This is 2015 and we are still fighting for equality. Sadly I'm not even talking about non-human animals, but the basic rights of women.
There is something about women that captures people's imagination. We are both celebrated and vilified, sexual and sexualised. A woman will receive criticism for seeming too empowered, criticism for the reverse. These are not just playground jibes or the throwaway remarks of colleagues. Like swallows seeming to swoop on a whim, the collective reaction of the media is difficult to predict in terms of how a particular woman will be judged for whichever story du jour.
Yesterday alone saw my radar bombarded with mixed messages. The despicable narrative concerning the rapists of murdered Indian girl, Jyoti Singh, is sickening. The attempt to justify extreme sexual violence being used against someone based solely on their sex is frankly terrifying. However, far more frightening is the fact that India's Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, is trying to suppress the film, India's Daughter, from being aired either in India or elsewhere. Why? The immature and dangerous assertions that women are more responsible for rape than men, is sadly not held by just a few cognitively challenged individuals. This attitude bubbles barely beneath the surface of the country's collective conscience. In the time I spent there I was flashed, groped, spied on, sexually assaulted by teenagers and had a man try to buy me. This is whilst I had the *gritted teeth* 'protection' of a boyfriend. I wonder if the director, Leslee Udwin, were a man the Home Minister would be less worried? Do I sound paranoid?
A colleague today discussed her difficulty in finding any joy with editors to pitch a story concerning Nellie Bly, a journalist who in 1890 beat the world record and travelled around the globe in 72 days with just the clothes on her back and a handbag. This year marks the 125 anniversary of that feat and yet there seems to be no interest. Apparently there was no real interest at the 100th year anniversary either. My colleague was apologetic but wondered whether it is because Nellie was a woman and people are intimidated by women.
People ARE intimidated by women. I don't know why. In Afghanistan people are so threatened by the notion of female police that the job role should come with a health warning. One would assume that of all jobs this would be considered respectable and that there would be an element of protection for those who sign up. Not so. Women find themselves subject to sexual harassment on a day to day basis from their male counterparts. There is the pressure for sex from those higher up the ladder, with all manner of threats to keep the little woman submissive. In spite of constant vigilance and total secrecy about the role for all but the immediate family, police women in Afghanistan are in danger simply because they are female. In 2013 six policewomen were murdered, one of whom was shot point blank whilst walking her children home from a visit to their grandparents. Allegedly this was carried out by the Taliban after someone in her family dobbed her in, but then as her father stated, "everyone is pulling a shawl on their face and calling themselves Taliban". (NYTimes 1st March 2015)
Recently two friends visited Tangiers. They are both what I would consider to be culturally sensitive and sensible. However they suffered from the unfortunate plight of being female. This meant incessant name calling, hissing, requests for sex and even a bit of groping from a 12 year old boy. I appreciate that this is simply the way of life, no real harm came of it and perhaps there was little genuine malice intended. I imagine that had one of the girls responded with a "yes sure, you whistled at me so let's go back to your place", the men in question would not know what to do with themselves. That said it is this sort of ingrained disrespect for women that can lead to dangerous situations. Another friend is an air hostess. The company for whom she works flies from Tangiers to Amsterdam - a route she dreads. It isn't so much the skirt tugging that she finds challenging. Worst of all is when men from Tangiers refuse to speak with her - it seems that the all important matter of inflight refreshments can only be dealt with by men. If someone refused to speak to me during the course of my job simply because I am anatomically designed to give birth I would lose my shit.
Last night I was approached by a very pleasant gentleman who informed me that women should run the world. We had just met and I agreed with him. In Banker To The Poor, Bangladeshi economist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Muhammad Yunus states that matriarchal societies tend to fair better because any income is spent on feeding the family, home improvements and education. In patriarchal societies a good portion of the income may well go on booze and gambling. His words, not mine. My new friend, Jonas, had written a book to illustrate precisely this point. I'm half way through and cannot yet comment on its content save to say it raises some good points but there really is quite a surprising focus on sex. Sex sex, not gender sex.
On that topic we're also accosted at every tube station by posters in several shades of grey advertising a film that celebrates women being sexually submissive. I'm no prude and I don't care where people get their kicks if no-one gets hurt - or rather, as long as adults mutually consent to be hurt - but it does feel like as a global society we are confused about the very concept of 'women'. Are they to be protected and sheltered, to remain clean and pure? Or can they be glamorised, sexualised, prominent? Can they take control as a mother, or a lover, or both? Quite frankly they should be able to do what the hell they like, as men have done pretty much the world over for pretty much time immemorial.
Clearly some parts of the world are more progressive than others. Luckily this teachers' contract is nearly 100 years old so I can sort of excuse it. Look carefully and you'll see the same fear of women's sexuality -
Basically it's all, 'stop encouraging those poor men to misbehave'. After all, why should they be forced to exercise restraint? Number 11 is particularly telling. I suppose one petticoat is just plain slutty. Luckily for olden day school teachers, the contract only forbids beer, wine and whiskey. Vodka was fine. I'm not an advocate of political correctness for the sake of it, sometimes I find it a nuisance. If a man buys me a drink I appreciate it and honestly I even prefer a man to be stronger than me. I shouldn't have to state these thing as they're frankly irrelevant to this post, but I'd hate to give the likes of Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, the chance to write me off as a man hater. After all, some of my best friends are men ...
Inequality between the sexes is not just a matter of a pay gap - which obviously, is still is not cool. The fact that every day, women everywhere are exploited, beaten, raped, forced to marry, sold into slavery and denied the basic right to live a life free from terror and torture is insane. It takes brave people like the film-maker Leslee Udwin to stand up for those without a voice: To spread awareness that treating women in this manner is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in the global community. The film India's Daughter will have little impact on the lives of women in small rural villages, living in fear of their own families, working as slaves with no free will of their own. However it will have some impact, no matter how slight. The fight to show the film in India is an important strategic battle for equality and one which the rest of the world can support by spreading the word and encouraging Mr Singh to man the fuck up, take responsibility for his nation's future and help to liberate the other 50% of his country.
International Women's Day is this Sunday 8th March