That would mean that in the case of certain cultures, for instance in Pakistan and India, women are [effectively] put on a pedestal. Rights are a different issue, though, as you have to talk about what kind of rights are being protected. If we look at journalism and the media, the under-representation of women has a direct impact on how stories are framed, and as a result- how we see the world around us. The fact that women are under-represented in film creates a subtle idea that men are more talented and more important.
The message it sends? I went to a school recently, and was shocked to hear children who were around 11 years old who were totally convinced that there were a lot more men in the world than women. I was struck by that…. But when you see how the world is presented to these children, is it such a surprise?
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This quickly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. At the macro-level, we need to call on government and the commercial sector to tackle issues such as the gender pay gap with more robust measures. We also need to push for sex and relationships education to be implemented properly which will have a significant impact in this crisis we face of violence against women.
In our day-to-day lives, we can call on retailers not to gender their toys. The standard we walk-past is the standard we accept, and more of us have to challenge these norms. Q: What are the impacts for a society where women face injustices and violence? Look at your body and divide it in half. If someone is battering half of your body, is the whole going to be very effective or functional?
Definitely not. The household and family becomes hugely important to your life. Households and families are organised around fundamentally unequal principles; power relations within the household are usually very patriarchal. Resources are allocated very unequally and women and girls are often discriminated against. This structure is legitimated by domestic ideologies which give men authority over women and children and it is seen as part of the God-given or the natural order of things — or else defended in the name of tradition.
The idea of the male breadwinner, the idea that woman are primarily responsible for care… all these ideas which supposedly belong to the domestic realm of family and kinship make their way into shaping our society and its policies. Q: How can women play a role in political, economic and social transformations?
I grew up in a society where economically, it is the women who do a lot of the work. However, because this work is at the very micro level, when stock is taken of economic impact on the national level, they tend to leave women out. But when I think about my life, when my dad was in prison for a long time, it was the shortbread and cornbread and KoolAid that my mom sold that kept the light on, kept us in school, and kept things moving forward.
Once that demand is put upon political leaders, they have no other option but to comply. After protesting, political leaders are now thinking about how to make a difference so that people have what the women were demanding. Women and men are different, but they still have the right to reach their full potential. In terms of development, they play a critical role in many aspects of trying to further economic progress, education and the very structure of society. In society as a large, women tend to play a diminished role in respect of their rights, and therefore [their rights] have to be uplifted by a much larger amount for them to eventually play a greater, and fairer, role in society.
Demographers have analysed birth ratios based on census and other data in society, and there should be a certain number of males and females in the overall global population. If you estimate what the numbers should be, there are sixty to one hundred million missing females in the global population. A lot of this is due to human nature factors, which contribute to this, and there are a lot of smaller factors.
One of the largest factors is maternal mortality. In places like India, one in seven women are expected to die in childbirth, partly because they do not have any healthcare- imagine having a baby in the bush? Also, because of the sonogram , a lot of societies, for instance in Asia, abort the female foetus because they want a male. So if you just talk of life and death- there is huge potential to focus attention on women and increasing their role within society.
A pivotal part of this is education. When you educate a girl, and she carries that education to adulthood, she has far fewer kids, gets married later in life, has children later in life, and educates them in a better way. One of the contributing factors to poverty is overpopulation, and if you can focus on educating girls, you will slow down the rate of overpopulation. The second major factor in this context, would be bringing women into the economic workforce, giving them spending power.
There have been studies done on how money is spent in family households who are below the poverty line, so people who make less than two dollars a day. These studies show that most of the spending tends to be by men and mind you, both sides are poorly educated and twenty percent or more of their money goes to a combination of alcohol, sugary drinks, cigarettes, prostitution, and only two percent to education. If you give women the purse-strings, they tend to spend more on nutrition including food for their kids and healthcare, and they tend to also make better decisions on money management, putting money into businesses to make more money and so forth.
They should participate at the decision making level in order for their needs to be addressed and to bring an additional feature of gender balance and value of gender equality to the system in place. Quota systems within national parties are a possible way to start dealing with the issue. In countries where their representation is still too low, establishing quotas may serve as a way to allow the access to women to the public sphere.
