Caroline Watson, C0-founder of Progressive Women, writes about the success of our first fundraising event
Tuesday evening, I literally laughed until I cried. I swear I must have burnt more calories laughing than I would have if I had spent an hour in the gym. I was lucky enough to be at Progressive Women’s first ever fundraising event, and what an event it turned out to be.
A few months ago, at one of our planning sessions, one of my fellow Progressive Women said ‘my boyfriend asked if we ever do anything fun’. Obviously I was insulted as I think everything we do is fun! But we decided to prove to the wider world that feminism can be fun. We also really wanted to showcase some exceptionally funny female comics (and feminist men), as we are well aware that most stand up shows have, if any, one token female. Our final motivation was to raise money for our spring leadership conference (watch this space for more details).
We were absolutely delighted to have a stellar line up starring our fabulous compere Tiernan Douieb, Lou Sanders, Chris Coltrane, Jess Fostekew, Bridget Christie, Tamar Broadbent, Ann Donomey, Blod Jones, Amy Howerska, and Kate Smurthwaite. Thank you to all of the performers, who made it an absolutely fantastic evening and a resounding success.
In total we have raised over £950 and we’re so grateful to everyone who attended and those who worked to make the evening so incredible.
Save the date: 11th May for our spring women’s leadership conference with keynote speaker Rt Hon Dame Tessa Jowell MP. If you would like to contact Progressive Women regarding sponsorship opportunities for our spring leadership conference please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Like Progressive Women on Facebook and follow us on twitter @sylviapankhurst
Anna Chatburn is a Progressive Women committee member. You can follow her on twitter @AnnaChatburn
Are women or men funnier? Can we make such sweeping generalisations? Many people have said (jokingly or not) that men are funnier than women, particularly when it comes to stand-up comedy. I’ve been thinking about why this opinion might exist… Here are some of the theories my brain has pondered, let me know what you think:
‘One of the lads’
At first I thought perhaps men assume they’ll identify more with other men, therefore being more receptive to male jokes. But that doesn’t explain why a lot of women as well as men also think men are funnier.
Men are more ‘prominent’ than women in society
Until the last decade or so there were far fewer female comics in the public eye and perhaps as women have historically been marginalised, that makes them less likely to be forthcoming with their humour in general. Equally ethnic minorities (also marginalised) aren’t generally given much of a platform either. So it must be at least partly cultural.
There’s been research!
There has actually been research about this…Participants made up funny captions to accompany sketches. More people of both sexes assumed men would write the funniest captions. But there was barely any difference in the gender of those who created those voted funniest. Women were far less confident about their gag-writing abilities than men. “When asked how they thought their efforts would rank, men believed they would receive a 2.3; women, a 1.5.” The study wasn’t exactly large scale but I’ve read about similar results elsewhere.
Confidence is key
I think stand-up comedy requires a fair amount of confidence. Self-doubt is the root of a lot of humour, but stand-up requires being bold enough to bare your soul. I often feel I should suppress my sense of humour in order to be taken seriously, but is that to do with gender? Actress Charlotte Thornton points out in a great blog post “Feminine and funny – can we be both?” that being funny isn’t necessarily seen as feminine. She points out that stand-up started in working men’s clubs. To stand up and give your views and open yourself up for criticism requires attributes traditionally seen as ‘macho’. Blokes on the whole tend to be less self-critical and analytical than women.
Perhaps women feel they have to prove a point
Some female comics talk about being female and feminism…however some men still often come out with surprisingly clichéd and cringe-worthy jokes (often under the guise of irony). I went to a comedy night in Greenwich a few years ago with some well known comics (all male) and spent a lot of the time cringing/ bored as the jokes seemed very dated and sexist.
The peacock theory
This is the idea that men make more effort to be funny in order to try to woo females by impressing them, hence they get noticed for being funny more often. However according to this NY Times article men are just simply cockier!
“Women are dirtier”
Its often said that women use more profanities. Could this be an attempt to be ‘one of the lads’ or show we’re not afraid of saying what we think? Or maybe we just are dirtier.
