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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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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