equal rights amendment, gender, gender gaps, women in politics, Women's rights

equal means equal – right?

It’s been a good month for equality in the United States. The country celebrated transgender rights and threw Caitlyn Jenner the nicest coming out party ever. SCOTUS handed down a landmark decision to make gay marriage legal in all 50 states. And there’s a woman running for president.

Granted, transgender rights still have a long way to go – check out John Oliver’s segment on the issue. He really exposes the ways in which we currently view transgender people – most of us seem confused, and the rest want to ask them about their privates. Legally, they still have an uphill battle with many States viewing transgender identity as a lifestyle choice. and they still face higher rates of poverty, suicide and violence than the general public.

The gay movement is celebrating marriage equality and everyone is changing their Facebook profile photo. however, a moving piece by Darnell Moore exposes the ways in which the LGBTQ+ movement has failed to include him ‘under the rainbow’. he writes: ‘the “movement” might care about my queerness, but it certainly does not value my blackness’. this sentiment is one that the gay movement will have to address very soon if it wishes to stay true to its cause.

Historically, the feminist and gay movement have not always gotten on well. Feminists see the inclusion of gay women’s issues as a distraction from issues faced by all women regardless of their sexual orientation, and gay women see the feminist majority as trying to erase their experiences and unique challenges. The PBS documentary ‘Makers: Women Who Made America‘ takes a good look at the cost of this struggle. The schism has been so great that to this day you’ll find countries like Ireland, where gays can get married but women can’t get a legal abortion.

But here’s the thing –

Equality is for everybody. discrimination on the basis of sex or sexual orientation is unjust and it should be illegal. How those two have managed to be separated in the eyes of the public and of legislators is a question for another day. But for now I think the time is right for the feminist movement to reclaim this space and leverage the current public support for equal rights to fight for what we deserve.

rosie era

and thankfully – I’m not alone in my convictions.

On June 23rd, Meryl Streep sent five hundred and thirty-five letters to each and every Member of Congress urging them to support a constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal rights for women. Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment stalled in 1982 as it was ratified by only 35 states, three states short of the 38 required to put it into the Constitution. The ERA has been introduced in Congress every year since, with little result. the ERA, together with much of the feminist movement, seemed stuck.

But the tide is turning. a new generation of feminists have taken up the call. a slew of girl’s empowerment campaigns have emerged, some led by civil society and some by large brands (#likeagirl, this girl can, Dove real beauty to name a few). they have both capitalized on the renewed feminist energy and also been instrumental in creating an added momentum. and with the wind of civil rights victories at our back, and a female presidential candidate with an outstanding record on advancing women’s rights at our lead, we might just make the ERA happen before I’m gray and old.

era

Jessica Neuwirth is the Founder and President of the ERA Coalition which is working to create a broad base of support for the ERA across America. ‘Equal Means Equal’ is a documentary produced by Patricia Arquette which takes a long hard look at the reality of women’s lives without the ERA and the personal cost to their freedom and civil liberties. Issues that have been getting more attention lately, from the pay gap and paid family leave, to domestic violence and trafficking, are all linked to the unequal treatment of women under the law and the continued discrimination they face in the United States in 2015.

I can only hope we have the courage to come together with the support of our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ+ community, and demand an end to discrimination against women with a constitutional guarantee.

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gender, media, stereotyping, violence against women, Women's rights

Bad Ads

It seems like lately there are more and more incidences of advertisements ‘going wrong’ in objectifying ways. Take a look at these two recent examples —

Bud Light thought this was a good advertising catchphrase:

bud light

‘the perfect beer for removing “no” from your vocabulary for the night’ #upforwhatever

And recently a public transport authority in Wales came out with this winner:

ride me

‘Ride me all day long for 3 pounds’

You have to wonder at the approval process for these ads, and why didn’t anyone say at some point ‘hold on, this might be a horrible thing to say’.

Although these adverts are awful, the negative reaction it drew from audiences who were quick to mobilize against these brands are a reason to celebrate. From the flood of emails and tweets aimed at NAT, which prompted them to remove this ad from all their buses, to the John Oliver segment on Last Week Tonight literally ‘taking the piss’ out of Bud Light.

This leaves me optimistic. The general public knows objectification and sexual violence innuendo when it sees it, and we’re not afraid to call people out on this. Advertising executives are being a held to a higher standard, and brands are now acutely aware of the cost of these sorts of faux pas.

Let’s hope they learn from each other’s mistakes.

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gender, gender based violence, girls rights, human rights, violence, violence against women, Women's rights

Killing in the name

A woman called Busaina Abu-Ganem was shot to death in Israel this week in an alleged “honor killing” case.  She’s the tenth woman in the horrible Abu-Ganem family to be murdered since the year 2000. The reason for this heinous act is yet unclear. what we do know is that she and her husband recently separated, leaving her with their six children. In an act of courage, Busaina decided to go back to school and get her diploma. a week after she completed her studies, she was murdered.

other women who have been brutally murdered by Abu-Ganem male family members include:

Rim Abu-Ganem who was murdered by her brothers for refusing to marry a man they were forcing her to wed. after they killed her they drowned her body.

Sherihan Abu-Ganem was 16 when her brother murdered her because of ‘jealousy’

Hamda Abu-Ganem was killed by her brothers who were indicted for the murder based on a female cousin’s testimony. this female cousin ‘disappeared’ after the trial, and it’s believed her body is buried in the West Bank, in an area outside the jurisdiction of Israeli authorities.

These women are victims twice over. first they were victims of a family that sees females as chattel with little value beyond that of a reproductive agent. secondly, they were victims of a discriminatory society that ‘others’  Muslim minorities and ultimately discourages the Jewish authorities from seeking justice.

gender based violence is pervasive. it’s important to remember that women are abused to the point of death everyday across the globe; that this isn’t tied to one religion, race of region. but regardless of location, violence against women and girls stems from very similar origins – unequal power relations. simply put – men use violence or the threat of violence to maintain their sense of power / control over women. this is not to say that all men are violent or oppose the equality of women. not at all. however, some men pick up on social and cultural cues that tell them women are not as valuable or as important as men, they can and should be hurt in order to maintain male authority, and that their existence is merely a reflection of a man’s achievement.

these are the kinds of messages that must be tackled through behavior change communications, awareness raising campaigns, legislative and policy reforms, community outreach and a strong coordinated and functional social protection system. in the absence of honest determination, leadership and political support, the root causes of ‘honor killings’ will never be fully addressed. and because this is seen so much as a ‘woman’s issue’ to be discussed about and exclaimed over by feminist organizations, but never to be acknowledged as a hard-line concern such as terrorism, security and border control, it will probably never rally enough interest and support to truly be eradicated. any progress we make, will always be incremental, and hard to measure. but the chance of stopping another senseless murder before it is carried out must motivate us to continue the good fight.

For more resources on gender based violence go to: http://www.endvawnow.org/

Support the International Violence Against Women Act (USA): http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/issues/women-s-rights/violence-against-women/international-violence-against-women-act

Take action on Global Orange Day: http://www.un.org/en/women/endviolence/orangeday.shtml

Support the White Ribbon Campaign in your country: http://www.whiteribbon.org.au/international

Check out some of the leading global initiatives to end violence against women: http://www.endvawnow.org/en/leading-initiatives

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day of the girl, development, gender, girls rights, human rights, United Nations, Women's rights

It’s a feminist thing

There is wall to wall support and praise for awarding Malala Yousafzai the Nobel Peace Prize this year. And yet, it seems to me that her struggle for girl’s rights has not been linked in our collective consciousness, nor in public statements, with feminism. And that’s a huge fail on all accounts.

On the eve of the International Day of the Girl I would like to take a moment to reflect on the ways in which feminism has stayed a Western concept while the engine of development has given rise to a notion of women’s/girl’s rights that is entirely divorced from the ideas of gender justice.

So, why do we even celebrate a day for girls? there’s already a day for women, a day for children and a day for challenging violence against women. why girls? the answer is simple – because they are not women yet, but they are no longer children. for so many girls, childhood is cut short by puberty. As Helena Minchew from the International Women’s Health Coalition said yesterday at an event in the US House of Representatives: ‘what is a normal biological process, and even a joyous occasion, actually puts girls at risk, reduces their control of their bodies and their life choices’.

Of course, the fact that the UN in its infinite wisdom decided to call the 11th of October the International Day of the Girl Child (!) is precisely why this day is needed. the inaccuracy of the term ‘girl child’ when these girls are in fact no longer treated as children, is beyond ironic.

However, the intention to direct more attention, and hopefully funding and policy measures, at adolescent girls – is critical. and yet, it’s important to note that the narrative around girls who are subject to violations that occur at the onset of puberty such as child, early and forced marriage, FGM/C and others is tied to human rights, and universality, and humanism, but not to the most important term – power.

girls face increased risks and a reduced sense of agency when they hit puberty due to socio-cultural pressures, dictates, binaries, norms, stereotypes and structures. All over the world, societies function by reducing the power that women have over their bodies and their choices, submitting them to their male family members and eventually their husbands. If we don’t clearly link the struggle Malala Yousafzai led to be able to go to school, and earn an education, which in other words means knowledge and power, with the struggle of the feminist movement which has for decades demanded an equal share of the pie, then we are all going to lose out.

The development engine has worked hard to frame ‘gender equality’ in human rights terms, fearful of alienating communities that claim various forms of discrimination and abuse against females are part of their ‘culture’, but in so doing has taken much of the political sting out of the process of achieving gender equality.  In discussing the rights of girls to a life of equal opportunities, I believe we must also speak about this as a power struggle, we must couch this in terms of a movement for the liberation of women and girls from the shackles of oppression.  The objectifying representation of women in the media, our limited reproductive freedom, the pay gap – you name it – it all traces back to unequal power relations that have over the years been cemented into social, cultural and religious institutions that work 24/7 to keep women and girls in their inferior place.

Until the version of the story that is being propagated by Malala, and other human rights activists who refuse to acknowledge the feminist nature of their struggle, takes on a feminist political edge – we will never see girls freely attending school in Pakistan. because it’s not about changing a policy, or increasing investment in teacher training, it’s about shifting deeply rooted notions about the value of females.

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development, gender, girls rights, human rights, post 2015, Women's rights

Women aren’t human

According to Wikipedia, human rights are amongst other things ‘the common moral language of public discourse’. Yet, the idea that there’s a universally agreed code of morality is still hugely contested. anyone working in this field has inevitably been confronted with a situation where ‘local cultural norms’ conflict with a human right tenet. I recently gave a webinar on adolescent girls and ICT4D to students at Tulane University in New Orleans. One of the first questions was about reconciling cultural practices with human rights and I suppose they expected to hear something that run along the lines of ‘human rights cannot be negotiated & anyone who disagrees can take a hike’. If you’ve ever wandered the halls of the Human Rights Council in Geneva you might come across firm believers in this approach, which relies heavily on legislative frameworks. By that I mean that any country that has ratified a human rights convention must abide by the commitments included in that framework and also translate them into national laws and policies. and it’s true that legislation does play an important role in protecting women from harm.

If we take an historical view of the feminist movement in the US, it becomes clear that many of the domestic legislative reforms they advanced were absolutely crucial in supporting gender equality. Last week I watched the ‘Makers: Women Who Make America‘ a TV series on PBS which is narrated by the fabulous Geena Davis. It tells the story of the successes and failures of the women’s movement in the US and really explains how legislative landmarks like ‘Title 9’ and ‘Roe vs. Wade’ changed American women’s lives. One of the most shocking moments on the show is a photo that was published in Ms. magazine in which a woman (named Gerri Santoro) lies dead on the floor after trying to self-abort her unwanted child. This was the horrifying reality for many women who were left with little choice regarding their own reproductive health. Legalizing abortions through a Supreme Court decision was an undeniable game changer which to date has probably saved millions of women’s lives.