It’s the individual, not the gender
Surely it’s about the individual, not the gender? Of course, but people still make generalisations. I can probably think of a fairly equal balance of hilarious women and men in my day-to-day life, but I think the key is that comediennes aren’t represented as much as men.
More female comics please!
Comedy clubs are missing a trick by not including more of a balance – if I saw a line-up was all or nearly all male I would be much less likely to go! I’d like to see more of a balance on TV and in live shows.
You can judge for yourself if women really are the funnier sex. Join us on Tuesday 29 January for our Funny Fundraiser, starring Bridget Christie, Catie Wilkins, Kate Smurthwaite, Amy Howerska, and many more…
Emma Ward works for an addiction charity and is co-director of Progressive Women.
This week I attended ‘Lifting the Lid’, an event hosted by the Women’s Fabian Network to discuss the sexualisation of women and girls in British society and culture. The keynote speaker was Diane Abbott MP, Labour’s Shadow Public Health Minister.
My ears pricked up when I heard about this event as I am often left confused and frustrated with the debate around girls’ so-called ‘sexualisation’. It seems absolutely clear to me that how women and girls are talked about and portrayed in schools, families and the media influences both their aspirations and how they feel about themselves. However, within this debate I have felt disheartened by conversations I have had with feminists who have called Page 3 women ‘nothing more than glorified sex dolls’ and Katie Price a ‘travesty’. In my opinion, this not only feels reminiscent of the ‘slut-shaming’ that as feminists we claim to be challenging, but it effectively seeks to nullify the voices and experiences of some of the girls and women we want to empower.
So, in short, I attended this event with trepidation. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised. Overall, I thought it was an enjoyable, balanced discussion of an important and complex issue. I was impressed by Diane Abbott’s apparently genuine passion and commitment to feminism. I was relieved to hear discussions that didn’t demonise women’s sexuality or women having sex. My favourite quote was from blogger Emma Burnell:
With slut shaming it’s the shaming not the shagging that’s the problem.
Burnell rightly pointed out that part of girls’ growing-up process is the development of their sexuality and therefore becoming ‘sexualised’ is not in itself the problem. The danger lies in how that developing sexuality is influenced and portrayed by society. I was also thrilled to hear a number of people raise concerns about how both genders are portrayed in limiting ways by society and the consequent negative impact on men’s and boys’ self esteem. Abbott even hinted that she may focus on this area next.
My only bug bear with the evening was when talk turned to role models. Everyone agreed that young women need a range of diverse positive role models in order to fuel and support their aspirations. So far, so good. When I started to get a bit uncomfortable was when Abbott claimed we needed ‘less Paris Hilton and more Jessica Ennis’. We’d spent the whole evening discussing the negative impact on women’s self esteem when they are bombarded with messages about how they should or should not look, think and act. And then we dove right into the dichotomy that there are ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ women. Jessica Ennis is an amazing, but flawed human being – like the rest of us. Paris Hilton has her faults but has successfully earned a fortune in her own right. I think we are on dangerous ground if we try to reduce women into those who represent the ‘right’ women and those who do not.
Emma Burnell made the great point that one of the reasons that figures like Paris Hilton and Katie Price appeal is because their lives seem much more fun than that of an MP. We need to ensure that the portrayal of women who are successful in areas like politics, business and sport are more visible and rounded so that those positions seem more accessible and desirable to young girls. We don’t need to criticise who else is in the limelight to achieve this. I tend to think that until we start listening and empathising with the reasons that some young girls want to grow up to be Paris Hilton or Katie Price, helping them to find their authentic voice and join the debate, then we are just joining all the others who are telling them who they should or should not be.
For further interesting thoughts on these themes see the following contributions in the media this week from Zoe Williams and Grace Dent.
Join Progressive Women for our female-led Funny Fundraiser on January 29th with Kate Smurthwaite, Bridget Christie, Catie Wilkins, and many more. Tickets available here
On the day of the second inauguration of Barack Obama, Binita Mehta, Progressive Women Committee Member, discusses her experience working on the Obama for America campaign, and why more of us should get involved.
Today is the public inauguration of the 44th President of the United States of America. In November 2012, Barack Obama was re-elected and I was fortunate enough to have played a part in this historic election, having worked as an “Organizing Fellow” on the Obama for America campaign in Fairfax, Northern Virginia, close to Washington DC. It was a fantastic experience for me to have had such a hands-on role in the weeks running up to Election Day, the pinnacle of the campaign, and I definitely learnt a lot.
Whilst working in Virginia, I was lucky to secure some VIP front row tickets from the boss, official title, Field Organiser, essentially a strategic district Campaign Manager, to go and see Bill Clinton and the President himself address supporters at a rally. This was an incredibly exciting experience; whilst rallies are practically unheard of in Britain, they are an integral aspect of campaigning in the States. 24,000 Americans, not just from Virginia, gathered in an outdoor arena on a freezing November evening, with only two days of campaigning left before Election Day. The speeches given were electrifying and truly motivating, with the crowd keenly awaiting the President and former President’s arrivals in helicopters over the open-top arena, and keeping spirits high with singing, dancing and chanting of the ‘Yes We Can!’ and ‘Fired Up, Ready to Go!’ slogans of the 2008 Obama campaign, as well as ‘Forward’ from the 2012 campaign.
Having worked extensively on the last UK General Election campaign and on Boris Johnson’s London mayoral re-election campaign, it was very insightful for me to compare how a political campaign was run and won so effectively in another country, especially in America where politics has a much higher profile in the media. Of course, the campaigns are certainly much more expensive, with Obama’s re-election campaign costing$683,546,548 with his main competitor, Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s costing $433,281,516. By contrast, the Conservative General Election campaign in 2010 cost £16,683,000.
This difference in expense could not be ignored; the vast amount spent on media strategy by each party was obvious. Every other radio advert was related to the election; primarily, they were negative and somewhat attacking in nature, much to the distaste of us reserved and stiff-upper-lipped Brits! Billboards were everywhere, even poster boards outside houses and bumper stickers on cars were much more common and prominent, representing all parties and candidates. At a local level, differences in campaign style were few and far between however, the main distinction being how advanced American campaign materials are from those used in Britain.
I was keen to take some of my newly learnt tricks home to use for my personal Watford Borough Council campaign, the election of which was taking place in late November. Now, as I gear up to run my Watford County Council campaign, they certainly will be being utilised!
As we are Progressive Women, it is only expected for us to be unhappy with the lack of female representation across all tiers of government and business. So why not take inspiration from the record number of women that were elected to Congress in 2012? Make it your albeit slightly belated New Year’s Resolution to get involved in a local campaign, be it political or otherwise, and use some of your spare time to make a difference. After all, Hillary Clinton, rumoured to be a potential Presidential candidate in 2016, began her political career by knocking doors at the age of 13 and Barack Obama himself humbly started as a Community Organizer in Chicago before embarking upon his political journey to the Presidency, surely inspiration for us all!
Join Progressive Women for our female-led Funny Fundraiser on January 29th with Kate Smurthwaite, Bridget Christie, Catie Wilkins, and many more. See details here
Mary Hough Co-founder of Progressive Women writes of the last two and half years working for President Obama.
Back in 2009, Caroline, Brooke, and I set up Progressive Women, inspired in part by my experiences in the U.S. as a volunteer for the 2008 Obama campaign. Four years later, I’ve just finished working in the digital team for the 2012 Obama campaign where I managed barackobama.com, telling the story of campaign and the supporters whose time, energy, and talents built the largest grassroots political campaign in history.
Of the 2.2 million people who volunteered for the campaign the majority were women and each and every one had a story to tell. One of the key principles of the Obama campaign was the power of people speaking to people, friends talking to friends, neighbours talking to neighbours, about why they were supporting Barack Obama.
“People talk about what issue you’re concerned about and I can’t pick them apart. For me, without the environment being clean what good is it? Without a job, what good is it? Without health care, what good is it? So I can’t find one issue – for me it’s a view of life, of what’s important, of what I think is going to be best for my granddaughters’ future.”
