined since gender based on understanding that gender based violence against women is a of sex based discrimination against women. Once we recognize this fact, we can easily see how violence and discrimination are, unfortunately, far from being eradicated from any society around the world. Gender pay gap as a form of sex based discrimination, and female genital mutilation as form of gender based violence are two forms of discrimination against women which affects deeply, although evidently in different ways, the lives of women and girls. Domestic violence, in its different manifestations, is another widespread issue, which as a negative feature connect women throughout the world. Importantly, there is a widespread consciousness of these problems and at the legislative level big steps have been taken both at the international and regional level. However, these steps are still somehow fragmented and often not followed fully by those made at the domestic level, where the implementation of international standards is rarely a priority and the prevention and reparations for these crimes not prioritized. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the Security Council resolutions on violence against women in conflicts, the universal Agenda for Sustainable Development with its “goal number 5” on achievement of gender equality and empowerment of women and girls and elimination all forms of violence against women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation and the elimination of all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation, together with the CEDAW with its OP and DEVAW as well as other core international human rights treaties, provide a global framework and base for fasted progress. Implementation gap is huge and the role of the UN and its mechanisms like this mandate of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women should be to guide the Member State to understand how they could build from there, underlining that none of them is free from this task, given the widespread and persistent presence of violence and discrimination against women worldwide.
Q: What are the consequences of violence and injustice against women in our world?
[Dr. Dubravka Šimonović] The results of this situation are various and they may be difficult to ascertain because the crimes are often invisible and there is very little data on the subject. First, there are some consequences, which are undoubtedly more visible than others. For example, “in certain cultural contexts, especially those in which female genital mutilation is practiced, a woman is denied her of female sexuality through the mutilation of the body and this has to be seen as a violation of a fundamental human right to bodily integrity but also to a human dignity”. “Women who are at the receiving end of violence have serious health and psychological problems. What is termed the “traumatic syndrome of abused women” includes lack of volitional autonomy, fear, anguish, depression and in some cases suicide”. Therefore, consequences are often practical, economic, social and political but also psychological and intimate. A clear consequence of gender based violence against women is violation or deprivation of their human rights often with impunity for a such violence and subordination of women to life in which such violence is accepted as a private matter under the social norms and family honor. Stigma and fear of shame prevents many women from living independent lives. This imposed family honor curtails their movement, so that women in many parts of the world do not venture out alone. Imposed honor rule requires that they dress in a manner that is “unprovocative” so that no-one can say that “they asked for it” if they are violently assaulted. Denying women and girls the right to live safely, we are denying basic human rights to half of the human beings. Moreover, the consequences of violence, injustices and discrimination of women are also economical. In a study conducted by KPMG in South Africa, the experts underlined that, “using a conservative estimate, gender-based violence costs South Africa between R28.4 billion and R42.4 billion per year – or between 0.9% and 1.3% of GDP annually. Individuals and families continue to bear the greatest proportion of costs due to GBV”. They identified these costs as: direct (or tangible), indirect (or intangible) and opportunity costs. Direct, or tangible, costs are those representing actual paid expenses, or real money spent, on the provision of services, facilities, or expenses incurred by the victim or the household. Indirect, or intangible, costs are those which don’t have a monetary value, such as pain, fear and suffering or social and psychological costs of violence. Opportunity costs, sometimes also regarded as indirect costs, are the costs foregone when a victim’s options are limited by the circumstances of violence, such as being in or leaving a violent relationship. They represent the loss of potential which have a monetary value that can be estimated. As the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, I am particularly aware of the fundamental implications within our societies of the widespread presence of the different forms of violence against girls and women and therefore I think that it would be fundamental for men and boys to understand their role in bringing about change in attitudes, relationships and access to resources and decision making which are critical for the promotion of gender equality and the full enjoyment of all human rights by women, which would eventually lead to the elimination of violence against them.
Q: What is the scale and reality of sexism faced by women?
[Laura Bates] Sexism is a huge, severe problem. We’ve received over 100,000 testimonies from women all over the world, and find there are certain themes which come up over and over again.
In the UK, when women try to speak-out against gender equality we’re often told ‘you don’t know how lucky you are! Look at what women are dealing with elsewhere!’ but here’s the thing, in the UK every year 54,000 women lose their jobs as a result of paternity discrimination, 85,000 women are raped and 400,000 sexually assaulted. The idea that women simply aren’t facing these severe issues in the UK is false.
The issues women face are complex and interconnected. If we look at the objectification of women in the media or the harassment of women in the street, we see the same words and slurs used that may be directed at a woman facing discrimination in a meeting, or at the victim of domestic abuse.
To write-off and excuse certain elements of sexism and misogyny is simply wrong, especially when we live in a world with an epidemic of violence, abuse and inequality against women.
The connection between sexism and other forms of prejudice is important. We often hear from women who are dealing with sexism interlocking-with and overlaid onto other forms of discrimination: racism, ageism, homophobia, transphobia, disable-ism and so on. We received a story from a disabled woman who was asked to do a pole-dance around her walking stick, a story from a woman who was in public with her female partner and they were chased down the street by a man asking to watch and join in… We have to realise that there is an intersectional relationship between sexism and these other forms of discrimination, and we have to realise therefore that the solutions are intersectional too.
The connection between the stories we hear from women and the stories we hear from men are important. Sexism is not a women’s issue, it’s a human rights issue. In the same week for example, we heard from a woman who was denied a promotion because she was considered a ‘maternity risk,’ and a man who was not only denied parental-leave, but who was ridiculed in the workplace for asking for it! This is just one example of the ridiculous and outdated gender stereotypes that still exist in our society.
It is in everyone’s interests to fight sexism. This is not about vilifying men, or victimising women, it’s about people standing up to prejudice.
[Jessica Valenti] The level of sexism women face in the USA is so intense and so all-encompassing that it’s hard to pick-out. It’s become in-grained in our culture.
Explicit sexism is easy to point-out; anti-choice policies, domestic violence, sexual assault, the lack of resources for the victims of sexual assault, and so on. What is less explicit are the forms of sexism which are part of who we are as a culture; how we’re raised, the way men talk to us on the street when we’re walking to school or work… those things, which happen so frequently, drastically shape who you are.
When you grow up in a misogynist society, it challenges the very fundamentals of who you are and who you’re allowed to become. It shapes your psyche and personality.
Q: To what extent is society (all of us) culpable in the way women and girls are treated?
[Inna Shevchenko] I believe society is guilty for the unfair treatment of women and the lack of progress. I don’t believe that political changes can be made only by those who are in the parliaments, I am convinced that real changes in society are made by the citizens, not presidents! If domestic violence, street harassment of women is still happening, it is a guilt of the society which probably doesn’t consider this issue a real problem, if there is no equal pay, means society ignores this question.. If millions of girls are suffering genital mutilation, if women are hidden from society under in the “sacs of shame”, if they become victims of honour killings and acid attacks, it is because society does not attempt to educate, change itself…
However, women are often contributing to the process of oppression by actually accepting or ignoring this oppression and huge responsibility lies on us as well. Today I observe with horror, how often even feminists, do not dare to condemn violence or evil medieval traditions that cripple women and their destinies, as they fear to attack a culture and be considered “neocolonialists” or criticize sexist religious practicing against women as they fear to be named “religiophobes” or “offenders“.
Q: What are the inequalities and double-standards faced by women in our society?
[Anne Summers] The most egregious inequality women face is denial of equal opportunity, regardless of equal-merit. This occurs in politics, in the boardroom, in senior management in the public and private sector, in government and many other spheres of our world.
I spent a lot of time looking at the experience of Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who was absolutely vilified and treated disgustingly… not on account of her political decisions or behaviour- but purely on account of her gender. We saw the same thing happen in the United States in 2008 when Hillary Clinton ran for the Democratic Party presidential nomination against Barack Obama, and we’re seeing it again now with her running once-again. A telling example… On Saturday, Hillary won the Nevada caucus by 5.5% – the press portrayed this as a narrow win… She’s begrudged in every single victory and every set-back she has is exaggerated. She’s treated very differently from the men who she’s running against where every tiny achievement is portrayed as a gigantic victory.
[Amy Richards] There are circumstances in life which are inevitable, and universal. The awkwardness that goes along with your teenage years, the discomfort when you’re figuring out how to have sex (and what type of sex you want to have), the things we say, that we regret, when we’re working out relationships as friends, employees and so on… this is part of figuring out who we are, and growing as people. To encourage people to have a smooth life, without bumps is not just impractical, but ill-advised. I don’t want people to suffer unnecessarily, but we learn and grow from hardship.
There are other circumstances in life which I do not think are inevitable and have become more pronounced. When you’re being paid a vastly different wage as a woman, is that a growing pain? No! It’s a severe injustice. Sexual assault in our homes, violence on the streets, these are not growing pains, they are societal problems.
We have things that happen to us in life, and we remain more silent than we should because our norms and conventions trick us into assuming, ‘hey, it’s probably only me… I shouldn’t complain or make an issue…’ that desire to keep stories silent is intentional; we [as a society] want a certain narrative to be dominant, and we want other people to be ‘other-ised’.
In a climate where women are so celebrated, it can be even harder to come forward as a woman who is struggling because the narrative is, ‘Hillary Clinton can do it, why can’t you? Sheryl Sandberg can do it, why can’t you? ’ The assumption is that everyone has those same advantages, and that’s simply not true.
Q: How are women impacted by forced marriage worldwide?
[Dr. Dubravka Šimonović] Let’s start with the consideration that “child marriage” is gender neutral term but in practice it affects predominantly girls – so we should talk about The Girl Child Forced Marriage. We need have very clear data disaggregate by sex and age to be able to address this properly”. UNICEF data related to the last two years, show that worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as a girl child. More than 1 in 3 were married before 15. Despite some slight decrease in numbers, the figures reveal that this phenomenon is nowadays still widespread, especially in some developing countries. The reasons behind this are numerous and they vary from culture and tradition to economic conditions and lack of education. Indeed, child and early marriage is strongly associated with girls who have received little or no formal education. Where tradition imposes certain behaviours, the girl child forced marriage is a social norm and communities and families carry on this practice defending its premises. A UN Report of 2014 regarding child marriage indicated that in many contexts families are encouraged to marry their children young because it is the accepted cultural practice. In Nepal, for example, a 2013 study conducted by UNICEF found that three of the five main reasons given by respondents for marriage under 18 years of age were social pressure, culture and because “it is normal – everyone does it”. It also notes that parents’ decisions to marry their daughters at an early age are often motivated by stereotypical views of sexuality and women’s role in society. However, the child forced marriage is often also linked to economic survival, where the burden of a family is reduced if girls are sent away It is done by the consent of parents and not by the consent of the girl child concerned (who is incapable of such consent of if capable (after 16 in some cases) she is not asked, so all such marriages without consent constitutes forced marriages. The consequences of such forced marriage are seriously harmful. Forced girls child marriages involve simply by being concluded by force and without consent, rape, sexual violence and other forms of domestic violence. Their impact on girls’ lives is detrimental to their education, physical and psychological conditions. Girls who are forced to marry during their adolescence are more likely to abandon school and are also more likely to suffer complications in pregnancy and childbirth and often they die because of these problems. Their children’s lives are threatened too: infants born from a teenage mother are more likely to be stillborn or die in the first few months. Finally, girls who are forcedly married are often separated from their family and community, isolated and imprisoned in their new situation and with major negative consequences on their physical as well as psychological well-being. Again, data show that improvements have been made in different countries in the past few years but they also demonstrate that these progresses were possible only for girls coming from families with higher incomes. Today still too many girls are forced to marry when they are too young and the consequences of this impact their lives as well as those of their families, children and communities. It is fundamental to prohibit couch marriages and to strictly enforce such prohibition and to send the message that girl child forced marriage is a public/State concern and not a private matter which is transforming societies, so as to enable states to take responsibility to end violence against women and harmful practice as enshrines in the Goal no 5.2 and 5.3 of 2030 SDG Agenda. Recognizing the presence of different factors at the basis of the problem is the first step to assure the implementation of effective strategies to combat it. These strategies should include economic interventions, social and political empowerment of girls and women and investments in education. Since often the root of the problem lies in the social and cultural norms which accompany it, education should be considered the highest priority in the fight against the phenomenon. Educating children, boys and girls, means empowering them and breaking this circle. Moreover, “laws and policies play an essential part in preventing the girl child forced marriage. Many countries lack robust legal and policy frameworks, which can help to prevent and change the practice and support married girls. A strong legal and policy system can provide an important backdrop for improvements in services, changes in social norms and girls’ empowerment. However for change to be truly transformative, governments must show strong political leadership by making the issue of national importance and providing adequate financial resourcing across ministries to tackle the issue holistically.”
