|Webdiary - Independent, Ethical, Accountable and Transparent|
There's nothing fair in love and war
G'day. Roslyn Ross has recently come on board as a regular Webdiarist with a penchant for the difficult social ethical issues. It was only a matter of time before Roslyn would present her views on male-female relations in the World, I daresay the mother of all social issues. Her last contribution was There's meaning in why we are "meaner". Hamish Alcorn.
by Roslyn Ross
It is thirty years since the United Nations designated March 8 as International Women’s Day and it may well be 30,000 years, if ever, since women have lived free of the weight of patriarchy.
The ‘war’ of the sexes remains a reality in most of the world and there’s nothing ‘fair’ about it.
Increasingly, International Women’s Day, which was celebrated last month, has become an occasion to reflect on progress made, a time to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played extraordinary roles in the history of women’s rights.
I would say that applies to every woman born into the age of patriarchy for it is only women who have been called to ‘fight’ in the most dreadful ‘war’ of all; a war waged not against some unknown invader or tyrant, but against an ‘enemy’ known intimately and loved deeply... Father, brother, lover, husband and son.
No man has ever faced such an ‘enemy’ or been called to question his own right to survival in the face of such deep needs and such desperate love.
There’s no denying we have come a long way but there is also no denying that even in the developed world we have a long way yet to go and in the rest of the world, things have barely begun in terms of equal rights for women.
From the brutal to the ‘banal’ it is still women who are the losers in today’s version of a man’s world. It is women who are on the receiving end of most of the violence committed in the world if only because this world is still a patriarchal one across varying degrees of a spectrum, with most of it, the developing world, still solidly mired in sexist if not misogynistic beliefs.
That’s why most of the world’s women are still ‘kept in line’ through physical violence which ranges from regular beatings to acid thrown in the face and why the most appalling human rights abuses still abound. A world where women are considered to be not just inferior, but often ‘evil’, is a world where you will find rape, female genital mutilation, sex trafficking, forced prostitution, forced marriage, bride burning, bride-selling and female foeticide. One could argue it is also why, in an act of pure barbarism, women prisoners in the United States who go into labour are forced to remain with their legs shackled until the actual moment of birth. An ex-convict challenges shackling women in labor.
Cruelty and injustices against women abound even today and one of the worst of these is female genital mutilation, which goes under the euphemism of female circumcision. It stands as one of the worst injustices because it is inflicted on children and even babies, and therefore rates an expanded ‘mention,’ in honour of the women, at least those who live, who will celebrate International Women’s Day in the future.
Some 135 million of the world’s girls and women have undergone this cruel and primitive practice and two million girls a year are at risk of mutiliation... About 6,000 per day. This ‘amputation’ of the feminine is practised extensively in Africa and is common in some Middle Eastern countries. It is common elsewhere in the world in immigrant communities and it has been reported in Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Holland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.
While some of these mutilations are carried out in countries like Australia by doctors who ‘operate’ illegally, in most cases traditional practitioners are brought into the country or girls are sent abroad, to the ‘land’ of rusty knives and thorn needles to have their ‘womanhood’ removed to they can become cleansed females, acceptable to the community. Not surprisingly, studies show that the shock and suffering involved for little girls, those that do not die anyway, and the ongoing agony and trauma they experience, tends to make them more ‘docile’ and ‘obedient’ in the way that women are ‘meant to be’ in patriarchal societies.
By the way, February 6 was Female Genital Mutilation Zero Tolerance Day, not that many people would have noticed other than those involved in groups like Global Women Intact which aims to end female ‘circumcision’. The group, which believes that education not condemnation is the key to stopping this practice, was set up by the Liberian comedian, Sia Amma, who was circumcised at the age of nine. www.celebrateclitoris.com
Amma has survived through humour and gives performances around the world to raise greater awareness of the issue. She arrives onstage with a basket in one hand and a straw brush in the other saying: “Excuse me, I’m looking for my clitoris. Do any of you have it? Have you seen it over there?
In this ‘joke’ there is more than a grain of truth because she believes she has literally lost what she calls ‘the seat of power for women.’ She says she did not fully understand what had happened to her until years later and living in America, she tuned in to Oprah one day and saw a man waving his hand over a diagram of a vagina.
That’s when she realised her ‘hygienic’ circumcision, that which was meant to make her ‘clean’, had in fact been mutilation and that she had lost more than she had ever known or would ever be able to know. That’s when she understood that the bomoe (tribal circumcision) had been based on a lie and that her clitoris, if it had survived, would not have ‘grown so long she would have been unable to walk.’
She makes the point that when African women are educated from birth to believe the clitoris is dirty, they cannot be expected to stop performing clitoridectomies overnight. That’s why she works to educate and inform, not just the women who will suffer, or who have suffered in this way, but anyone and everyone who might join her campaign against the practice by improving education rates for women around the world.
