03.09.07

embarrassed, ashamed, depressed

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:36 pm by rachel

Women are half the world’s population, working two thirds of the world’s working hours, receiving 10% of the world’s income, owning less than 1% of the world’s property.

You’re born, you live, you die: it’s what you do with your life that is important. All things being equal, of course. For so many, the opportunity to make something of their life is curtailed by their gender. As women, they are not equal to men. As women they do not have the same worth as men. They earn less money, they do more work, they have less power, they are seen and treated as less. Were any other minority to receive such discrimination – I can’t imagine that if you substituted the word ‘women’ for Muslims, Jews, Black, Chinese, tall, short, fat, thin, disabled, any other qualification of personhood – that people wouldn’t be marching in the street. Trashing the place to demand what was due to them. What was their right.

It might be the wine, but my blood boils. Actually, it’s just the lack of fairness. Half of the world are subjugated by the other half. It is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

Sometimes I wonder how things would be if historical, terrible events had never taken place. The last few days Ethiopia has been on the news as a search goes on for some kidnapped diplomats. Am I the only one looking at the Ethiopian landscape, the destitute villages: barren, empty, wasted? I try to imagine what would have become of Africa if so many of her children had not been slaughtered, kidnapped or forced into slavery. Where would Africa have been now if Europeans had not landed, killed, taken, stolen and enslaved? If generations of men and women had been free to cultivate the land and use the potential of their riches for their own self-promotion, rather than have it pillaged by others. It is hard to think they could be in a worse position. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if women had not been so demonised by religion as the reason for the fall of man – those cynical stories to justify class division and enforce social control, to prevent a revolution with tales that the meek would inherit the earth. That women were the reason for their fall from grace, and must be punished forever after.

Here in secular Britain, things are different. Women in Britain, including myself, are only likely to earn something like 17% less than the average bloke in my lifetime because here in Britain there have been attempts to rectify the imbalance between women and men. Yet I’m upset. I’m upset about how lucky I am, compared to the women who are being refused an education because they aren’t important enough to be taught how to read, compared to the women who aren’t allowed to control their fertility and are forced to carry child after child after child until they die in labour. Compared to the women who get cut and raped and beaten and given the death sentence of AIDS. Compared to the women who are sold into slavery or prostitution or forced to marry someone to repay a family’s debt. Compared to the women whose punishment for adultery is death by stoning, when her partner in crime gets off with a fine, a prison sentence, or a pat on the back.

I had a frustrating day in work today – one little thing after another, and it annoyed me intensely. I spent the day like a bear with a headache.It makes no sense to me now – yesterday I was at a conference to mark International Women’s Day, which demonstrated the charmed life I lead. 59% of HIV sufferers in sub Saharan Africa are women – what was initially seen as a disease for gay men. One of the attendees of the conference was featured in the documentary we were shown; her name is Juliet and she is a Kenyan woman. She went to school, she learned to read. She learned about AIDS. When she went to school, she was told to abstain from sex. She was told that a condom would protect her, but not shown how to use one. She and her boyfriend slept together for the first time when she was 17 – later than the majority of young people in the UK. Neither knew how to use a condom. He removed it halfway through and she became pregnant. As her boyfriend had AIDS, she also became HIV positive. Her dreams are gone. Her life is ruined. Her son will be orphaned. My problems aren’t problems – they are nothing.

Speaker after speaker, from Kenya, from Uganda, from India, made the link between violence against women and the spread of HIV. While men could be demonised as the vectors of the disease, the message was positive: men are needed for women to be treated as equals. Actually, men are the answer for women to be more than vassals. A permanent revolution is needed.

Education is the answer. Education would mean that women and men would be learning in a classroom together, as equals, rather than growing up with an imposed idea of worth. Respect would be gained – women are capable of being as clever as men, we can see that in the Education figures in the UK. Education would demonstrate the basic facts that HIV can be prevented by wearing a condom correctly and consistently. Education empowers both sexes, helping them achieve their potential. Education is a gateway to equality.

We are so, so far from equality – worldwide and locally. Out of 108 MLAs just elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly, only 17 are women. Less women stood for election and surprise surprise, less are elected. The same old men in grey suits (bar one 25 year old Shinner) are running the country. I’m not saying that more women would mean less sectarianism – but legislatures with a higher proportion of women have concentrated on issues that matters to the half of the population not traditionally catered for. Childcare is something that women from both sides of the community could come together about – both will know the issues in trying to juggle a job, a husband, children and a political career. Far easier to reach consensus on than policing. Through such cooperation between female politicians, the lives of so many women could be changed for the better. However, given the dearth of female MLAs, it is unlikely to get on to the agenda.

Where are all the feminists? Where are all the humanitarians? Women’s rights are human rights. Half the world are second class citizens. The whole world suffers.