Sunday, 6 March 2011

In praise of Mariella Frostrup freshening up the feminist agenda

Sometimes I get bored with calling myself a feminist. It seems sort of tired and old fashioned, yet it is very much part of who I am and what makes me tick. I admit I have sort of given up smiling every time I get comments such as "when are we going to have an international men's day". It is not in fashion to be seen to be championing women's issues or rights. It is interesting that people are quick to moan about what is termed "political correctness"and slow to be challeneged by the clear inequality so many women have to live with day in day out, year in year out, generation in generation out.
So today I felt energised and encouraged when reading Mariella Frostrup's excellent essay in the Observer.
Encouraged because this is a woman who puts the case erruditely and passionately:

In the western world the greatest triumph of spin in the last century is reflected in attitudes to feminism. Our struggle for emancipation and equality has been surreptitiously rewritten as a harpy bra-burning contest while elsewhere, in less affluent parts of the world, the response is altogether different. From Mozambique to Chad, South Africa and Liberia, Sierra Leone to Burkina Faso, feminism is the buzzword for a generation of women determined to change the course of the future for themselves and their families. At female gatherings all over sub-Saharan Africa you'll find enthusiasm and eager signatories to the cause.


I visited Internally Displaced Peoples camps in Chad where women refugees from Darfur were being raped daily when they ventured out to gather firewood so they could cook for their children. In Mozambique I cried frustrated tears as the 12 women farmers gathered around me raised their hands in shame and in unison to indicate that every one of them was a victim of domestic violence, a crime they were campaigning to have outlawed. And yes, this was only last year.

Frostup has also transformed her anger and sense of helplessness by founding GREAT the Gender Rights and Equality Action Trust
this is not a women's issue any longer; this is a human issue. There's a new wave of support sweeping from the developed to the developing world through women joining forces and rolling up their sleeves to lend a hand. is a coalition of NGOs large and small, which have joined forces to pursue gender equality as a tool for economic empowerment. Countries where girls are educated and women play their part in government are places where peace reigns and economies begin to flourish, and women are more interested in ending wars than starting them – there are endless statistics that prove this to be the reality.
Some of the statistics in Frostrup's article about the reality of women's lives globally even shocked me. Frostrup was born in Norway but has spent much of her life in the UK and what I like abotu her essay is the way she links the global statistics to local statistics in the UK and other affluent countries:
Two-thirds of children denied school are girls, 64% of the world's illiterate adults are women, 41m girls are still denied a primary education, 75% of civilians killed in war are women and children, causing Major-General Patrick Cammaert, the former UN peacekeeping commander in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to declare in 2008: "It is now more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in modern conflict."
These are staggering statistics, and yet not powerful enough to make arguing for women's rights a respectable pursuit, rather than the aggressive histrionics of popular perception. International Women's Day, the one day a year when we're encouraged to celebrate what we've achieved and highlight what still needs to be done, conjures less bile than the F word, but also more apathy. When women are allowed to vote, work, choose when to have babies and dress in whatever fashion pleases them, what on earth do they need their own day for as well?
The fact that 700,000 people will experience domestic violence in the UK, and 90% of them are white British females, that there are sex slaves imported daily to this country who live lives of abject terror, that equal pay is still not a reality nearly four decades after the act enshrining it was passed, that the conviction rate in rape cases still hovers around 6.5%, that only 12% of the UK's boardroom seats (as compared to Norway's 32%) are occupied by women, are just a small smattering of reasons why women's rights should remain a priority
So on March 8 this year, which will mark the 100th anniversary of international women's day, how will you be celebrating women's achievements? How will you be contributing to helping women and men lift themselves out of violence, poverty and powerlessness? Time to feel encouraged to feel that we can make a difference. Thank you Mariella for finding words, passion and commitment. Thank you for making me feel less tired and old fashioned when I say I'm a feminist and for renewing my energy, just what I needed to start this week which I shall enjoy celebrating with my sisters.

1 Comment:

Anonymous said...

Totally agree - great article, great balance, great rebuttal of old but very pervasive myths about feminism's battle having been won. By the way there IS an International Men's Day if you want to respond with more than a smile next time: