Sunday, August 23, 2009

A women's world?

I get asked about feminism a lot. As an author of women’s fiction, and especially the brand known as Chick Lit, it’s one of the topics that people expect me to have strong opinions on.
And I do. But it seems a lot of people feel, well, a bit ‘meh’ about the whole issue of feminism.
The movement has had a bad press. People often will associate feminism with Germaine Greer, hairy legs, dungarees and bra burning. Some think that feminism is about proving that women are not only equal to men, but better.
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Some people just simply can’t be bothered with it. In the modern world so many of us don’t even think about it on a regular basis, mostly because we have no need to.
We get up and go to our jobs, drive our cars, take money out of our bank accounts and make our own choices as to how we dress, how we control our fertility and whether or not we marry or take a partner.
We vote, we get an education, we have a plethora of employment laws which – when they work properly – protect our rights to be gainfully employed and not discriminated against because of our gender.
While things are not perfect and there is always room for improvement – the truth is that many of us live a life where we are independent and valued and have a degree of freedom perhaps not experienced by our grandmothers or great-grandmothers and so on.
It’s hard for us to believe that these most basic and fundamental of rights would not be protected and promoted throughout the rest of the world in this day and age. I certainly was shocked to read this week of a new Shia law introduced in Afghanistan which allows husbands to withhold food from their wives if their wives refuse to have sex with them.
The same law removes the need for consent when it comes to sex between a husband and wife.
This law – in the simplest of terms – legalises rape and takes away the most absolute and basic right of any woman – the right to say no.
It reduces a woman to nothing more than a possession – a sexual object for her husband to use as and when he wants. She can be raped. She can be starved. She can have her children taken from her. She can become a complete non-entity in a society and this is the 21st century.
And this is only one example of abuses against women in these modern times. It’s not isolated. We probably shouldn’t even really be shocked. Outside of the relative safety of the modern Western world women and female children are all too often treated as commodities or second class citizens.
A report by Amnesty International revealed that in North Africa, 6,000 women are genitally mutilated each day. An estimated 135million girls (yes, children) have been subjected to female castration with often dire consequences.
In 2001 more than 15,000 women were sold into sexual slavery in China. 200 women in Bangladesh were horribly disfigured when their spurned husbands or suitors burned them with acid. More than 7,000 women in India were murdered by their families and in-laws in disputes over dowries.
Honour killings, rape of female prisoners, the legalisation of sexual assault within marriage… It is happening each and every day throughout the world and it isn’t going away.
It is thought that the Shia Law was passed n Afghanistan to help the country's president, Hamid Karzai, seal his victory in the country’s elections – which were due to take place yesterday.
Karzai sold out the women of Afghanistan and he did so because he places less value on them than he does on his own desire for power. They are commodities to be traded for another term in office.
So if anyone asks me if I have strong views on feminism my answer is simple. How can I not? How can I, or any one of us, sit back and say we are not feminists while such things are happening?
How can we say feminism is a thing of the past when there are women out there in dire need, who are being raped, murdered, mutilated and disfigured because of their gender?
If anything now is the time for feminism to come back stronger and bigger than ever. And it’s not about taking the pill, or glass ceilings, or burning our bras. It is about saying we are equal – each and every woman in this country and the next - and we will no longer tolerate such blatant abuses of our human rights.
Until we can say we have tackled these issues head on – until we have stopped such abuses – then feminism is most definitely not over and done with.

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