There is no doubt legislation is an important first step in promoting human rights. However, most countries don’t have strong democratic traditions that uphold the rule of law, meaning legislation remains formal and fails to become substantive. And when legislation encounters social norms and traditions that contradict it, most of the time it will come out on the losing end. Without strong law enforcement forces and functioning judicial systems, with high levels of illiteracy and in many cases parallel legal systems (Customary Law), ensuring human rights laws are actually protecting people in a given country is an ongoing struggle. And no less importantly, when working in international development, the Rights Based Approach which provides the framework in which all programming is conducted, often fails to engage communities because of this basic mismatch between formal and substantive legislation. That is, the formal recognition of human rights has yet to be translated into norms, traditions and practices, and therefore doesn’t provide a productive basis for change.

Now let’s add a gender perspective to human rights and complicate this even further. Prominent feminists have argued that human rights are based on the masculine experience as the generic human norm. For instance, take the preamble of the UDHR: ‘Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled…to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law’. It’s not just the use of the term ‘man’ to denote all human forms, it’s also the masculine understanding of ‘protection’ that is solely the responsibility of ‘the law’ and therefore falls in the domain of ‘the state’.

This means that it is violations against men, such as torture and wrongful imprisonment, rather than violations against women, which are more often experienced in the private sphere, that remain the standard to which all rights are held. This also means that the protection of people from individuals and non-state actors is limited, since human rights are basically set up to protect folks from the government. Which means that ‘when abuse is sexual or intimate, especially when it’s sexual and inflicted by an intimate, it is gendered, hence not considered a human rights violation’ says Catherine Mackinnon. This androcentric premise of human rights inevitably casts the female body in the category of ‘other’ and implicitly define women as not human. This ensures that violations against women most often perpetrated by individuals, intimate partners and family members, in the private sphere (at home) cannot be effectively addressed through human rights frameworks. Even CEDAW does not collapse this classic dichotomy, and some would even argue, portrays women as victims and exceptions to the norm, which further eradicates their agency.

From a development perspective, all this means human rights don’t have the political sting needed to really advance gender justice. So our work becomes piecemeal. we spend a lot of time focusing on the means and there is a danger that we will forget the role of women and girl’s agency in translating our good intentions into real outcomes.

Keeping in mind that equality between the sexes is a political process helps put the role of human rights frameworks in perspective. It’s about power – who has it, who doesn’t – and the redistribution of power, which will make a lot of people unhappy. This means that where tradition, culture, norms and practices suddenly meet resistance by women, for women, on behalf of women, in the protection of women, there will be push back from those who have power and are really averse to giving any of it up. Where it looks like it’s human rights vs. culture, i suggest looking a little bit closer. More often than not, it will be patriarchal institutions and their representatives, resisting the more equal divide of resources, assets and choices.

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gender, gender gaps, girls rights, ICT4D, stereotyping, women in the labor force, Women's rights

Girls in ICT Day 2014!

To celebrate this year’s girls in ICT day, I’d like to focus on the intersection of adolescent girls (aged 10-19) and ICT4D. I recently gave a short presentation at Tulane University and you can find the presentation here.

There was quite a bit of interest in the ways in which mobile phone apps can inadvertently harm, rather than empower, girls and young women. I guess we have this notion that ‘access to tech = empowerment’. if only it were so simple! not to say that information communication technologies haven’t facilitated positive changes and will continue to do so. It’s just that treating them like some miracle cure is bound to end up in disappointment.

A while back I wrote about the ways in which mobile apps meant to protect women from violence can actually put them in harm’s way. essentially, understanding violence as ‘stranger danger’ is totally misleading, since most violence is committed by intimate partners and family members. The idea of a panic button that sends a signal to a family member if you’re harassed or attacked in the street sounds good. but it could all too easily be turned into a tool that allows for surveillance of young women, curtailing their freedom and mobility out of a misguided sense of ‘protection’. Certainly as a woman im much more interested in an app that will change attitudes, and allow me to dress and act in any way i see fit without garnering catcalls or even opening myself up to assault.

gender and girls rights

Another interesting topic that came up was control over ICTs. I made the point that so much of the technology we used is designed and engineered by men. the lack of female representation in the tech industries, and the poor number of young women studying STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) at secondary school and university levels, means women play a role as consumers of technology and little else. why is this the case? A slightly dated (but still wonderful) report from Cisco found the European girls (who, I’m sure we can all agree, are surrounded by technology all the time) tended to drop out of ICT studies around age 15.