— Catherine, a grandma and an Obama 2012 volunteer in North Carolina
The campaign’s strongest messengers were people like Catherine telling her story and talking about why she supported the President and persuading voters to get to the polls, and to join her at the next phone bank in their neighbourhood.
Barack Obama’s own story is well known: raised by a single-mum, a Harvard Law School graduate, he worked on Chicago’s South Side as a community organizer, before running for political office where he has continued to work for middle-class families.
His story inspired many people to get involved with his first presidential campaign in 2007/8, but it was the story of what he did with the presidency and how his policies helped millions of Americans just like you, your neighbour and your friends and family, that inspired many to get involved with his second campaign.
In Michigan and Ohio, where one million jobs were saved by the President’s decision to rescue the auto industry, that decision meant that people like Karen, laid off in 2008 as the auto industry nearly went under, are now employed again.
“When I got that phone call, I’ll never forget, my kids and we were all sitting here and we hugged and screamed and all danced around like fools. Saying ‘mommy’s going back to work.’”
By reforming the American health care system, 3.1 million young people can now stay on their parents’ health insurance until they are 26. And, starting in 2014 insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
For Emily, a university student in Nebraska, this meant she could receive the treatment she needed when diagnosed with a rare and debilitating condition.
“I’m the person they’re talking about there. I’m the person with the pre-existing condition. I’m the person under 26 who is going to need that insurance when I graduate.
“For me health reform is the chance to do what I want to do because I want to do it, not because it’s the job that’s going to give me the best chance of having adequate health care.”
With the end of the War in Iraq, President Obama brought mums and dads, brothers and sisters, home, reuniting Americans with their loved ones.
“Because [President Obama] ended the Iraq war, I have my dad back safe. Now I get to spend birthdays and holidays with my dad, and we can do all the things I’ve missed out on while he was away.”
—Ian in Las Vegas
In America, whoever you were, whether you were a supporter, a voter, a volunteer, a donor, you had a reason for supporting President Obama. And it was those stories–much more than approved talking points – told to friends, neighbours, co-workers and relatives on the doorstep, over coffee, in the workplace, at the dinner table that inspired millions of Americans to volunteer and donate to the campaign, propelling Barack Obama to victory on November 6th 2012.
Join Progressive Women for our female-led Funny Fundraiser on January 29th with Kate Smurthwaite, Bridget Christie, Catie Wilkins, and many more. See details here
We’ve all noticed it. Mock the Week, 8 out of 10 Cats – whichever comedy panel show you name, the likelihood is there will be no women, or just the one lone voice bearing the brunt of representation for all women comics everywhere. But of course, you can all name hilarious women. And so can we. So here at Progressive Women we decided to get some of our favourite acts together for your pleasure to aid our latest fundraiser (tickets here). We’re delighted to announce that on Tuesday January 29th in the Comedy Pub Soho, we will be showcasing the talent of:
- Kate Smurthwaite
- Bridget Christie
- Chris Coltrane
- Amy Howerska
- Tamar Broadbent
- Ann Domoney
- Jessica Fostekew
- Lou Sanders
- Helen Keen
- Blod Jones
The evening will be compered by Tiernan Douieb and will raise money for Progressive Women’s spring conference 2013, a day of affordable training and inspirational female speakers. We really hope you can make it, and look forward to seeing you guffawing in the front row.
Tickets will only be available on the door if the event is not sold out, so we highly recommend buying in advance to avoid disappointment.
Price: £10 in advance (plus a small booking fee), £15 on the door. Tickets available to buy here.
Date: Tuesday January 29th
Time: Doors open at 7pm, the show starts at 8pm.
Location: The Comedy Pub, Soho, 7 Oxendon Street, SW1Y 4EE
Nearest tube: Piccadilly Circus
Caroline Watson, Co-founder of Progressive Women, reflects on 2012. Follow Caroline on twitter @CarolineSWatson
2012 was the year Progressive Women adopted our motto ‘to inspire, motivate and support women on their path to leadership’. And this is exactly what we’ve been doing. We couldn’t have had such a successful year without the generosity and goodwill of so many women. We started off the year with the final leadership workshop in our series facilitated by the fabulous and inspirational women at A New Kind of Leadership. We are so grateful to Judy, Isobel, Julia, Suzy and all the other coaches who hosted sessions in our series and supported us in developing new leadership skills.
April saw the lead up to the London Mayoral election. We prepared for this by hosting our very own debate with an all female line up in the House of Commons. Independent candidate Siobhan Benita, new Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, and Brian Paddock’s running mate Caroline Pidgeon (Lib Dem), were part of the discussion. Boris was represented by our friend Mary Macleod MP and in the red corner for Ken was no nonsense, ever impressive Gisela Stuart MP. The debate enabled undecided voters to pose questions to the representatives of the candidates, and we explored a range of issues including why we aren’t seeing more women standing for high level positions.
The summer brought rain, and our boat party. It was a fun evening on the Thames, and a chance to meet with Progressive Women informally. The highlight of the evening was to hear the eloquent and moving Natasha Walter speak about her career transition from writer and journalist to campaigner and director for Women for Refugee Women. It was also a wonderful few hours meeting many of the women who have attended our previous events and contributed to our blog. Wishing to host another event where we could get to know Progressive Women followers better, and improve what is potentially the most important career skill, we organised a Speed Networking event. Held in Westminster we heard from Progressive Woman Lucy James, who shared with us her invaluable networking tips. If you missed the evening but want to read Lucy’s tips and more we learned that night, you can do so here.
It’s been another fantastic year for Progressive Women and I’d like to thank our newly evolved committee, Emma W, Emma M, Lucy, Binita, Anna and Nicole. Plus all the guest bloggers who have taken the time to write for us, and who continually make our website an exciting place to visit. True to our motto to ‘inspire, support and motivate’, working with other women we have had arguably our best year to date. Although, we have plans in the pipeline that suggest 2013 will rival it!
In the next few days we’ll be announcing our first event of the new year. In the meantime thank you for being a part of Progressive Women, we look forward to seeing you soon, and Happy New Year.
Follow Progressive Women on twitter @sylviapankhurst. Find out about forthcoming events by joining our mailing list email email@example.com. Join us on Facebook
A Briefing Note on the Repeal of the Law Protecting Women from Sexual Harassment at Work by Clients, Customers and Visitors
Harini Iyengar, a barrister who specialises in Employment and Discrimination law, provides a briefing note about the forthcoming repeal in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill of a law which currently protects women from sexual harassment at work by third parties.
Why Should You Care About the Law on Sexual Harassment at Work? Whether you label yourself a “Progressive Woman”, a feminist, a pro-feminist, or a person who prefers a harmonious workplace, you should be aware of a forthcoming reduction of legal protection against workplace sexual harassment. The repeal will also remove protection against other forms of workplace harassment, although this blog post concerns sexual harassment of women.
As they say in medicine, “Common things occur commonly.” Employment lawyers most often see harassment cases in the form of sexual harassment. Regrettably, it is not ageist, sexist, or heteronormative, but simply an expression of the factual reality, to observe that most workplace harassment cases involve the same paradigm: a more senior male sexually harassing a more junior female. Although most cases involve offensive remarks, unwanted sexual propositions and groping, it should not be forgotten that sexual harassment at work sometimes extends to rape.
Sexual harassment affects women of all ages in all types of jobs and professions. For example, in the Law Society’s 2012 survey, 6% of solicitors reported that they had experienced sexual harassment at work. Whilst some women are able to tackle sexual harassment directly by themselves, most women require support from their employer in dealing with the problem. Sensitivities are inevitably more acute when the perpetrator of sexual harassment is not just a colleague but a client, customer or visitor of the employer.
What Law on Sexual Harassment is Going to be Repealed?
Clause 57 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill provides for the repeal of subsections 40(2) to (4) of the Equality Act 2010.
What Does the Law Say at Present?