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The quota system places the burden of recruitment not on the individual woman, but on those who control the recruitment process. The core idea behind this system is to recruit women into political positions and to ensure that women are not only a token few in political life. The most significant increase in the numbers of women in national parliaments over the years has occurred in countries where special measures, such as gender quotas, have been effectively constructed and implemented.
Eradicating the gender disparity would eventually lead to States where the quality of ideas, belonging to men or women indistinctly, is evaluated and awarded. This eradication comes with the possibility for men and women to have access to the same resources, especially regarding education and equity of treatment. If in some countries, especially within the developing regions, we witness the exclusion of girls from education or jobs, in others women constitute half of the universities population but are still unable to obtain an equal pay.
A change should reach the highest levels of politics and institutions, but it should certainly start from below. Stereotypes must be faced and fought, awareness should be spread and those in power should start changing the system starting from the local level, in order to reach the national one.
Girls should be taught about their rights, so as they could claim them. Sure enough, the specific consequences of such a change are not easy to predict since they provide only equal opportunities and do not guarantee achieving gender equality. There is a strong agenda to include more women at the negotiation table in the processes of peace-building and decision-making after a conflict, as advocated by the UN Resolution what could give them possibility to contribute to the restoration of confidence within the communities, giving voice to the needs of women and children.
An important aspect to be underlined is that, often, there is no need for States to invest large budgets to implement these changes. Involving more women in political process does not come with a high cost, while, on the contrary, it provides high benefits for the country. Often it is also about changing the mentality and stereotypes surrounding women, something that, again, should be done with educational practices and programmes.
Women are terribly affected by poverty, and most of the people who are in poverty, and live below the poverty line, are women. They simply do not have any resources, and the thing they need most are educated resources.
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Both boys and girls have to be educated, it is a critical part of a human being exploiting their full potential. In Zimbabwe, we met many teachers of elementary schools. The problem is, they have no text-books, they have nothing to teach.
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To say you have schools is one thing, but to say you are providing an education is another. The challenge is to ensure everyone is educated, but especially girls- as they are particularly critical in improving household economics. Looking at agriculture, for example, education is still the key here. One problem is that the division of labour in some of these areas is such that women are working in fields where men are working half-heartedly, and so educating men and women about what needs to be done to improve their lives- can provide a levelling effect.
Education is also at the core of social mobility, even in very religious societies, education is extremely important. Obviously there will be varying levels of [education] quality, but even an elementary education is just critical. This also has the role of educating society, whatever its structure, to look at women as human beings. Q: Why are women the target of violence and rights abuses in times of war and peace? In the Congo, for instance. You can also see this as a tool of domination.
In many cases, even in domestic violence, the aim is to dominate- and studies show it usually occurs amongst the less educated, which leads us back to the key point that we must educate young boys and girls, that violence in all forms, including violence against women, is not the way to build a society. In terms of maternal mortality, as I mentioned in Asia one in seven women are expected to die during childbirth.
Africa has amongst the lowest rates of survival in childbirth highest rates of maternal death.
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This is partly due to a lack of healthcare, and what little exists, is often provided by religious organisations such as the church. It is therefore very important to improve healthcare delivery. The issues are, though, very complex, and people have to make the connection. A woman, for example, who has AIDS and has a baby, will pass the disease to her child. With better healthcare and education, this could be avoided. There has to be a much more holistic approach in this case, which is expensive, but we do have the answers- this is not high technology or research driven, this is care we can, and should, deliver right now.
The developed world went through the same problems over a hundred years ago, not so much with AIDS, but certainly with maternal mortality. One of the most common injuries associated with childbirth is obstetric fistula. For example, in Half the Sky, we talk of an example of a woman who was thirteen years old at the time when she fell pregnant after being married against her will.
She ran away and had her baby in the bush. She was too young, the baby died and she suffered a fistula. So here she is, this poor girl, who had to fight off hyenas with a stick she found in the hut. She dragged herself to the nearest village, where she knew there was a foreign missionary.
The village was over 30 miles away. By the time she got to his doorstep, she was half-dead. Luckily he knew what was wrong, and he took her to the Addis Ababa fistula hospital, where they cared for her. The hospital noticed she was smart, and the girl is now a nurse at the hospital, saving hundreds of thousands of lives of women who suffer the same thing she went through.