Q: What are the realities of the practice of femicide?
[Dr. Dubravka Šimonović] Gender-motivated killing of women is an ultimate violation of woman’s right to life. Gender-motivated killing of women is a global phenomenon, and takes place in both the private and public spheres, including intimate partner violence, armed conflict, dowry disputes or the protection of family ‘honour’. Data on homicides are collected and are available nationally and globally while data on femicides or gender-related killing of women and girls are mostly not available nationally and globally. The gathering of these figures would be fundamental in preventing and combating many preventable deaths. For this reason, I have called all States to establish a ‘Femicide Watch’ or a ‘Gender-Related Killing of Women Watch’, and to publish on each 25 November – International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women – the number of femicides or gender-related killing of women per year, disaggregated by the age and sex of the perpetrators, as well as the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim or victims. Ethnicity or race of the victim could be relevant in cases of femicides of indigenous women and girls. Information concerning the prosecution and punishment of perpetrators should also be collected and published, both at the national and international level. Most importantly, each case of gender-related killing should be carefully analyzed to identify any failure of protection with a view to improving and developing further preventive measures, like the protection orders, availability of shelters or proper collaboration between police and public prosecutor. In the collection, analysis and publication of such data, States should co-operate with NGOs and independent human rights institutions working in this field, academia, victims’ representatives, as well as relevant international organizations and other stakeholders. Today, what emerges from the scattered data, statistics, reports and news available, shows a worrying picture of a phenomenon which is widely spread, involving countries from all regions of the world. Despite the numbers of violence committed against women in the public sphere are high, the highest numbers concern the domestic one. (It is estimated that of all women who were the victims of homicide globally in 2012, almost half were killed by intimate partners or family member). Communities, families, parents and husbands are very often the perpetrators of these acts of violence (Globally, 38% of all murders of women are committed by their intimate partners). The reasons that lie behind these actions are again to be found in gender inequality, discrimination, and economic disempowerment. The result is a systematic denial of women’s human rights, accepted as normal and not punished by institutions and states. “To end this practice, it is necessary to adopt a holistic approach, including legal, administrative, policy, and other measures to address the social political, economic, cultural and other factors that perpetuate discrimination and violence. This approach also includes the following actions: the promotion of a societal transformation, including the eradication of harmful stereotypes; to develop information systems and good quality data on gender-motivated killings; to ensure adequate enforcement by police and the judiciary of civil remedies and criminal sanctions; to ensure an adequate provision of services for women victims of violence.” Therefore, there is a strong need to concentrate the efforts of the international community and the national States towards the creation of adequate services needed for victims, such as shelters and efficient protection measures, as well as adequate and prompt responses at the justice level. Work should be done on the side of the various States to implement UN resolutions and human rights standards in order to prevent and respond effectively to rape and other forms of sexual violence, as well as discrimination against women. States should address the culture of discrimination within law enforcement and judicial institutions and the lack of capacity, which often result into negligent investigations, and a lack of sanction for perpetrators. This can be done through adequate institutionalized training and the development of internal manuals/protocols and related discipline and sanction mechanisms. Moreover, they should ensure adequate representation of women in these institutions. Creating special police units or courts is another promising practice. They should also ensure an adequate legal framework to prosecute different forms of gender-related killings and the elimination of discriminatory provisions in the legislation, including mitigating factors for “crimes of passion” and finally they should ensure prevention and protection measures for victims, witnesses and their families, allowing for participation in the criminal process. The criminalization of these acts in compliance with international human rights obligations in a non-discriminatory manner should be seen as a high priority by governments around the globe, keeping in mind that the problem of femicide does not involve developing countries only. Only the official collection of data on femicides and their analysis should guide us in prevention of many preventable deaths of women.
Q: Why are women treated so badly in our society?
[Anne Summers] We have had a patriarchal male-dominated society for most of the history of society! In the past century, women have gained access to education and have developed the desire and ambition to participate equally in society; and this is being resisted.
Male power is entrenched, and a lot of guys don’t want to give it up. I’m afraid the situation is as simple, and brutal, as that. Women’s equality is resisted at a deep level in our society despite the rhetoric of our leaders who- unfortunately- say one thing but do another.
[Professor Michael Kimmel] Why is it that we claim to love women, idealise them and venerate them, and yet use language that is so contemptuous. The worst thing you can say to a man is that he’s like a woman, or call him a female body part. On one hand we love women so much, but on the other hand we have so much contempt for them.
As a man, it strikes me as interesting that when you say you support feminism, people say ‘oh, you must be gay…’ so basically people are saying that if I love women so much that I want to be their equal, that I couldn’t possibly want to have sex with them. By this logic, does it mean you can only have sex with people you hate or have contempt for?
Most men support gender-equality as political policy, but feel that to support the cause makes them ‘less of a man.’
Q: Why do you think women suffer so much injustice around the world?
[Leymah Gbowee] It’s because of the way the world is shaped. We’ve never an equal dynamic. If you go back, for those of us who call ourselves Christians, the sin of the world is blamed on women. Eve was the one who turned a perfect world imperfect. If you are the one taking the world from perfection to imperfection, there are punishments for that. The whole idea of patriarchy and the story of the foundation of the world have made things unequal from that time until now. There’s not much anyone can do about where we find ourselves. All we can do is continue our advocacy. At least you can see some rays of light at the end of the tunnel.
[Leslee Udwin] Patriarchy has always existed, makes the rules and relegates women to the home to rear children. It’s the rules of patriarchy which women have to live with.
We have to call a spade a spade, stall equivocating, and just call-out patriarchal structures, and the men responsible for them. These structures, religions and institutions, run by power-hungry men with selfish attitudes, have subordinated women into becoming second-class citizens.
Our culture is an expression of those patriarchal values, and we must not forget that our social practices have very deep, historical, roots in the idea that women are the weaker sex, need protecting by men, and have to abide by certain rules and restrictions.
When I was in India making ‘India’s Daughter,’ and when I look at how those rapists explained to me what they did, and how their lawyers defended what they did, they clearly put all the blame on the girl for having broken strict social and cultural rules. She was out after dark, she was with a boy that was neither her husband or her brother, she had assumed a freedom and independence which the socio-cultural thinking of that society simply wouldn’t permit her. These men [the rapists] literally assumed she was a slut. They assumed she was asking for it. They told me that she was asking for it… that only 20 percent of girls were ‘good girls’ and that she had to be taught a lesson. What are good girls? They are meek, they are coy, they don’t challenge the status-quo, the dictates of patriarchy.
[Amy Richards] We treat women as women, but also as mothers for example. Women are so valued as mothers, and motherhood is seen as such as source of strength and heroism, that women become over-dependent on their roles as mothers- not because that’s where their instincts draw them, but because as women we’ve come to over-identify in our relationships to our children, to our families and as homemakers… This creates a paradox…. We are essentially required to be over-dependent on this hyper-feminine role, yet how much can you do that and still be a true-player in some of the masculine spheres of society.
We’re trying to succeed by inserting women into society as we know it, and there is a constant slew of articles that highlight the injustices that exist- for example, how all the women CEOs will never earn as much as their male counterparts. It’s precisely because women at a certain point, want to plateau their careers. Right when a woman is vested, and perhaps about to make all that cash? She decides to move on from that job. I believe women have a different standard for what is ‘enough’ for them, and so when you look at women who’ve had these opportunities, and succeeded to that n’th degree- they’ll say, ‘you know what? $40 million is enough, I don’t need $80 million…’ and it’s true!
The change we’re looking for won’t come from empowering women, it will come from curtailing traditional male-definitions of success. I’m not curtailing male behaviour or success here, but continually empowering people is not solving anything- it’s pushing people on a journey that doesn’t feel whole to them. We need to put a cap on what success means!
These crazy salaries and valuations are not real money! People argue we’re so much more successful than we were 30 years ago, but you know what? We didn’t have this phenomena 30 years ago! The money you made then was the money you made, it was cash-money in the bank! Now? It’s your future earnings on a stock that doesn’t exist yet.
We have allowed ourselves as a society to live in very unreal terms, and we have to put a threshold on this as a society.
Q: What are the realities of economic discrimination faced by women?
[Jessica Valenti] We have a pretty-narrow view of how to help women in the workplace. A lot of our conversations revolve around executives and board-room issues. These are of course, real and important issues, but the majority of women are not at that level and we have to talk about their economic interests and how sexism impacts their workplace as well.
We have issues around pregnancy and the maternal pay-gap, around women of colour and the way racism and sexism intersect in the workplace- there’s a huge amount of work to do. Women’s reproductive rights and how they access birth-control has a tremendous economic impact on women.
Unfortunately, a lot of the conversation is theoretical. People may see that society would benefit if women were paid better, treated better and in the public sphere – but at an individual and family level, the majority of family benefit from treating women as second class seconds.
If you have women who are largely staying at home, it’s a boon for men right? They’re able to work in ways that women aren’t, they have their entire domestic lives taken care of!
The idea of giving up on personal privileges is hugely challenging for a lot of people.
Q: Why has the female body become such an important political and cultural asset?
[Inna Shevchenko] It is full of guilt, dirt, and sins. It should obey, remain silent, and be ready to be used. Its mission is to satisfy; its duty is to carry new generations. It’s supposed to be hidden from the public and exposed only at private demands. It does not belong to its rightful owner; it has no freedom: It is a woman’s body in the patriarchal world.
No matter where—either in my native Ukraine, a country known for its enormous sex industry and its third-world level of poverty, or in the country of my exile, France, the republic of equality, with its exemplary level of development, the so-called “land of feminism”—a woman’s body is still perceived as a sexual object that should not be used for any other reason, such as a political one like FEMEN does, because, undoubtedly, people will try to stop it.