The reasons:

  • lack of support  from role models
  • persistent stereotyped views that the sector is better suited to men
  • a lack of understanding about what ICT jobs entail
  • how easy or difficult they find the subject
  • girls don’t see ICT roles offering them chances to travel, to help others or to work independently.

the report concludes that from a business perspective this is a loss of talent. from a feminist perspective this is proof that socialization processes and entrenched forms of discrimination are keeping girls from ‘choosing’ to follow a techie career. and maybe if more women were involved in this field we would have better safety apps?

yes we can

This issue is a core part of what ‘girls in ICT’ day is about – encouraging girls to choose careers in tech. In the words of the 2014 flyer:

“The ICT sector remains a growing sector for employment and a key economic factor underpinning both national and international development in both developed and  developing countries. Many countries and regions are predicting a shortage of qualified staff with math, science, engineering and computing skills to meet the growing demand. At the same time, many companies are looking to increase the number of women in the sector. This means that highly qualified women in technical fields have significant opportunities available to them in both developed and developing countries. The need for qualified professionals in developing countries worldwide should come as no surprise, considering the rate of ICT growth in developing countries.Why don’t we try to reach even more girls and young women on International Girls in ICT Day 2014?”

there are numerous initiatives that are working to change the stereotypes around IT careers and encourage girls to pursue STEM studies. I’m optimistic about prospects, and believe more women are already making their mark. Certainly if Sheryl Sandberg’s latest book ‘Lean In’ and the foundation she opened to encourage girls to realize their potential are any indication, women are busily carving out a space at the top.

 

Keshet Bachan

 

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16 days, body image, gender, media, violence, Women's rights

How the media failed women

The media has never been kind towards women. They are ultimately trying to sell us something and as agents of the beauty industry have good reason to keep us dissatisfied with ourselves and obsessed with images of airbrushed women. We are stereotyped in movies, advertisements and glossy magazines, and are made to believe we can only digest the evening news if it’s presented by a very pretty woman.

We are aware of this. Men and women who find these images appalling and oppressive, speak out where possible. Yet the industry remains undisturbed; and every once in a while they come up with things like this:

20131209-175842.jpg

Let’s break down this image shall we? A woman is held down by force by a man while thrusting her pelvise suggestively at another three men who are standing around awaiting their turn and watching. Four men and one woman? Where have i heard this story before?

oh, that’s right. Delhi, India, December 2012. A young woman is gang raped by six men and subsequently dies from the assault. This sort of violence seems completely at odds with this glossy shot, and yet the imagery obviously suggests that dominating women en mass is cool, sexy and acceptable.

Violence against women isn’t created in a vacuum. It’s cultivated, sustained, sanctioned and disseminated in subtle ways, online and offline, through images and words.

In a video by Dove’s “campaign for real beauty” (which is just another consumer ploy, let’s be honest, from the same company which produces racist products such as Fair and Lovely. puke.) a girl is bombarded with images reminiscent of the famous scene from ‘Clockwork Orange’ and finally the words flashing across the screen advise mothers to educate their daughters before the beauty industry does.

In this instance, the self-hate propagated by these images can lead to self-harm, another form of violence, which girls inflict upon themselves in despair once they realize (at the age of 10) that they will never look like any of the young women they see on screen and in magazines. and apparently it’s your fault, mother, for not shielding your daughter from such images. hello? maybe Unilever would like to step up and take responsibility for the stick-figure, scantily clad women they use in their ads?

pot noodle unilever

Comparing a woman to pot noodle? Really Unilever?

how about this:

kate1

Turning women into objects is the first step towards justifying violence against women. In other words – they’re not really people, so it’s okay to beat the crap out of them. Kate Moss is simply a prop, much like a tripod in fact, for holding up a desirable camera.

whatever sells, right?