Section 26 of the Equality Act 2010 defines sexual harassment as a specific form of general harassment:
(1) A person (A) harasses another (B) if—
(a) A engages in unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic, and
(b) the conduct has the purpose or effect of—
(i) violating B’s dignity, or
(ii) creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for B.
(2) A also harasses B if—
(a) A engages in unwanted conduct of a sexual nature, and
(b) the conduct has the purpose or effect referred to in subsection (1)(b).
(3) A also harasses B if—
(a) A or another person engages in unwanted conduct of a sexual nature or that is related to gender reassignment or sex,
(b) the conduct has the purpose or effect referred to in subsection (1)(b), and
(c) because of B’s rejection of or submission to the conduct, A treats B less favourably than A would treat B if B had not rejected or submitted to the conduct.
(4) In deciding whether conduct has the effect referred to in subsection (1)(b), each of the following must be taken into account—
(a) the perception of B;
(b) the other circumstances of the case;
(c) whether it is reasonable for the conduct to have that effect.
(5) The relevant protected characteristics are — age; disability; gender reassignment; race; religion or belief; sex; sexual orientation.
Under section 40 of the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful for an employer to sexually harass an employee or job applicant:
40 Employees and applicants: harassment
(1) An employer (A) must not, in relation to employment by A, harass a person (B)—
(a) who is an employee of A’s;
(b) who has applied to A for employment.
(2) The circumstances in which A is to be treated as harassing B under subsection (1) include those where—
(a) a third party harasses B in the course of B’s employment, and
(b) A failed to take such steps as would have been reasonably practicable to prevent the third party from doing so.
(3) Subsection (2) does not apply unless A knows that B has been harassed in the course of B’s employment on at least two other occasions by a third party; and it does not matter whether the third party is the same or a different person on each occasion.
(4) A third party is a person other than—
(a) A, or
(b) an employee of A’s.
What Does the Current Law Mean?
Sexual harassment is:
• unwanted conduct of a sexual nature
• which has the purpose
• or effect
• of violating the recipient’s dignity
• or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for her.
It is against the law for an employer:
• to sexually harass an employee or job applicant
• or to tolerate or condone the sexual harassment of an employee or job applicant
• by a third party like a client, customer or visitor
• but only if the employer failed to take reasonably practicable steps to prevent the third party from committing the sexual harassment
• and only if the employer knew that she had been sexually harassed at work on at least two previous occasions by either the same or any third party.
What Does this Mean in Practice?
Section 40(2)-(4) makes the employer vicariously liable for harassment by a third party. This means that the employer is legally liable, even though it was the client, customer or vistor, not the employer himself, who committed the sexual harassment.
The first practical effect of section 40(2)-(4) of the Equality Act 2010 is to create a strong legal incentive for an employer to take reasonably practicable steps to prevent sexual harassment of his female employees by the employer’s clients, customers, visitors or other third parties in the workplace. An employer who could demonstrate that he had taken reasonably practicable steps to protect the women in his workforce from sexual harassment by third parties would not be held legally vicariously liable.
Second, section 40(2)-(4) generally encourages the female employee to inform and seek the protection of her employer when she is sexually harassed at work by a client, customer or visitor, instead of feeling that it is a problem which she had to overcome all by herself. This is because the employer is vicariously liable for the harassment only where she has kept him informed about it (at least two previous occasions of harassment by a third party are required).
For example, if a celebrity were in the habit of visiting a hospital ward and sexually harassing nurses working there, their employer’s current legal obligations under s 40(2)-(4) would incentivise the employer to put a stop to it, rather than to turn a blind eye, in a situation in which the individual nurses may feel daunted about challenging the celebrity.
The employer is usually in charge of the workplace, the people working there, and the premises. The employer is usually the person with the authority to ask third parties to modify their behaviour, and, if necessary, to get out. Section 40(2)-(4) of the Equality Act 2010 establishes a clear regime under which the employer bears responsibility for maintaining a workplace free from sexual harassment as far as is reasonably practicable, whether the harassment comes from colleagues, clients, customers or visitors. It is a sensible provision which protects women workers from sexual harassment and is unobjectionable to any right-minded employer who respects his women workers.