We adopted a system of domination of one group over another based on gender differences. It is our reality. The key to the enslavement of women by men is the control men hold over women’s bodies. These methods of control range from the glamour of the ‘beauty industry’ to barbaric acts such as genital mutilation and acid disfiguration. Historically, women have been deprived of their right to property, and today they are still deprived of ownership over their own bodies.
Whenever we talk about women’s rights or opportunities in society, they will always be linked to women’s bodies. Whenever any legislation concerning women is proposed in any parliament of the world, it is always about their bodies. Allowing prostitution or the sale of women’s bodies, forbidding abortion, deciding whether women should have control over their own bodies—these are the kinds of laws discussed by (usually) male authorities. Whether women should cover themselves, and whether they should study or work—these are the issues discussed in the streets and houses and decided upon by (usually) male community leaders.
A female body is denied, used, sold, abused, considered obscene, dirty, and guilty. A female body is always too much, or not enough. This idea has infected women themselves.
The biggest concern of modern feminism is how to take back the female body from the cultural and financial machine of the patriarchal system and return it to its rightful owners—and thus use this body to protect the interests of women across the world. For this reason, FEMEN conducts its topless protests across the world to show the naked woman’s body outside of a sexual context. Rather than smile, we shout our political messages; rather than posing in a sexy way, we appear in action, facing society’s modern patriarchs. Our bodies are beautified by our slogans and that means that our bodies cannot be separated from our ideas and cannot be labeled by others.
Q: What are your views on the media portrayal of women?
[Anne Summers] In every area, our media, newspapers, films, television and all areas of our culture, the different status of men and women are reinforced. In almost every area of society, women are portrayed differently.
One of the great dilemmas for women today, in this era of sexy dressing and super high-heels, cleavages and all the rest of it is how women are supposed to deal with their appearance and what is required to succeed. If you want to go to work looking like a slut, you may not do very well… but if you don’t conform to the cultural norms, you will be seen as out of touch. It’s a no-win situation for women…. You’re damned if you do, and doomed if you don’t.
[Amy Richards] You have to be hopeful about the future, and realise that what disturbs us the most can often give us strength.
Last night, I was listening to Cecile Richards (President of Planned Parenthood) and she was talking about how disturbing it was to her that not one republican presidential candidate was talking about abortion rights, or hinting which way they lean on the issue.
This reminded me of how the media has divided women, insisting that we are either hyper-masculine or hyper-feminine in our stance on various issues. The outlets that aren’t that are considered alternative, are you watching Girls or How I Met Your Mother?
The great things about Netflix, Spotify and Vimeo is that we have many more outlets to consume a wider-variety of media. People are finding their way past some of the things that disturb them, and can create and curate media that better serve their values.
I live in New York City and you walk down the streets, and the onslaught of sexist imagery is incredible. I’ll be in a cab and the advert that pops up is a woman on a beach, it’s constant. In advertising and consumer culture, women are often sexualised, or made-vulnerable to male strength. I’ll make a mental note of what I see, and it adds up…. Whether you like it or not, it makes you start to think, ‘gosh, I need to work out more…’ or ‘gosh, my strength is in being beautiful….’
Q: What is the scale and impact of violence against women?
[Leslee Udwin] The most insidious battle faced by women is dealing with physical abuse and violence, which we know is ubiquitous. 1 in 3 women in the world has experienced sexual violence or abuse, that’s what the UN tells us. If you look at the statistics country to country, it’s horrifying. And the statistics themselves are under-estimated. Violence against women is the most under-reported crime there is. There are certain cultures that put the onus of dishonour, blame and shame on the rape victim or survivor instead of where it should rightly reside, on the perpetrator. So there is a strong reluctance to report.
We’re talking about the world’s most underreported crime, where even the known statistics, which are hugely conservative, are horrifying. In South Africa, there is a rape every 26 seconds. In South Africa, 62% of boys above the age of 11, don’t consider it to be a crime to force another person to have sexual relations with you and 1 in 3 boys believe that girls enjoy rape.
In the UK, 1 in 3 girls between the ages of 13 and 17 have experienced sexual violence, these figures are horrific. In the US, 1 in 4 women have experienced being sexually assaulted before the age of 18… 1 in 4 girls on college campuses is raped. It’s not just rape and sexual violence, look at a country like Egypt where 96% of women have been genitally mutilated.
Think about it for a second, 1 in 3 women on the planet will be physically or sexually abused in their lifetime.
Q: How can women be idolised yet their rights be subverted?
[Sheryl WuDunn] It does seem like a contradiction that women can, at the same time be idolised, and treated so miserably; and the reason that happens in some ways is that they aren’t being viewed as people. That would mean that in the case of certain cultures, for instance in Pakistan and India, women are [effectively] put on a pedestal. Their ‘honour’ is so important that a woman has to commit suicide if she is raped because it destroys the honour of the family. You can see how these concepts become more important than the concept of ‘women as human beings’, because [in these circumstances] they are not looked upon as human beings and are, in effect, objectified and so once you understand they are being looked upon as objects, it isn’t so hard to understand how they can be treated both well, and poorly.
Rights are a different issue, though, as you have to talk about what kind of rights are being protected. In some cultures- a father or ‘elders’ of a family, would protect the honour of their family, in the sense that they have a daughter who they want to marry off, and they want to protect her honour to protect to family. that doesn’t necessarily mean they will protect her right to free speech, so one must put rights in context.
Q: What is the impact of patriarchal power structures, and what can we do?
[Laura Bates] The under-representation of women, women of colour, disabled women and trans-women in the decision making structures of society- parliament, the house of lords, the house of commons and the law (where 7 out of 38 lord justices of appeal, and 18 out of 108 high court judges are women) leads to a risk that we see adverse impacts of women and minorities.
The UK’s austerity measures for example, had a disproportionate impact on women. It makes sense… if the decision making bodies don’t represent the societies they serve, they cannot be balanced in the decisions they make.
If we look at journalism and the media, the under-representation of women has a direct impact on how stories are framed, and as a result- how we see the world around us. The fact that women are under-represented in film creates a subtle idea that men are more talented and more important.
The messages women receive in the media are reductive and insidious, it’s not perhaps something we think about until you really look at it. A great example was when Rona Fairhead was being considered for the top job at the BBC. The headlines said that a ‘mother of 3’ was being considered to lead the BBC. It’s the sort of thing we may have normally just walked-past, but when you stop to think about it? The message it sends? It’s clear how wrong this is.
I went to a school recently, and was shocked to hear children (who were around 11 years old) who were totally convinced that there were a lot more men in the world than women. I was struck by that…. But when you see how the world is presented to these children, is it such a surprise?
When women are under-represented, you see it also impacts children when they’re growing up and deciding what they want to be. Young girls are constantly getting bombarded with messages that a certain career isn’t for them, it’s just for boys… that girls aren’t good enough or can’t do that. There have been so many occasions where I have been at schools where young girls have told me that they feel that girls aren’t allowed to be firefighters because they’re not brave enough, or can’t be pilots because they may make mistakes and have to be good at maths. This quickly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
There is so much we can do to counter this.
At the macro-level, we need to call on government and the commercial sector to tackle issues such as the gender pay gap with more robust measures. We also need to push for sex and relationships education to be implemented properly which will have a significant impact in this crisis we face of violence against women.
In our day-to-day lives, we can call on retailers not to gender their toys. If every time a girl goes into a toy shop, she sees that chemistry sets are labelled under boy’s toys, she is getting an unequivocal message that science is not a viable for her.
Very often, when sexism happens in the public space; whether in the workplace or street-harassment, the stories we hear end with, ‘…and it was a packed bus and nobody said a word,’ or that, ‘everyone in the office laughed, so I didn’t feel I could say anything.’
The standard we walk-past is the standard we accept, and more of us have to challenge these norms. We need to shift what’s considered acceptable and normal.
Q: What are the impacts for a society where women face injustices and violence?
[Leymah Gbowee] You’re talking about 50% of a group of people being misused. Look at your body and divide it in half. If someone is battering half of your body, is the whole going to be very effective or functional? Definitely not. If 50% of the world continues to undergo violence, exclusion and discrimination, the other 50% will never flourish. When you cover one eye, you can’t see the whole picture. When people continue to commit violence against women, or refuse to give them basic rights, and still think the world is functioning well, it’s not. Right now, we have a disabled world because 50% is not functioning very well. So half that is functioning, isn’t doing so very well either.
Q: What is the role of the household?
[Professor Naila Kabeer] If there are no alternative external courts of law, authorities or power-centres you can turn to? The household and family becomes hugely important to your life.
Households and families are organised around fundamentally unequal principles; power relations within the household are usually very patriarchal. Resources are allocated very unequally and women and girls are often discriminated against. This structure is legitimated by domestic ideologies which give men authority over women and children and it is seen as part of the God-given or the natural order of things – or else defended in the name of tradition.
But the ideologies of the household, family and domesticity are really the ideologies of society, they don’t stop at the household. The idea of the male breadwinner, the idea that woman are primarily responsible for care… all these ideas which supposedly belong to the domestic realm of family and kinship make their way into shaping our society and its policies.
Q: How can women play a role in political, economic and social transformations?
[Leymah Gbowee] This is based on assumptions that women aren’t playing positive roles, which is unfortunate. I grew up in a society where economically, it is the women who do a lot of the work. However, because this work is at the very micro level, when stock is taken of economic impact on the national level, they tend to leave women out. So people think women aren’t involved. But when I think about my life, when my dad was in prison for a long time, it was the shortbread and cornbread and KoolAid that my mom sold that kept the light on, kept us in school, and kept things moving forward. It’s time we begin to take stock of women’s involvement at these levels.
If you also look at social transformation, you see that again it’s the women at the forefront of demanding what will bring society to normalcy after conflict.
In many parts of Africa and countries that have experienced conflict, it’s the demand for peace and justice that brings about the need for political transformation. Once that demand is put upon political leaders, they have no other option but to comply. It’s not that women are always in the background, it’s just how their involvement is seen and translated into substantive action. Most people see it as, “Those women were just protesting, and that’s it.” But that’s not it. After protesting, political leaders are now thinking about how to make a difference so that people have what the women were demanding. I have never seen a country that has gone through economic, social or political transformation without women’s involvement being the key trigger.
[Sheryl WuDunn] I see the role of women, ultimately and ideally as productive members of society. Women and men are different, but they still have the right to reach their full potential. In terms of development, they play a critical role in many aspects of trying to further economic progress, education and the very structure of society. In society as a large, women tend to play a diminished role in respect of their rights, and therefore [their rights] have to be uplifted by a much larger amount for them to eventually play a greater, and fairer, role in society.
For instance, if you talk about “life or death” scenarios, there are between sixty and one hundred million missing females in the world population. Demographers have analysed birth ratios based on census and other data in society, and there should be a certain number of males and females in the overall global population. If you estimate what the numbers should be, there are sixty to one hundred million missing females in the global population. A lot of this is due to human nature factors, which contribute to this, and there are a lot of smaller factors. One of the largest factors is maternal mortality. In places like India, one in seven women are expected to die in childbirth, partly because they do not have any healthcare- imagine having a baby in the bush? this wouldn’t happen in western societies, and you can imagine how easy it would be for medical accidents to happen. Also, because of the sonogram, a lot of societies, for instance in Asia, abort the female foetus because they want a male. So if you just talk of life and death- there is huge potential to focus attention on women and increasing their role within society.