At this point in time two-thirds of the world’s 799 million illiterate adults aged fifteen and over are women. There are some 67 countries which have school attendance and enrolment rates for girls at less than 85 percent. Illiteracy limits them for a lifetime, with negative impact on their children and their society.
But even in a world which seems ‘banal’ by comparison it is still women who make up the biggest numbers of the oppressed, suppressed and exploited. The worst of it is of course in the developing world but the rest of it, which can hardly be classified as ‘best’ can be found in the developed world and that includes right here in ‘fair go’ Australia.
Working women earn as little as 30 percent of male earnings in developing countries but even in Europe women only earn 73 percent of what men earn. It’s even less in Australia where women on average earn only 67 percent of what men do.
Women also make up most of the world’s poor and are the hardest hid by the erosion of public services through globalisation. Women are over-represented in low-paid, part-time, casual, temporary and informal work.
Despite how far we may have think we have come for the majority of women in the world it is a different story. More than 20 percent of the world’s women live on less than $1US a day; women aged over 65 are half as likely as men to receive income from pensions; they mostly occupy positions in paid work with little or no authority; they do most of the unpaid domestic and caring work in the world economy and despite the fact that more than half of working age women are in the paid labour force, barriers to equality remain
Even in America, the nation that likes to see itself as a ‘leader’ in all things, the most recent figures (2005) show that women who worked full-time had median earnings of $588 per week, or 80.4 percent of the wage earned by men. Age also makes a difference with this disparity increasing as women age, reaching up to 20 percent less for women between 55-64.
The glass ceiling it seems is still pretty tight around the world and that includes Australia where women occupy only 3.2 percent of senior executive positions.
According to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, women here hold over half the casual jobs and over 70 percent of part-time jobs in Australia. Two thirds of working women in this country are also denied any paid maternity leave. Women are twice as likely to be low-paid in this country as men are with 45 percent of them, compared to 22 percent of men, earning less than $500 a week.
Even in those industries which are female dominated women lose out. In retail women earn 85 percent of what their male counterparts get; in finance and insurance they get 56 percent of what the fellas do; in education, often seen as female dominated, the ‘girls’ still lose out to the ‘boys’ earning just 81 percent and in health and community services it is even less at 76 percent of what a man will earn. So much for equality!
Such disparity clearly ‘says’ that the work of a woman is inferior to that of a man despite the fact that they have had the same standard of education and presumably are gaining the same sort of experience in the field.
It smacks of the Moslem belief that the ‘testimony’ of two women is equal to that of one man. We know the sort of beliefs inherent in that religion which bring this about but WHY is it, in this day and age, in the developed world that we also have such inequality and, more to the point, why do we ALLOW it?
Feminism has become something of a dirty word, in the same way that unions has and yet each of these forces for change have improved our lives immeasurably, despite being hijacked by extremists in some instances. They remain valuable defenders of rights won, and future fighters for rights still to be secured and those which we do not even know we will need.
Gender bias diminishes women’s rights in other areas. Practices such as early marriage or poor health services, result in high rates of maternal mortality. Last year some 529,000 women died giving birth; 99 percent of them in developing countries. For each birth-related death there were another thirty women who were injured or disabled. Without a mother, or with a disabled one, a child’s chances of survival and ongoing health are greatly diminished. The wheel continues to turn in an unforgiving cycle.
Opening the 50th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, UN Deputy-Secretary General, Louise Frechette, said that the international community was finally comprehending that empowering women and girls around the globe was the most effective tool for a country’s development.
Studies have repeatedly shown, she said, that by giving women equal education and work opportunities and access to a society’s decision-making processes, a country can boost its economic productivity, reduce infant and maternal mortality rates and improve the general populations’s nutrition and health.
I would add that no society, no matter how developed it may be, cannot be fully functional until women have equal wage rights. Because until they do the society is based upon a belief that work done by men is superior to work done by women, and by extension, that women are inferior to men. The wage disparity is clear proof we have not put paid to the patriarchal lie that women are less capable than men.
Nor can a society be psychologically and emotionally healthy until it recognizes that raising children and educating children are the most important jobs of all. The very fact of being female limits women in the workforce only because society values money more than mothering. Our children are our future and yet we penalise women for having them and pay those who teach them what amounts to ‘peanuts’ by comparison with salaries in other fields.
As the joke goes, women get their one Day of the year because every day is Men’s Day in a patriarchal world. Which in some ways it is, but not in another, because sexism and its changeling, misogyny, ensure that men lose far more than they might think they gain in a world where they are a dominant power.
We already know that the greater freedom and equality a woman has then the better the society functions. Education is often the first benefit that women receive when they are recognised as equals and that translates into fewer babies, better health, improved diet and increased incomes for families. Everyone wins in a world where females get the same opportunities and benefits as males.
Nobody wins in this ‘war of the sexes’ that has been handed down through millennia and while battles have been won in recent centuries, the war is far from won even here in the developed world.
Even as we continue to fight for true equality in our privileged society we should spare a thought for those women who can only dream of what we have.