Why is the Law Being Changed?
71% of respondents to the official consultation on the repeal of s 40(2)-(4) wanted the law to stay as it is. The Orwellian response to the official consultation was:
“We received 80 responses, of which 16 (20 per cent) agreed our proposal for repeal and 57 (71 per cent) opposed it. Responses which agreed with the proposals came mostly from individual public, private and not-for profit sector employers and business organisations. All business representative organisations supported repeal. Responses which disagreed with our proposal were mainly on behalf of public sector employers, unions and equality lobby groups.”
It appears that, even when they form the majority of consultation respondents, the views of certain female-dominated sectors of the workforce and of equality lobby groups are not as equal as the views of other male-dominated sectors of the economy.
Stay in touch with Progressive Women! Follow us on twitter @sylviapankhurst, join us on Facebook, join our group on linked in or email us to join our mailing list firstname.lastname@example.org
Our guest blogger Vivien Cohen is a freelance writer and a regular commentator on human rights issues
In the fight for global female equality, it often seems that women have been doomed form the start. Blamed for original sin, we were responsible for all the ills in the world. In most religions in fact, women do not come across particularly favourably and, considering that for millennia it is organised religion which has arguably ruled the world, this has not tended to work to our advantage. The cultural and social norms set up within many societies – religious and secular – were created centuries ago by men who thankfully bear little resemblance to today’s modern man in terms of prejudice and misogyny, at least for the most part. Yet in many countries the societal constructs that were created so long ago have proved painfully hard to dissolve.
Growing up as a woman in the UK I have never particularly felt discriminated against due to my gender. I have certainly never felt that I was not equally capable as any man when it came to education and the world of work – and no man has ever made me feel as such. It feels pertinent to mention that whilst my generation has grown up in a society in which gender boundaries continue to be broken down, there are of course some areas where this country has been lacking with regard to gender equality. It has been, for example, only eighty four years since women in England received the vote on the same terms as men. It has shockingly been only twenty one years since rape inside of marriage was criminalised in this country. We have come far, but we still have a way to go with regard to bringing more women into industries generally dominated by men – such as engineering and banking – and also in ensuring that in future, pay is universally based on one’s ability rather than one’s gender.
However, women in this country are of course lucky. As I write this, millions of girls and women all over the world are being denied their basic human rights and dignities based simply on their misfortune in having been born female. As British women we are free to exercise our right to protest and campaign against discrimination as and when we find it. The world of women and work in this country is not perfect when it comes to gender equality – but we can and do challenge any discrepancies. Many women in countries around the world are simply denied the right to work at all. Young girls are denied the right to an education, thus perpetuating the cycle of uneducated young women who are not given the necessary tools to lift themselves out of their gender roles as domesticated and subservient. Worse still, young girls and women worldwide continue to be the victims of horrific human rights abuses including rape, physical abuse, honour killings, child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation.
Female Genital mutilation (often referred to as Female Circumcision) is still widely practised in twenty eight countries within Africa, as well as in isolated parts of the Middle East, Asia and India. It is a practice which in one fell swoop takes away a girl’s right to choose and to be in charge of her own physicality and sexuality. It is physically, emotionally and mentally damaging and serves no other purpose than to curtail a woman’s sexual pleasure and to keep her under the control of a patriarchal society. Similarly to the other human rights abuses I have mentioned above, in particular child marriage and honour killings, FGM is a culturally institutionalised practice which is deeply ingrained in many societies.
28 Too Many was founded by Ann Marie Wilson after she witnessed firsthand the devastating effects FGM can have on women’s lives. Today, 28 Too Many strives to promote awareness about FGM by increasing knowledge and education on the subject, whilst at the same time supporting invaluable groundwork which is undertaken in countries where FGM is still practised. Through their tireless campaigning and their work with at-risk women, 28 Too Many hopes to bring the issue of FGM to the forefront of the political arena and eventually put a stop to it completely. In order to do this, 28 Too Many relies on the generosity of volunteers, donors and those like-minded people who feel that they can help spread awareness of FGM in their own communities.