A pivotal part of this is education. When you educate a boy, and he gets married, and his wife has children- he tends to have slightly fewer children if he’s educated, than his counterparts who are not. When you educate a girl, and she carries that education to adulthood, she has far fewer kids, gets married later in life, has children later in life, and educates them in a better way. One of the contributing factors to poverty is overpopulation, and if you can focus on educating girls, you will slow down the rate of overpopulation. The second major factor in this context, would be bringing women into the economic workforce, giving them spending power. There have been studies done on how money is spent in family households who are below the poverty line, so people who make less than two dollars a day. These studies show that most of the spending tends to be by men (and mind you, both sides are poorly educated) and twenty percent or more of their money goes to a combination of alcohol, sugary drinks, cigarettes, prostitution, and only two percent to education. If you give women the purse-strings, they tend to spend more on nutrition (including food for their kids) and healthcare, and they tend to also make better decisions on money management, putting money into businesses to make more money and so forth. That’s another example of how there are differences in how men and women can develop their household economy, and develop their regions and countries.
[Dr. Dubravka Šimonović] Those transformations are providing different opportunities to women to fully participate as agents of change and to improve their previous position. Women’s active participation in every aspect of the political and public life is a necessary condition for the elimination of all forms of violence and discrimination against them. They should participate at the decision making level in order for their needs to be addressed and to bring an additional feature of gender balance and value of gender equality to the system in place. Data elaborated by the Inter-Parliamentary Union and relative to 2013, reveal that the average representation of women in national parliaments is still below the 50% in every region of the world, where the percentage reach very low levels in Arab States, the Pacific Region and Asia. Quota systems within national parties are a possible way to start dealing with the issue. In countries where their representation is still too low, establishing quotas may serve as a way to allow the access to women to the public sphere. The “Quota Project” promoted by IPU, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance and the Stockholm University, describes the system as follow: “quotas for women entail that women must constitute a certain number or percentage of the members of a body, whether it is a candidate list, a parliamentary assembly, a committee, or a government. The quota system places the burden of recruitment not on the individual woman, but on those who control the recruitment process. The core idea behind this system is to recruit women into political positions and to ensure that women are not only a token few in political life. Today, quota systems aim at ensuring that women constitute a large minority of 20, 30 or 40%, or even to ensure true gender balance of 50-50%. In some countries quotas are applied as a temporary measure, that is to say, until the barriers for women’s entry into politics are removed, but most countries with quotas have not limited their use of quotas in time”. The CEDAW Convection provides an international legal ground for their use in its article 4 (1) : “Adoption by States Parties of temporary special measures aimed at accelerating de facto equality between men and women shall not be considered discrimination as defined in the present Convention, but shall in no way entail as a consequence the maintenance of unequal or separate standards; these measures shall be discontinued when the objectives of equality of opportunity and treatment have been achieved”. As stated in 2013 Report of the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice: “Special measures, including quotas for women and other temporary measures, are necessary to achieve equality between men and women in political and public life, in order to contend with the underlying structural disadvantaging of women. The most significant increase in the numbers of women in national parliaments over the years has occurred in countries where special measures, such as gender quotas, have been effectively constructed and implemented. The use of quotas to advance women’s political representation and participation has increased in the past three decades and produced significant results when properly adapted to specific electoral and political systems”. At the same time, States’ aim should be directed at not needing these systems, where women are with temporary special measures included in the political arena. Eradicating the gender disparity would eventually lead to States where the quality of ideas, belonging to men or women indistinctly, is evaluated and awarded. This eradication comes with the possibility for men and women to have access to the same resources, especially regarding education and equity of treatment. If in some countries, especially within the developing regions, we witness the exclusion of girls from education or jobs, in others women constitute half of the universities population but are still unable to obtain an equal pay. A change should reach the highest levels of politics and institutions, but it should certainly start from below. Stereotypes must be faced and fought, awareness should be spread and those in power should start changing the system starting from the local level, in order to reach the national one. Girls should be taught about their rights, so as they could claim them. Sure enough, the specific consequences of such a change are not easy to predict since they provide only equal opportunities and do not guarantee achieving gender equality. There is a strong agenda to include more women at the negotiation table in the processes of peace-building and decision-making after a conflict, as advocated by the UN Resolution 1325 what could give them possibility to contribute to the restoration of confidence within the communities, giving voice to the needs of women and children. An important aspect to be underlined is that, often, there is no need for States to invest large budgets to implement these changes. Involving more women in political process does not come with a high cost, while, on the contrary, it provides high benefits for the country. Often it is also about changing the mentality and stereotypes surrounding women, something that, again, should be done with educational practices and programmes.
Q: How are women affected by poverty?
[Sheryl WuDunn] The simple fact is that people affected by poverty are unable to be as productive as other members of society. Women are terribly affected by poverty, and most of the people who are in poverty, and live below the poverty line, are women. They simply do not have any resources, and the thing they need most are educated resources. Both boys and girls have to be educated, it is a critical part of a human being exploiting their full potential. In Zimbabwe, we met many teachers of elementary schools. They will have schools, made of clay or otherwise, with a few desks, it’s irrelevant how its built, it’s still a school. The problem is, they have no text-books, they have nothing to teach. To say you have schools is one thing, but to say you are providing an education is another. The challenge is to ensure everyone is educated, but especially girls- as they are particularly critical in improving household economics.
Looking at agriculture, for example, education is still the key here. One problem is that the division of labour in some of these areas is such that women are working in fields where men are working half-heartedly, and so educating men and women about what needs to be done to improve their lives- can provide a levelling effect.
Education is also at the core of social mobility, even in very religious societies, education is extremely important. Obviously there will be varying levels of [education] quality, but even an elementary education is just critical. In many parts of Africa and Asia they don’t even have this basic level. This is not a problem that’s limited to women, many men in these regions simply do not receive education either, and so it’s important that they get educated as well. This also has the role of educating society, whatever its structure, to look at women as human beings.
Q: What does it mean to be a woman in a conflict situation?
[Leymah Gbowee] In most conflict situations, again, there are a lot of double standards when it comes to who a woman is. You are the protector of those who are not armed, because in most cases it’s the women who are mediators and peacemakers, are also the ones who bear the brunt of the conflict when it comes to rape and abuse.
Q: Why are women the target of violence and rights abuses in times of war and peace?
[Sheryl WuDunn] Increasingly, they are being used as a weapon of war. In the Congo, for instance. It’s just a tactic in war, it’s that plain and simple- in that they want to terrorise a society. If you kill people, there’s traces, there’s blood, it’s messy, there’s evidence you’ve been killing. If you rape, there’s basically no trace. Women are loathed to report something like that, they don’t complain to the authorities, but you still terrorise society and achieve the same outcome, and create a weapon of war.
You can also see this as a tool of domination. In many cases, even in domestic violence, the aim is to dominate- and studies show it usually occurs amongst the less educated, which leads us back to the key point that we must educate young boys and girls, that violence in all forms, including violence against women, is not the way to build a society.
Q: What are the key global health issues facing women?
[Sheryl WuDunn] Both AIDS and maternal mortality are the key challenges. In terms of maternal mortality, as I mentioned in Asia one in seven women are expected to die during childbirth. Africa has amongst the lowest rates of survival in childbirth (highest rates of maternal death). This is partly due to a lack of healthcare, and what little exists, is often provided by religious organisations such as the church. It is therefore very important to improve healthcare delivery.
Often maternal and HIV/AIDS healthcare cannot be delivered within the same healthcare delivery unit, as there are often problems in that when financial aid is given for AIDS it’s terms state it cannot be used to pay for maternal healthcare, and the topics are therefore disconnected. The issues are, though, very complex, and people have to make the connection. A woman, for example, who has AIDS and has a baby, will pass the disease to her child. With better healthcare and education, this could be avoided. There has to be a much more holistic approach in this case, which is expensive, but we do have the answers- this is not high technology or research driven, this is care we can, and should, deliver right now.
The developed world went through the same problems over a hundred years ago, not so much with AIDS, but certainly with maternal mortality. One of the most common injuries associated with childbirth is obstetric fistula. Years ago, the US had many incidents of obstetric fistula, and we got it dealt with, it’s very treatable- but there is no political will to treat it in many countries. For example, in Half the Sky, we talk of an example of a woman who was thirteen years old at the time when she fell pregnant after being married against her will. She ran away and had her baby in the bush. She was too young, the baby died and she suffered a fistula. Her villagers didn’t know what to do with her, so they put her in a hut at the edge of the village, and ripped off the doors for the Hyenas to get her. So here she is, this poor girl, who had to fight off hyenas with a stick she found in the hut. She dragged herself to the nearest village, where she knew there was a foreign missionary. The village was over 30 miles away. By the time she got to his doorstep, she was half-dead. Luckily he knew what was wrong, and he took her to the Addis Ababa fistula hospital, where they cared for her. The hospital noticed she was smart, and the girl is now a nurse at the hospital, saving hundreds of thousands of lives of women who suffer the same thing she went through. She is a productive member of society, part of the solution and not the problem. This is the message we are trying to convey in society.
Q: What are the key differences in the challenges women face in the developed and developing world?
[Sheryl WuDunn] There are so many to enumerate, First is the lack of maternal healthcare, which leads to maternal mortality. You also have sex trafficking being a major, and extremely debilitating problem. These women are not really prostitutes, prostitutes at least make money. They are basically slaves, kidnapped and held in brothels against their will, forced to work- and not paid a dime. They often die of AIDS as they are not allowed to use protection. This is just an abominable cruelty. The third area concerns rape and violence against women in conflict areas, and in other areas where there is just incidence of rape, honour killing and other forms of violence.
In Half-the-Sky we talk of issues around sex trafficking, maternal mortality, and violence against women. The difference between developing and developed world, in terms of how women are treated, comes down to the question of life and death situations. The missing sixty to one hundred millions females come from the developing world, not the developed world. In the developed world, there are more females than males. This comes as a result of the simple biological fact that women live longer than men, and are often more prudent with their health.
Q: Why have women been marginalised in the development agenda?
[Professor Naila Kabeer] Development policy is made by people who subscribe to the ideologies upon which society is built, which include the principles creating our inequality in the first place.
Development also has a very truncated vision of the world, dominated by the marketplace and indifferent to the home. It’s concerned with production, and indifferent to care and reproduction. Even when development policy considers women as economic actors, it’s asking women to contribute to development and growth without taking account of the responsibilities they find hard to give up in the absence of support. Who else will take care of children, the elderly and the sick in their family? Women enter the development process and marketplace hampered by discriminatory norms and ideologies, and with very real family responsibilities. These responsibilities continue to be taken for granted and ascribed to women’s natural disposition.