How else has media failed women in 2013? a short recap in this video by Miss Representation.

Just when you thought it was safe to be a conscious feminist, the media does it again. and again. and again.

Tomorrow is the last day of the 16 days of activism to end violence against women. it’s important to talk about these issues, and write about them, and nag about them, all year round. Because they are here all the time, and they are not confined to news reports of rape in third world countries. Violence is spoon fed to us all the time by those who would keep us powerless, occupied with thinking about our looks, instead of thinking about equality.

Don’t let them win.

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women in politics, Women's rights

The Old (Israeli) Boys’ Club

20C-120131201164521~1I recently had an Op-Ed published in the Jerusalem Post! Both in print and online. check it out!

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-Ed-Contributors/The-old-Israeli-boys-club-332164

 

or read the full article here:

The Old (Israeli) Boys Club

 

When Tzipi Livni took the stage at last week’s conference marking the launch of a plan to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in Israel, the audience, predominantly feminist activists, gave her a lukewarm reception which was swiftly followed by back-row heckling. The Justice Minister, and former Foreign Minister, who also head’s up the negotiating team currently involved in high level talks with the Palestinians, was there to deliver a speech on the importance of including women in peace and security processes, but was stopped a number of times by disgruntled comments. Feminists, it seemed, weren’t happy with Livni who has throughout her career  purposely distanced herself from women’s issues, claiming she was ‘man’ enough for the job of Prime Minister.

 

Next in line to share her thoughts was Zehava Galon, head of the left wing Meretz party, who took the stage with gusto and reminded the audience that mainstreaming gender equality in policy making is about more than just ensuring equal numbers of both sexes are present at a committee meeting. Rather, it is concerned with substantive participation in decision making which provides women with an opportunity to influence key political processes.

 

The 1325 Action Plan claims that the inclusion of women in peace negotiations and in decision making bodies, committees and policies that deal with security issues, is a critical step in ensuring not only a more equal representation of the sexes in politics, but for guaranteeing these important decisions are not being made by former army generals alone. Only last week the Israeli Knesset approved 2.75 billion shekels to be added to the already monstrously large security budget, literally ignoring their election-time promises and the fact that each shekel given to security is one less shekel spent on education and health. One can’t help but wonder whether the inclusion of more women in this decision would have produced a vastly different outcome.

 

Those opposed to measures that seek to legislate equal representation claim women should not be seen as a unified category, and that being a woman doesn’t automatically qualify one to be a representative of women’s issues. Looking at examples such as Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher and even the current German Chancellor Angela Merkel, does raise ones doubts as to the ability of women to actively promote other women or bring a softer tone to politics in general. In fact, many believe once women enter the political arena they adopt ‘male’ traits in order to succeed, and upon reaching the top, tend to attribute their success to their own individual abilities rather than those stemming from being a woman.

 

However, looking at women’s entrance into other male dominated areas, such as the business sector, has been shown to bring significant advantages to both sexes. Last week the World Economic Forum, a Geneva based think tank, published its annual Gender Gap Index which seeks to rank countries according to levels of gender equality in four categories including health, education, politics and economics. The Index creators claim that  gender equality increases a country’s and a company’s competitiveness, leading to economic prosperity and growth.

 

Unfortunately, over the past 7 years since the Index was introduced, Israel has fallen almost twenty places, from 35th to 53rd place. This is mainly due to the gap in political participation, with Israeli women missing almost entirely from parliament and ministerial positions (ranking well below Angola, China and Georgia to name but a few). In fact, our neighboring countries who aren’t well known for their support of women’s rights, have taken more legislative and policy led actions to close gender gaps over the past half decade than Israel. In addition, Israel scored quite badly on wage equality, confirming that women’s contributions in both the political and the economic spheres were undervalued.

 

It seems that even in a country that was founded on socialist ideals, where women and men serve in the armed forces side by side, true equality is still a distant dream. When it comes to Israel’s peace and security, it’s still very much the same boys from the same old military club patting each other on the back.

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