The 28 Too Many website is able to suggest various activities you can undertake within your own community – for example a film screening – and are able to provide the resources for you to do this. Another helpful course of action is lobbying your MP which will in turn send the message to the government that greater importance needs to be placed on the issue of FGM. It is only through the spread of knowledge and understanding that we will one day be able to eradicate not only FGM, but violence against women in its entirety. There is no place in a modern, equal society for practices such as these – that serve to instil fear and submissiveness into women from a young age – and we must now ask ourselves how we can eradicate harmful practices against women for good, in order that future generations should not have to suffer.
One of the most powerful tools at our disposal is education. A hugely disproportionate number of girls worldwide are being denied a basic education – something which would empower them and enable them in many cases to fight back against those who would subjugate them. In some areas of the world schoolgirls risk being beaten or worse simply for trying to seek an education – although this has not stopped many of them from claiming their right to knowledge. In the case of practices such as FGM, girls must be educated as to their rights; their right to live free from fear of abuse and their right to educate themselves to the same standard as men. In 1874 Thomas Hardy in his novel ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ wrote “it is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.” It would seem that in many countries men and women now thankfully speak a shared language; we express ourselves in a tongue which is based on our shared humanity rather than our separate genders. Yet as long as women are made to live within communities where societal norms are dictated by a patriarchal system rather than a system based on gender equality, women are doomed to be foreigners in their own lands.
Stay in touch with Progressive Women. Follow us on twitter @sylviapankhurst. Join us on Facebook Join our group on linked in or email us to join our mailing list email@example.com
Our guest blog is from Women for Women International, an organisation which supports women in war-torn regions with financial and emotional aid, job-skills training, rights education and small business assistance so they can rebuild their lives.
One year after newly re-elected President Obama announced the official end of the war in Iraq, the country is in a state of turmoil. Operation Iraqi Freedom may officially be over but violence has escalated and women are particularly affected.
40 years ago Iraqi women and men were equal under the law and women enjoyed many rights similar to those of women in the UK today. However, since the early 1990s women have seen their rights curtailed and their participation in all areas of society dramatically inhibited. There has been a sharp decline in female literacy and one year after the Iraq War women are even worse off. Today, the lack of security and policing has led to women being attacked in the streets by people with different political agendas who want to impose veiling, gender segregation and discrimination. Women are finding it more and more difficult to go out alone and, in addition to that, many women suffer violence at the hands of their fathers, brothers and other relatives; particularly those who try to choose how to lead their lives.
Four women who are graduates of Women for Women International’s year-long holistic training programme of life, business and vocational skills recently made a short documentary film to show us in the UK what life is like for Iraqi women one year after the withdrawal of the troops.
“We wanted to make this film because we want our voices to be heard. Iraqi women are strong and they need to know that they have rights and that they can use them to make their lives and those of their families better,” says Nihayet, a graduate of the Women for Women International programme and assistant camera operator.
The film titled “Hands of Hope” explores how women can overcome economic hardship and lead change in their families and communities through access to knowledge and resources.
“Our economic difficulties were the greatest challenge we faced,” says Zainab. “But I was able to overcome them because of what I learned during the Women for Women International programme.”
Zainab, an Iraqi mother of three was facing major economic hardship as her husband’s low wages were barely enough to cover their basic needs. Zainab never had a paid job. The vocational training of the programme allowed Zainab to realize her potential in tailoring and helped build her self worth. Now Zainab has started her own sewing business and is even able to save!
The plight of Iraqi women is serious and ever mounting. Women for Women International is launching an urgent appeal for donations to help these women and their sisters in the seven other countries where we work. Between 25 November and 10 December all donations made to Women for Women International will be matched pound for pound by a generous group of supporters. This means that your gift will benefit twice as many women who are rebuilding their lives after conflict and war. Go to womenforwomen.org.uk/matchmygift.
Stay in touch with Progressive Women. Follow us on twitter @sylviapankhurst. Join us on Facebook Join our group on linked in or email us to join our mailing list firstname.lastname@example.org