It’s also important to note that the vast majority of the world, and women in particular, work in the informal economy, so when I talk of the ‘markets’ I don’t think of these privileged people working in full time jobs (like myself), but that so much of the world’s daily needs (including those of the informal economy) are generated in the informal economy. To put it in context 93% of India’s labour force works in the informal economy, and the vast majority are in self-employment and not in wage-labour. When we talk about the standard economy, it should mean the informal economy. It is, in fact, people who are in full time work who are the atypical economy.
Development policy has never had a holistic view of what makes for human wellbeing and a socially sustainable society.
Q: How could we create a more inclusive economic system for women?
[Professor Naila Kabeer] We need much louder voices in society asking what human progress should look like. There is a growing recognition everywhere that we have got it wrong; the way that policies and priorities have been dictated, has led to intolerable, inequalities and gender is an important component of these. We know that economic crisis and austerity packages hit women harder for example, because of their immediate and longer-term impact on the work of social reproduction and care.
We need to think collectively about the kind of society we want and how to get there. The vision may be the easy bit, the implementation is hard. There are powerful interests that are reluctant to change the status-quo as they are its primary beneficiaries and don’t see the need to sacrifice their privileges.
A holistic vision for social progress would link production and reproduction, paid and unpaid, formal and informal, macro-policy and the micro-realities of everyday life. These things are very closely articulated and by focussing on only one part, you end up with the lop-sided economy we see today.
Q: To what extent have women’s rights policies and our justice frameworks assisted?
[Leymah Gbowee] There is a lot of paperwork and talk around this, but political will and financing to it become a reality is still way off. There have been some gains. Take female genital mutilation (FGM) for example. For many years, no one could talk about FGM publicly in Liberia. But now we’re at a place where people can talk about it, and about abolishing it. Awareness is the beginning of ending it. While we have a lot of laws and policies, we still have to do a lot of work around implementation.
[Leslee Udwin] There are still many countries that have laws in place that brutally limit women’s lives. In Nigeria today in 2016, with all this talk of development goals, citizenship and the various mandates and resolutions in place… almost one third of states have laws in place that permit a husband to use violence on his wife, legally. In Saudi Arabia we recently heard the case of a woman who was arrested and imprisoned for daring to drive a car. In many countries, there are laws that limit women’s freedom, their opportunities to participate in society and the economy, and even their safety- its gruesome, it’s brutal.
If we look at the USA, allegedly one of the most developed countries in the world, there is even an absence of laws to confer the most basic tenet of equal rights to women. The Equal Rights Amendment Act has been consistently pushed back, and not ratified. Why will they not ratify a law, a piece of paper that allows women to be seen as equal in the eyes of the law. The law is the first basic step to giving respect isn’t it? Unsurprisingly it’s mostly men that are being asked to ratify this law, and this exposes the real problem.
In India, Article 14 of the constitution does confer absolute equality on men and women, but the implementation is lacking. Following a spate of dowry killings, and dowry violence, India enacted laws which protect women in the face of such abuses, making dowry illegal. The vast majority of Indian families however, do still nonetheless practice the cultural habit of giving and taking dowry. Here’s the problem, culture overrides the law in many cases, but being quite rational and cold about it… these people are criminals, they are breaking the law. This is what women are up against.
Have you ever known anyone willingly give-up power, they don’t! We have to fight for it, we have to take it!
[Sheryl WuDunn] The solutions have to be broad based, there is no one “bullet“. Frameworks and policies are needed, as is a renewed focus on rights is needed, but these are not the sole solution. One needs a broad base- the international institutions such as the World Bank, UN and IMF must implement programmes that will help women as well as men, economically. You also need a broad based civilian movement. You need people to care about this issue. If people don’t care, then nothing will get done. Politicians will not move their feet unless it’s in their own self interest and it becomes in their self interest if their voters say “we care about this issue, and we want to know your views, and what you’re going to do about it.” They will do something if their voters care. That’s why every person counts, every vote counts. Every individual has a voice, and can voice their opinion for change. Politicians themselves can, and have, been taking action through non profit organisations, NGO’s and other organisations. To be more effective, though, they need more money, more power, more infrastructure.
One thing that’s really critical is that in addition to education and giving economic opportunity in the form of jobs, we must create sustainable solutions. In the sense that a lot of women don’t want charity, they want a livelihood. This may involve an initial piece of charity, but they ultimately want to survive on their own and create their own livelihoods, so the key is to develop sustainable solutions. This is the same model we adopt in the ‘for profit’ world, where sustainability of projects is critical. I also think there is a third way. Instead of separating the ‘for profit’ and ‘non profit’ world, you can have a ‘for profit’ organisation that really does good, a socially aware organisation (social enterprise) which is really integrated in its aims to create social good. This could be providing pumps for clean water, bringing internet access in an affordable way to the developing world, developing solar and battery operations to cope with the lack of electricity in areas. These are for-profit activities which can benefit the world, and companies are starting to do this now.
[Dr. Dubravka Šimonović] As mentioned above, the international and regional level provides states with many different obligations regarding women’s rights, through the numerous instruments ratified by them. Despite the fragmentation of global and regional mechanisms which should be addressed too, some of the most important international conventions guide the States in this direction. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women and the BPA as gender specific women’s human rights instrument should be jointly with all other core gender neutral human rights instrument that are in that manner gendered and that are jointly providing a strong international framework and standards on which national States should build their laws and policies. As the former Special Rapporteur on violence against women has noted back in 2003, “at the normative level the needs of women are generally adequately addressed” and that “the challenges lie in ensuring respect for and effective implementation of existing laws and standards”. The principles and laws are there, but the lack of effective implementation is the problem, especially at the national level. The huge implementation gap is caused by the lack of full incorporation of the international standards set out in in the various instruments. “There is a general lack of a holistic and comprehensive approach to combat and prevent violence against women and there is fragmentation of various policies and pieces of legislation that address violence against women and women’s rights. There is also a disconnection or an insufficient connection or synergy between the implementation of various global agendas and instruments and a disconnection between the global and regional instruments and agendas on violence against women and mechanisms that monitor their implementation.” Guided by international and regional bodies and mechanism like my mandate, national States should implement laws aiming at empowering women and girls, eliminating gender stereotypes and combating and preventing gender based violence against women and girls. It is also fundamental to put in place national penal, family law and other civil law provisions that protect women and girls, punish perpetrators and provide services needed for victims of violence. And again and again, education, education and education of both girls and boys, should be put at the top of the countries’ list of commitments. Practical measures such as shelters that are not only providing safe place but also empower women and efficient protection orders that are enforceable, together with working criminal justice systems would constitute an important step to combat and prevent violence against women.
Q: How are reproductive and population policies affecting women?
[Professor Naila Kabeer] Reproductive technologies hold out a huge promise, they give women and men the opportunity to decide if, how many, and when they will have children.
However, the population establishment seems to be worried that, on the one hand, people in the West aren’t having enough babies, but at the same time, people in poorer countries are having too many.
What could have been liberating reproductive technologies have instead been used in ways that take elements of choice out of people’s hands. We’re left with procedures such as sterilisation, which are largely targeted at women; with men taking little or no responsibility for managing families and controlling birth rates.
I’m in favour of reproductive technology, but population policy has coerced people to manage their fertility in ways it deems optimal and removed their choice.
We need to provide education and services. People can be trusted to make choices that are broadly responsible if they can make informed choices.
Q: Why are women’s sexual rights subverted?
[Dr. Dubravka Šimonović] Traditionally and historically in almost all societies around the world, women have been considered inferior to men and they were relegated to the secondary places within the society. Moreover, the association of women with sexuality has always been a complicated one. On the one hand, women represent often and in many societies the object of desire of men. Here, the most important word is “object”, whereas women are considered things to be used and abused by those who detain the power in the society. The result is the spread of sexual violence and rapes in different contexts and occasions, given the common root that links all cases. Women cease to be humans and become objects, during a war, within the domestic household or on the streets. Objects do not have rights, and in this way sexual as well as many other women’s rights are not only subverted but also denied, deleted. On the other hand, women’s sexuality or reproductive life still represent a taboo in many societies, something which should be controlled or at least hidden. Female genital mutilation is a practice which continues affecting many girls and it is the clear manifestation of a basic misconception of women’s reproductive life and needs. Also in those societies which may appear “more advanced” at a first look, we witness various attempts to control or restrain women’s access to their fundamental rights. The right to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children is denied, on the one hand, by forced sterilizations or inadequate standards of living and, on the other hand, it is controlled by the absence of accessible and needed services or in different regions as well as the absence of legislation on this. For example, Latin America has the highest proportional number of maternal deaths as a result of unsafe abortions in the world. Many countries in Latin America, where the religious and traditional considerations have an high impact on policies, exercise a strict control over birth control and abortion, denying the enjoyment of full reproductive rights and justice to women. Now, the situation is even more serious, given the spread of the Zika virus in the region. For this reason, the UN high commissioner for human rights is asking governments in Zika-affected areas to repeal policies that break with international standards on access to sexual and reproductive health services, including abortion. Therefore, the desire of control expressed more or less directly by men, and often states in general, worldwide impact women’s sexual rights, in addition to the fact that they are often wrongly seen as not able or not worthy of making their own choices on the matter.
[Jessica Valenti] I feel hopeful about the amount of vibrant conversations in the feminist movement that are trying to sort-out an authentic sexuality for women. This is important… When you grow up in a misogynistic world, it’s hard to develop your true sexual identity.
A woman’s sexual identity is still very-much considered a marker of who she is as a person… Whether or not a woman is a virgin, or has had sex with too many people, or even what she does sexually…. All these things are linked to who she is morally. This is undeserving and immoral- it’s a terrible old-fashioned view we need to get past in society.
We are also faced with hyper-sexualised women in our media, often created by men. This is something which- as a mother- I worry about a lot.
A lot of teenage and younger feminists are thinking about this in really interesting ways, and reclaiming women’s sexuality. They are challenging the way that women are judged for their sexuality, or seen just as sex objects.
Q: Why are women the target of violence and rights abuses in times of war?
[Dr. Dubravka Šimonović] Here again, traditions and stereotypes play a fundamental role together with the idea that, in times of war, the winners are entitled to use their victims’ lives and bodies as they like. Very often women’s bodies are battlefields. There is indeed a connection between the already existing violence against women and girls in times of peace and that present in periods of conflict. Indeed, “conflict and post-conflict situations often exacerbate an existing environment of discrimination, subordination and abuse and man who are mostly combatants are using situation of conflict that brings out of some of them the worst of them. In times of conflict, existing forms of discrimination are exacerbated, and new forms of violence are generated against women who are already vulnerable”. During a war, people are imprisoned, tortured and killed. Women, as well as men sometimes and children too often, are also harassed, abused, raped, and used as sexual slaves. If during times of peace, women are already seen as objects and secondary humans, during a war their role and position is further degraded, becoming a trophy in the hands of the winner. The exacerbation of the violence against women, therefore, is highly present in times of conflicts and wars although again not sufficiently viable since again, like in peace, women are reluctant to speak due to stigma and social and justice systems that discourage women to do so . However an important aspect of the use of rape during conflicts is its use as a weapon of war. Examples in the past, demonstrate that sexually abusing women may involve a specific plan of ethnic cleansing. Women are also raped and impregnated so they could give birth to children of another ethnic origin. It is again a form of oppression, over women’s bodies and over the communities in general. Spreading terror is the additional element which contributes to the destabilization of the rival community and it is part of the strategy of war of violating and killing women, as the weakest ones. The problems associated with the use of rape as a weapon of war do not end with the conflict. After the war is over, in the majority of cases the collapse of the rule of law and the institutions within the country leave the issue of reparation and punishment for these crimes on one side, unable to efficiently address the matter since perpetrators are in corrode or at large and not available. In some communities Women are left alone, often relegated to the lowest levels of their communities because a heavy stigma is placed on them in other communities if survive they do not speak up . Denounces are not common and the attackers are seldom held accountable. In order to change this, the need for justice, truth and reconciliation, if possible, has to be addressed. Criminal justice systems have to be efficient in punishing these tremendous crimes and reparations should be put in place. An open acknowledgment of the situation should be made, giving women and their communities the chance to rebuild their lives.
Q: What are your views on the state of women’s sexual identity?
[Laura Bates] We have to locate the discussion around sexual identity in the realm of public perceptions and protections and not around women’s sexuality and behaviour.
We see very clearly that women’s behaviour is irrelevant, it’s the double-standards and prejudice’s of society which- when projected onto women- cause the problem.
We need to have a conversation around the women sexualises women regardless of whether they are politicians, entrepreneurs, artists or even victims of crime. Reeva Steenkamp was pictured on the front-page of the Sun in her bikini the morning after she was shot dead.
There is an immense double-standard in the way that media wish to objectify and sexualise women, but also criticise and tear-them-down if they wish to take ownership of their sexuality. This is an external construct, it isn’t caused by women’s behaviour.
Regardless of how women behave, it is easy for them to be criticised for being too frumpy, too sexy, too slutty, too prudish and so on.
One fifth of our front-page news articles are written by men, and as a result a significant amount of our news articles focus on male-subjects or expertise.
Q: How are sexual taboos impacting society?
[Professor Naila Kabeer] The taboos around sex and reproduction, and even about talking about them, are the source of many problems in the world. We need to have open conversations about our sexuality and sexual pleasure as a fundamental part of people’s lives and existence. Coercing and channelling people into a limited and predetermined set of roles and expectations on the basis of our beliefs about their biology is at the core of a range of different problems, child marriage, sexual violence against women within and outside the home, HIV-AIDS, homophobia and of course violence by and against men.
These restrictive normative models of masculinity and femininity are underpinned and upheld by our failure to talk about the very diverse ways in which we might want to define who we are and what gives us pleasure in life.
This is a huge problem for adolescent girls who are unable to say no to teachers, other students, or individuals in society who are trying to take advantage of them sexually because of our failure to talk openly.
In many societies, there is still a link between rape and questions of women’s honour. This is very destructive. Women are not dishonoured by rape, they are victims of a crime, a violent crime. In South Asia we find a highly repressive set of norms and rules around sexuality and a film industry that sometimes borders on pornographic.
The discussion around sexuality is also a discussion around role-models and norms about men and women. An open discussion would allow us all to have a greater multiplicity of roles.
We need to free men up as well. Most of the violence in the world is inflicted by, but also on men. Norms about masculinity seem to be as unsafe for men as they are for women.
In Vietnam, a youth survey revealed that young men felt under immense pressure to engage in drugs, prostitution, alcohol and things they felt uncomfortable about- yet were part of the ritual of becoming a man. Men put pressure on each other, and society puts pressure on them.
We need to get men on-board and make them realise they have a lot to gain from redefining gender roles in society.
Q: What is the purpose of the ‘role model’?
[Amy Richards] I find the whole area of role-models rather more disturbing than comforting.
In our society, for women to feel valued they have to be excellent and exceptional and their role models are women who are extreme… Oprah, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Lena Dunham and so on. These are women who are superstars. By all means, I want everyone to strive to that if that’s a place you want to get to- but I don’t want women to undermine the accomplishments they may have made in the pursuit of that.
The same isn’t true for men. Yes, there is still an economically-linked value we attribute to success, but it doesn’t matter what job you have; if you have a home for your kids, your country club membership and a nice car? You’re set. There is a much broader range of acceptable achievements, while women’s role models are much more narrow and extreme.
40 years ago, we didn’t have Sheryl Sandberg and Hillary Clinton, we didn’t have those women to grasp onto, but men are afforded the opportunity to be ‘good enough’ while women are expected to be excellent.
[Laura Bates] Young women need a diversity of role-models, and a diversity of choices. When I talk to girls in schools, it’s often only a couple of names that come up again and again when I ask them who their role models are. It’s not that these are the wrong people, but rather that we’re not seeing many more names on the list.
Role models are important, but sometimes young girls are pointed to people who are easiest fit and feel that this lets them off the hook. People may find one or two of the most pioneering women who have broken the mould, smashed glass ceilings and taking on male dominated fields…. But my experience is that girls aren’t necessarily convinced by that and while of course role models are hugely important, we need to shift the stereotypes and balance if we want them to feel this authentic.
We also need to shift our treatment of women in the public eye. It’s all very well to point women to the incredible role model of Mary Beard (an incredible historian, presenter and who is relatively in the minority in her profession as a woman) – but girls looking at her will also see that she’s experienced the most horrendous online abuse. We’re showing girls that if they break boundaries…. If they cross into male dominated territories… they will be pushed-down and abused.
We need to dismantle the hurdles and pull them out of women’s way, not teach them that hurdles are inevitable and here’s how you cross them.
Q: What is the role of activism in the fight against the injustices against women?
[Inna Shevchenko] I do believe in the power of words, as well as I do believe in the power of acts. Moreover I believe that a word without an action, and vice versa, has less ability to bring changes.
I am in love with activism as I know it is a powerful way of making the world more just. It is when people leave their homes and offices and go in the street with their demands, the real politics happen.
And it is when women leave their homes and jobs, the responsibilities the society obliged them to accept, when they stop following the norms and rules of remaining silent and go in the street and shout out about their conditions, expressing anger and making noise, the real revolution happens. Those who are in power, want people to stay in, they want us silent, as this provides them with opportunities to gain more power and more control over our lives.
Civil obedience to the oppressive system is the problem, and therefore civil disobedience becomes a duty. There comes a day when one has to take a position that is neither popular, nor tolerant nor safe, but one must do it because its conscience tells him that he can’t accept it no more. That is the day a woman becomes an activist. The mission of female activists like me is to spot out the problem, to shine light on what is ignored and hidden on purpose. Our duty is to be the voice that breaks taboos created by the system and speak about problems, as this is the first step in solving them out.
Q: What can we do about the injustices faced by women and girls?
[Leslee Udwin] I have left my career in filmmaking to commit my life to human rights activism, and a particular program which I feel as the only solution- education.
This is not about how many, and who we teach… It’s about what we teach.
When I interviewed those rapists, I expected to meet monsters. That’s what the media told me they would be. But, they’re not… they’re normal, ordinary, human beings. Their psychiatrist described them as ‘normal but having antisocial tendencies’. So what is responsible for their behaviour? They have been hard-wired to view women as having lesser or no value, and being strictly subject to these cultural and social restrictions their culture imposes. How do we expect them to behave differently when, from their very first breath in this world, we- as society- teach them the lesser-value of women as compared with men. We show them the evidence in our culture. In India for example, from the moment a girl-child is born, she is considered unwelcome and is considered a burden. And this is true in many cultures. She doesn’t have sweets distributed at her birth, there are commiserations from friends and family, and people wish the parents better luck for next time. This girl’s brothers will see her eat last at the table, this is a cultural practice in India.
As Sheila Dikshit told me, boys are given the full glass of milk, they are expected to be out-there and active. Girls are given half-a-glass, or lesser nourishment. These anecdotes are supported by empirical evidence which shows significantly higher dangers for girls in-terms of malnutrition, infant mortality and more. These boys see that they will be educated rather than their sisters. Their sisters are destined to become domestic-slaves and these views are even apparent in common sayings where for example, raising a girl is seen as ‘watering a neighbour’s garden…’ because she will be given away in marriage, with a burdensome dowry, to someone else’s family where she will serve her husband and in-laws. In the face of problems like this, how do we expect these men to behave? How are we surprised that they’re dysfunctional and violent and feel ‘entitled’ to do what they like with these girls and women, these creatures of lesser value?
I interviewed one rapist who had raped a 5 year old girl. At the end of the interview, I asked him how he crossed the line from wanting to do this to actually doing it. I told him that I could go some of the distance to imagining how he was feeling, where he had that level of intensity in his body, was feeling desirous, hot and so forth- but I couldn’t imagine how he could cross the line from wanting to do that, to looking at this vulnerable, tiny creature in front of him, and raping her. He looked at me like I was crazy for asking such a stupid question, “she was a beggar girl, her life was of no value…” that’s what he told me, word for word, on film. So double-whammy for that young kid, not only was she a girl and therefore of lesser-value, but she was a beggar girl and therefore of no value.
How is this any different to the impulses at play during the Rwanda genocide where the Hutu regime prepared its people to wipe this other tribe off the planet. They mounted a propaganda campaign calling the Tutsi’s ‘cockroaches’ and ‘dogs’ to devalue them and dehumanise them. You can only commit atrocities to another person if you don’t see them as human, if you cannot empathise with them, cannot consider their perspective, and see them of no value. What is the difference between six men gang-raping Jyoti Singh and throwing her off a moving bus to die, naked and bleeding, to the genocide in Rwanda, to the beheading of people perceived as no-value, as infidels, by ISIS.
Where are the interventions that teach young people that every human being, regardless of their gender, caste, religion is equal?
While making ‘India’s Daughter,’ I was looking for a common-thread that linked these 7 rapists. It struck me early-on that 6 of the 7 had not finished secondary school, they had left at very young ages, 11, 12, 14. I thought this was hugely significant and then I interviewed their lawyers… These so-called ‘educated’ men with the benefit of tertiary education, showed themselves to be more entrenched in their misogyny than the rapists themselves. One lawyer told me that if his daughter behaved ‘like this’ [being free and independent] he would take her to his farmhouse, cover her in petrol, and burn her alive in front of his family.
It’s not about access to education, that’s not enough. We have to consider what we are teaching. For all the valiant and noble statements the world has made, since the declaration of human rights was made- acknowledging there must be value in people, education for all and so on…. Where have we actually put those words into action? We’re talking-the-talk, but we’re not applying it into education system.
We teach our children numeracy and literacy. We think we’re preparing them for life, but we’re really training them for economic success and empowerment. Why aren’t we giving responsible attention to educating their hearts and their heads. 2400 years ago, Aristotle who said that “education of the head, without education of the heart, is no education at all”.
We have to teach social emotional-learning, respect and values to children from their earliest age. We know that by the age of 6, character is by and large formed and hard-wired. Aristotle told us, “…give me a child at 7, and I will show you the man.” Neuroscience backs this up, and with all of its incredible ability to map and investigate the brain, we know that the window of most effective change in behaviour and attitude, the window where we are most-able to modify character and cognition, is between ages 3 and 5. What are we doing systemically, globally, comprehensively for the children of the world in that crucial window? Largely nothing…
However, there are a few glittering examples of programmes and people who understand this. Take Roots of Empathy for example, which is run by Mary Gordon. She sits on our committee at ‘Think Equal,’ as does Sir Ken Robinson (a visionary in creative learning). We have gathered together the top brains, experts, visionary thinkers, in order to galvanise and persuade education ministries to adopt a new subject on their curricula. You can call this ‘equality studies’, you can call this ‘social emotional learning’, but it has to be taught and mediated to children. This is a very serious, concrete subject. This isn’t about somehow imparting generalised values and hoping for the best, it’s about concrete and detailed exercises, instruments and programmes. It’s about practice, and experiential learning. Other members of our committee are leading the cutting edge side of empathy and social emotional learning including Ashoka Fellows, the Feuerstein institute, the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, and experts in and champions of human rights, gender, psychology, neuroscience and education.
We believe in a holistic approach to education to support a new generation of global citizens – human rights conscious, equal thinkers – in the context of the United Nations’ post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. Our purpose is to add human rights education as a compulsory component of education curricula around the world, and for such education to start from the very beginning of every child’s formal education.
Our ongoing inquiries into human rights violations, increasingly and inexorably lead to the conclusion that a pervasive, discriminatory and unequal mind-set is their primary cause across our world. We can only address this problem if we commit to educating children with moral values and focus on breaking the cycle of negative stereotypes and prejudicial judgements. We must invest in encouraging value equality and respect for the dignity of others from the first day of entry of a child to school. We must commit to a holistic approach to education which will result in a new generation of equal thinkers – global citizens who can rise to the challenges of the 21st century.
The benefits of this better world will not only be felt by the young but also their families, the community and their countries will benefit in many concrete ways. Reducing prejudice and discrimination means direct gains in areas of economic and social development which would have otherwise been wasted in violence and prejudice. Countries are likely to experience a massive injection into economic development, greater savings in health care, incarceration of prison populations, and major productivity gains. Every national budget and the economic and social development of every adopting country will be positively impacted.
As I’m talking to you today, we have 28 countries committed to participating in the initiative, bringing human rights education on a compulsory basis and from the first day of schooling, to their national curricula. Schools in Sri Lanka, Somalia, the Netherlands, UK, Ethiopia, the Bahamas and Dubai have committed to piloting the unadapted Global Curriculum for the Early Years in 2017.
What we’re talking about here is human science, it’s a huge subject. You wouldn’t dream of saying to a child, ‘here’s the basic principle of addition, there you go… that’s all you need to know’ – we spend every day of a child’s schooling, having them learn and practice mathematics. If it’s compulsory for a child to learn mathematics, it sure as hell should be compulsory for all children, boys and girls, to learn to live lives that are empowered, confers the right, positive values on them, and on their society and responsibly prepares them to be global citizens who can deal with the challenges of this century.. We want this to be compulsory in education, from the first day of school.
[Anne Summers] Women are being fundamentally denied their humanity, and denied their right to participate equally in society. The only thing we can do is fight politically, socially, and culturally- and we have to take every means and opportunity to point out the injustice; very few reasonable people when confronted with these injustice, would argue that for example, women should not be paid the same as men!
We need to persuade the people who run the joint that they have to agree to reduce their own importance and roles. We have to make it illegal to do certain things and then enforce those laws. We have equal pay laws, but they’re not enforced for example. We have to have quotas too- these will help us change the composition of our political parties, our boards, our senior management, our representation and more… we have plenty of qualified women who are being denied jobs, and we need to find structural solutions for their exclusion.
[Professor Naila Kabeer] Greater equality in the world needs equality at home in terms of responsibilities around care, domestic chores and so on and greater equality at work in terms of wages, working conditions and opportunities. Getting men to take on more caring responsibilities and enabling women to succeed in the work place is an important means of destabilizing the normative straitjacket of gender identity.
Institutions must not pigeon hole people according to their gender or sex; they must judge people simply on their abilities and what they bring to their tasks.
If we could have those two principles, equality at work and at home and organize society accordingly, it would be enormous progress.
I’m optimistic about the future, even though the pace of change seems glacial at present, because I think younger people may be growing up in a world with greater multiplicity of possible identities than we did.
Q: How can more men play a role in the feminism movement?
[Professor Michael Kimmel] People talk a lot and sometimes tell people to step-up and ‘walk’ their talk; living what they’re espousing. For men around gender equality, they need to talk their walk!
In our daily lives, we are far more gender equal in our friendships, our work with women as colleagues, in our relationships with our partners, relationships and children. We’re invested. We just don’t talk about it.
Men need to be vocal and talk about the fact that for example, issues like parental leave are parent issues, not just women’s issues.
[Amy Richards] Men need to help themselves, they are as punished by our world as women are, and they need to start asking serious questions of society too..
Vodafone for example, like many multinational companies, started to investigate why women were not present in certain higher-levels of management to the degree men are. What they realised was that so many more men were interviewing for these jobs, that women were disadvantaged at the get-go. To make up for this gap, Vodafone committed to interview a higher percentage of women, and sure enough, over time, they vastly increased the number of women in leadership positions. This came from a male mind, a mind that realised that you have to make your workforce reflect your customers. It’s not hiring women because they’re women, but hiring women because that’s representative of the structure of our world!
The former head of Price Waterhouse Coopers talked openly about going through a divorce while he was head of the company. The fact he disclosed this, and was open about the challenges of being a parent, and going through a divorce mean that many men on his team were able to speak-up too. We need men to speak more honestly about their lives so they’re encouraged to see themselves as full human-beings, like women are.
Studies on work-life-family balance show that men are as likely to leave work between 5-8pm to be with their kids, but less likely to reveal this. Men have the same instincts as women but are punished in a different way. We need to bring this out. Stew Friedman, who runs the Centre of Work and Life at Wharton UPENN notes that if you talk about this as work-family issue? You get women in the room. If you talk about it as work-life? You get the whole workforce. Everyone wants a break from work for something… In fact, when women were polled, they found that more women were taking time off work to care for elderly parents than young children.
[Jessica Valenti] There has always been a role for men in feminism, and this role has grown exponentially in the internet era. When I interact online with people on feminism and its issues, I would say around half of all those people are men!
Men recognise that feminism are not just important because they should care, but that a feminist analysis helps with issues around masculinity, and how toxic ideas around that can impact their lives too.
I would love to see more feminist male leaders being propped-up. Historically there’s been a well-founded concern that if you put men in charge of feminism, that they’ll perhaps take-over or that people will take them more seriously than women. We see this in culture…. When women talk about rape, often nobody listens… but when a man talks about rape? All of a sudden, he’s more credible.
Q: How can women fight-back in these most extreme situations?
[Leymah Gbowee] First, there is an assumption that when there is an extreme case of violence and conflict there is no place for a woman’s voice, and I think that’s wrong. From the get-go, it’s important for women to learn to speak out. What people fail to realize is that our voice—or the voices we’ve been given—are more powerful than anything else. If you don’t speak up, people will continue to do things thinking it’s okay with you. But if you speak up about issues, even if people are still doing what they’re doing, someway, somehow, they’re hearing you. Women should start by using their voices, networking, and coming together despite political differences, to advocate for peace and justice. Just being present, not ever allowing themselves to be thrown back, but continuing to occupy space, never rest and sustain activism is the best way to go.
Q: How can we unlock the intelligence, passion and greatness of our world’s girls?
[Leymah Gbowee] Just take one hour of your time to talk to a group of girls about where they’d like to go and do. Mentorship, financing their education, and opening up opportunities for them are some ways to help. Ensuring that we have policies backed by political will and financing to get them where they need to go. There’s a lot people can do at local, community, national and international levels. If we do these things, we’re able to make the kind of impact we need to unlock the intelligence of girls. It’s not a one-way street but a circle process: one thing feeds into another.
Q: What would a gender equal world be like?
[Leymah Gbowee] A very beautiful world, one where men would function better. When you’re spending a lot of time making the case for your involvement, it’s difficult to exert creativity. It will be a world that is equal where everyone can assert themselves and be who they want to be, and life will be better for everyone.
[Professor Michael Kimmel] Gender is an organising principle, but has become a series of limitations on women. The data are pretty convincing that if we lived in a gender equal world countries would be happier, companies would be more profitable, there would be lower job turnover and higher job satisfaction, our families would be stronger and our kids would be happier.
The truth is that men are afraid of gender equality, and we’re afraid that equality means same-ness. We’re scared that we’ll all end-up being the same, a kind-of androgynous mush rather than equal. We need to be more gender-equal, and that means there should be nothing inherently masculine about being ambitious, assertive or confident – and nothing inherently feminine about being loving, caring and nurturing. If we really believed that only women could be loving, nurturing and caring? We wouldn’t let men anywhere near children… and of course we do!
We need to make sure that our views, our rules, our laws are equal. We expect the law to protect people from discrimination stereotypes and from being limited. It’s a very positive thing, but needs to be enforced.
A gender equal society is a more authentic society, and that’s good for everyone.
Q: What is your hope for the future?
[Leslee Udwin] If we provide the next generation with the tools and the platform and empower them, they will relish this kind of learning. I know they will.
That we have this urgently required system change in education, that we finally provide the kind of nurturing, responsible start to the lives of our children with this caring intervention. That we empower them to break the cycle of violence we have apathetically allowed to be perpetuated generation to generation. That they will be educated in the basics of ethics, values and empathy and themselves become advocates of human rights. The reason we have psychologists and neuroscientists on our committee is that we need to find ways fort he children to teach the parents, and also teach the children that they are extremely privileged to live at a time in which they are helped and not hindered.
We have to stand up and take responsibility for the fact that we, all of us, helped those rapists do what they did. Until we acknowledge that responsibility, the cycle of violence will continue ad-infinitum, getting worse and worse. What is the next step in a world like this? Where do you go after beheading people live on the internet?
We deal with the symptoms. Rape and all these atrocities in the world, are the symptom of the disease. The disease is the mind-set of inequality, whether that’s based on gender or any other factor.
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar was a Dalit who pulled himself out of the caste system in a spectacular way, framing the Indian constitution. He said, “…we will measure the progress of our society by the progress of our women…”
[Anne Summers] I used to be more optimistic than I am no., I used to get very excited at seeing all these young women becoming activists… but I’m not so optimistic at the moment. A lot of today’s young women are not political enough, and don’t understand the importance of political goals.
It’s not enough to feel-good about something, you have to want to actually change it…
Until we get a very tough-minded young-feminism that’s willing to take on the institutions of our society, I’m not sure that we’ll change anything. We’ve been doing this for 40 years, some things have changed- but not enough.
We need to change the structures and systems of our society, and the only way we’ll do that is through politics.
Q: What are the greatest opportunities we have to fight the injustices and discrimination women face?
[Dr. Dubravka Šimonović] Our greatest opportunities lie in ongoing empowerment of women and girls as well as better advocacy and stronger implementation of universally accepted standards on gender equality and non-discrimination of women. Obstacles to gender equality and women’s rights like gender discriminatory stereotypes; gender norms and traditional practices cannot be eradicated from one day to the other especial if they are accepted as “normal“. They need to be changed by visible and global and regional campaigns, community campaigns, use of media and movies, education and other every days activities. Education of children as the protagonists of the future is crucial for them to understand how some practices and beliefs are not only harmful, but unjust, dangerous and unnecessary. They need to be guided by the teachers of today, meaning schools, families, communities and states, who have the important task of teaching them the importance of gender equality together with the wrongfulness of violence against women and girls. Economic conditions should be addressed too, since many times the presence of violent behaviours or discriminatory practices is a symptom of economic difficulties. On a more short-term basis, the international community should recognize the need to solve the huge implementation gap and to place eradication of violence against women as a priority level at the domestic level. Women’s rights are human rights, and this is something which is formally recognized by almost all actors. A formal recognition of this dates back to 35 years ago when the CEDAW Convention was adopted as the first women’s rights human rights treaty. Later on in 1995, at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, participating Governments adopted the Beijing Declaration, by which they reaffirmed their fundamental commitment to the achievement of equal rights for women and men, stating unequivocally that ―women’s rights are human rights. Despite this, their place is still a secondary one in many legislations and policies. Moreover, there is a need to continue explain why is gender equality and women’s empowerment needed and to speaking about this issue worldwide, acknowledging the fact that there is still much to be done in every country. Improvements in the past have demonstrated that changes are not only possible but also desirable by all the parties and this should encourage the people to act.
Q: What would be your message to the generation of women and girls following ours?
[Leymah Gbowee] Never despise humble beginnings. You can start by sitting on your front porch with a girl. In 10 years, you may see that she’s gone on to do great things and she will look back on her life and say, “It was those five minutes a day I sat on this woman’s porch and interacted with her.” No matter where you come from or where you started, know that your humble beginning will lead you to great things.
[Anne Summers] You have to be very focussed on the causes of our continuing inequality.
How you look and how you feel may seem important when you’re young, but when it comes to it… whether you get the job, whether you get the promotion, whether you get equal pay, whether you are safe from violence and can control your fertility? Those are the things that will lead to a life where you can fulfil your ambitions without hurdles.
We need to fight for three things for women. Economic self-sufficiency, control of our fertility and freedom from violence. If we guarantee these three things, we can ensure that women can do anything.
[Professor Michael Kimmel] The generation after ours will be the ones who will make our world more gender-equal. So I wouldn’t offer advice. I’d ask them. We need to listen to them. We need to ask young people what they need to live the lives they want in their future.
We need to listen to young people, give them the resource they need, and get out of their way.
[Amy Richards] One of the lessons I learned early-on in my life, came from the great civil rights leader James Farmer. I had been organised a cross-country voter registration drive inspired by the civil rights movement in the USA, and I asked him for some advice. He took a long pause and said, “You HAVE to BELIEVE it….” When I pushed him further? I saw that he (as an African American man in his 70’s) had fought for civil rights for most of his adult life, but had been punished by racism in this country, and had internalised that sense of a lack of worth.
Carol Gillighan’s amazing book ‘In a Different Voice’ that came out in the late 1970’s is still relevant today. She at the time, was a Professor at Harvard, very schooled as a feminist and felt that men’s questions were considered more valued than women’s questions. The question she asked was why women didn’t feel more entitled to take a stand.
As much as women do fight politically for these struggles, personally we limit ourselves. Don’t limit yourself.
I have a lot of friends who are fighting for affordable childcare and better education in the United States. These are also people who have nannies and send their kids to private schools.
We don’t have to struggle to be in the struggle, but we have to understand the struggle. Sometimes, in progressive politics, we want something for others that we don’t do ourselves, and we have to break that divide.
[Professor Naila Kabeer] I would say to them, you need to work out what you want to do and what your talents are and try and bring them together in your life. You shouldn’t let anyone tell you there’s something you can’t do because of what society says about you. Don’t let anyone undermine how you use your talents and aspirations. It is important that you make your own choices and take responsibility for them. But I would also hope that you use your talent and aspiration, not merely to pursue your own goals, but also to make your community and society a better place for others. We live increasingly interdependent lives and I think we have a collective obligation to each other if we are flourish as individuals.
[Laura Bates] You are not alone, there are thousands of us behind you.
We’re in this exciting and positive moment with such potential for change. More young women than ever before are coming forward, helping each other and standing up for one another and carrying out incredible campaigns for change.
You’re not alone, you’re on the right side of history, and when people get angry and try to silence you, it’s because they’re afraid of your power and your potential.
This is hard, it’s a battle, but it’s a battle we will win, and young women who get involved now will look back and be incredibly proud of what they achieved.
[Dr. Dubravka Šimonović] My message would be simply to keep their eyes open and their voices loud. Gender based injustices, discrimination and violence are persistent and they are the ones who should take final steps to eliminate them fully and to achieve gender equality for all. Life free from violence and discrimination should be reality of incoming generation of women and girls.
[Jessica Valenti] I hope the next generation continue to teach the people that came before them. There’s been a problem with generational feminist politics and the idea that older feminists impart their experience and the younger ones should listen. Don’t misunderstand me, there is of course a lot of experience that older people can impart to the young but it has to go the other way as well.
I started doing this work when I was pretty-young, and whilst I’m not old, I learn a lot from younger women and it’s hugely important for me to tap into their world and be ok with the idea that I may not always agree with their tactics and activism. We should be OK with generational disagreements and conflict, that is what will make our debate smarter and ultimately more effective.
[Inna Shevchenko] If the history of the world was made through its great revolutions, democratic, social and sexual, can we not legitimately think that we also deserve our feminist revolution? The one that would end the oldest and deadliest oppression, that of patriarchy on women. This revolution will highlight the greatest genocide in history of mankind and destroy the infernal machine that murders women because they are women.
You who are women, unite, revolt, be responsible for your condition, the condition of others, and the condition of the next.
We are half of humanity, we possess to a quarter, we die twice more. But we are a formidable force and our union can change everything. We are brave, strong, enduring, and determined, let’s be ready to fight. Let’s be ready not to suffer for what we are, but to suffer for what we want.
Let’s take our responsibilities now,
Let’s not accept anymore,
Let’s not be afraid anymore,
Many arguments around sexual justice form around the principle of equality. The fact is, as Peter Singer states In his 1974 paper, All Animals Are Equal “..it is simply not true that all humans are equal. Like it or not, we must face the fact that humans come in different shapes and sizes; they come with differing moral capacities, differing intellectual abilities, differing amounts of benevolent feeling and sensitivity to the needs of others, differing abilities to communicate effectively, and differing capacities to experience pleasure and pain. In short, if the demand for equality were based on the actual equality of all human beings, we would have to stop demanding equality. It would be an unjustifiable demand.” His assertion is quite simple, equality is not a factual logical statement based around any set faculties or capacities, but more, “…a prescription of how we should treat humans.” He illustrates this by citing Jeremy Bentham, a prominent utilitarian who gave his formula for ethics as “Each to count for one and none for more than one.”
In this same paper, Singer discusses the injustice facing women. “In recent years a number of oppressed groups have campaigned vigorously for equality. The classic instance is the Black Liberation movement, which demands an end to the prejudice and discrimination that has made blacks second class citizens. …When a majority group – women – began their campaign, some thought we had come to the end of the road. Discrimination on the basis of sex, it has been said, is the last universally accepted form of discrimination, practiced without secrecy or pretence even in those liberal circles that have long prided themselves on their freedom from prejudice against racial minorities.” He adds, “…if we have learnt anything from the liberation movements, we should have learnt how difficult it is to be aware of latent prejudice in our attitudes to particular groups until this prejudice is forcefully pointed out. Practices that were previously regarded as natural and inevitable come to be seen as the result of an unjustifiable prejudice. Who can say with confidence that all his or her attitudes and practices are beyond criticism? If we wish to avoid being numbered amongst the oppressors, we must be prepared to re-think even our most fundamental attitudes. We need to consider them from the point of view of those most disadvantaged by our attitudes, and the practices that follow from these attitudes. If we can make this unaccustomed mental switch we may discover a pattern in our attitudes and practices that consistently operates so as to benefit one group- usually the one to which we ourselves belong- at the expense of another.”
This last comment is critical. James Griffin (former White’s Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Oxford) extends this thought further in his book, ‘on Human Rights’. “A person is a bearer of human rights in virtue of being a normative agent, and women are equal to men in normative agency. Their being denied rights is therefore unfair.” He continues, “… Some objectionable forms of discrimination clearly violate human rights, as when the thuggish organs of a government randomly round up members of a hated racial minority and subject them to painful physical abuse. It might seem initially that this periodic abuse need not destroy its victims’ autonomous agency, but it usually would. Simply to be a member of a hated- or even a merely scorned or belittled- group would be likely to undermine one’s life as an agent. A member of a hated minority would be inhibited from speaking out on unpopular issues, and from acting in a way that would attract the majority’s attention. And members of a hated group living in a community with police given to physical abuse would be all the more constrained. And it is hard to maintain self-esteem, hard not to sink into passivity, when one’s society as a whole gives one such a demeaning picture of oneself. None the less, even though this is a violation of human rights, the most obvious thing to say about it is something different: namely, that this is a monstrous injustice, a flagrant violation of equal respect.”
Whether we look at the developed world (with domestic violence, prejudice in the employment world, and so forth) or developing world (with its myriad of life and death challenges), we are not talking about policies and campaigns to tackle individual injustices to women, but at a fundamental change to the way society views itself. The injustices carried out against women, in all forms, are a fundamental failure of humanity. The reasons are varied, but the solutions come from educating society (both adults, and children) and giving all members of society (including women) the voice to speak with confidence and not, as Griffin argues, “sink into passivity“. Policy and frameworks must then, as Janet Radcliffe Richards states in her 1980 book ‘The Sceptical Feminist‘ work on development rather than reparation and compensation to bring about, “an improvement of the position of women until society is fair to them.”
For society oppression of women is creating a huge social-loss, and exacerbating issues ranging from economic instability to terrorism, poverty, and overpopulation. The unjust economy we have built is collapsing under the weight of such factors, and we must, therefore, acknowledge that the rights of women lie at the heart of these solutions. Ruth Harrison (a leading author and activist) once said, “..cruelty is acknowledged only when profitability ceases.”
Throughout history, whether we consider the realms of religion, literature, fine-art or music, or our own interactions as individuals, women have been revered for their qualities of elegance, motherhood, intuition, creativity and more. Most religions associate the very nature of creation itself, of nature, as being feminine- speaking of Mother Nature, Mother Earth and more. In Chinese philosophy the concept of Yin represents an equal half of “Yin and Yang” – the symbol describing how, “polar or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other in turn.” and in Hinduism, the female form “Shakti” is the divine feminine creative power, the female counterpart without whom the male aspect remains impotent and void. In the Hebrew language, for example, the divine presence of God, the Holy Spirit, is represented by Shekhinah– a feminine form.
It is, then, to be considered a great hypocrisy for us as a civilisation to idolise and revere the feminine with such love, and to blindly accept (and inadvertently condone) the abhorrent prejudices, injustices, and crimes which occur against women in the developed and developing world.
Regardless whether we are people of faith, or our background, one of the key shared experiences of humanity (and, indeed, one of the basic primal forces that defines us as being human) is Love, the unconditional wish for the happiness of someone else rather than ourselves- and to use that basic tenet as our motivation for change, we must heed the advice of Richard Bach who said, “If you love someone, set them free.”