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When Will Attitude towards Women Change?

By Piya Mayenin

Society-made, insurmountable obstacles hinder the progress of gender equality. With one step forward and leaps back the ugly mountain blocks our future unless some real changes are made worldwide. ..Quantitative actions are not turning into qualitative change because of insurmountable obstacles of society. 

 

Why do women have to bang on about Women’s right?  Well, firstly as women they would have experienced inequality and, at some time in their life, they would try to find a reason for those inequalities and solutions. Secondly, the status quo that is harming women, economically and socially has proved to be one that is almost impossible to shift inspite of achievements in equality by society.  Despite achievements of women, worldwide, the inequality mountain stands almost still. In the new era of ‘Trumpism  – when a Man like Donald Trump gets the Presidentship of in the US after making all the despicable comments about women – we need to put down our feet firmly for real quality changes!

Quantitative actions are not turning into qualitative change because of insurmountable obstacles of society. Quantitative changes mean that there are more women working today then say there were in the 1940’s. So does that mean that work around equality by our foremothers is really paying off? Comparators across indicators of qualitative change show that this is not the case. I have put that down, I am sure many many others have too, to a lack of respect for women. This lack of respect, globally, for women is simply from deep rooted ideas of women’s inferior place in society and the economy. This is seen, all over the world, where women are still usually working more and getting paid less than men irrespective of the major global women’s rights treaty that was ratified by the majority of the world’s nations a few decades ago.

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Bangladeshi-British women, including the author of this piece, in East London hold placards against sexual violence against women in 2015. Situation has worsen since. Courtesy: P V Dudman

In the US and pretty much in other western countries, women begun to enter work for many reasons including the rise of wages that made couples see that it is more beneficial for them, deindustrialization and men moving offshore or getting out of work.  Women earned about 60-65 percent of what men earned from the 1950s to the 1980s. After 1980, this began to equalize so that by about 2000, women earned 76 percent of what men did. Since 2000 there hasn’t been much more progress toward equality.

Women still earn less than men for many reasons which are unbelievably discriminatory. One explanation is, for instance, that employers pay people when they have more years of experience, and women’s child rearing breaks make them unsuitable. A report by the Women and Equalities Select Committee concluded last year that responsibility for childcare and the concentration of women in low-paid sectors were key causes of the pay differential. This means that some employers discriminate against women when hiring in higher-paying jobs, leaving the women no choice but to seek lower-paying jobs.

The glass ceiling is broken by a very few women and some when they get there are not very appreciative of feminism. ‘Far from “smashing the glass ceiling“, she was the aberration, the one who got through and then pulled the ladder up right after her, noted the reporter correctly in the Guardian on 9 April 2013.

So women have been given access to enter into a man’s work world only to stretch and fit, and as a result there is no qualitative change. The numerical pointers are not necessarily the indicators of success, while substantive changes are.

A woman now has to juggle working all day in overarching sexist structures and environments and tackle the bulk of housework and childcare after, doubling the stresses she previously had. Here’s another reality: Inequality is glaring when one sees that with most well off couples, the woman having the worse car while the husband flashes the better one. These indicators are evidence that attitudes and mentality have not changed around women although the benefits of their income have been realized by many.

Another achievement globally is where more girls are entering education and even higher education. However appalling safety levels and poor resources of the schools and incidents against women in developing countries do not allow for a real difference for girls.

The Independent in January 2017 has reported that ‘Russian lawmakers are being urged to reject a “dangerous” law that could decriminalise all acts of domestic violence, with the exception of rape and serious bodily harm.’  Let’s not forget that a large percentage of the world refuses to recognise rape within marriage as a criminal offence. In Turkey , for example, a draft law stipulates that men who sexually abuse girls under 18 without “force, threat or any restriction on consent”, and who marry their victim could go free.

Bdnews24 in Bangladesh reported on 27 February this year that ‘Bangladesh Parliament passes law allowing child marriage in “special circumstances”. Prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, has defended the law by saying the critics “know nothing about Bangladesh’s social system” and that her government was “making the law considering the ‘realities’ of society”. In Explaining the “special circumstances, the prime minister in Bangladesh who is a woman herself, said:

We’ve fixed the minimum age for girls to marry at 18. But what if any of them becomes pregnant at 12-13 or 14-15 and abortion can’t be done? What will happen to the baby? Will society accept it?

She added then, the girl could go for marriage with her parents’ consent in such circumstances in order to give the baby a “legal status” in society.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) have responded correctly, “Accidental or unlawful pregnancy suggests the law could lead to a situation where girls who have been raped are forced to marry their rapists.”

The same Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, promised in the 2014 Girl summit that child marriage will be eradicated by 2024. Bangladesh reports the highest case of child marriage at 66% on girls under the age of 18 getting married and over one third getting married before the age of 15. The recent law has just given for child marriages to rise and also the unintended consent to abuse of children.

Here in the UK, the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) estimates that 8.2% of women and 4.0% of men reported experiencing any type of domestic abuse in the last year and 2.7% of women and 0.7% of men had experienced some form of sexual assault (including attempts) in the last year.  (2017). Two women are killed every week in England and Wales by a current or former partner (Office of National Statistics, 2015)

The Guardian on 5 January, 2016, reported that Women outnumber men in 112 of 180 degree subjects, with females from poorer backgrounds 50% more likely to go to university than their male counterparts.

Papworth Trust in 2016 found that ‘one study shows there is evidence that Indian Asian people are significantly more likely to experience higher rates of disability than Europeans’., quoting Emily D Williams study Ethnic Differences in Disability Prevalence and Their Determinants Studied over a 20-Year Period: A Cohort Study.

This rather depressing state of affairs shows that issues of poverty, race, disability, sexual orientation and gender, amongst many other things, often combine to create a reality of extreme disadvantage for certain groups. Most of the time, these groups are female’, according to the New Statesmen 2013.

The status quo, the place where it is accepted that the poor, the physically weaker and people who are different get it rough, is tough and is so outdated and simply cruel. With regards to women, this is not helped by the large proportion of male banter concerning women around how they look and what they would like to do with them – usually violently when they have an issue with them.

Society-made, insurmountable obstacles hinder the progress of gender equality. With one step forward and leaps back the ugly mountain blocks our future unless some real changes are made worldwide.

UN Women have suggested the strategy for states to come together in working in their economies so that it works for women and equality by making macroeconomic and political changes with women’s development at the centre of it. They say that ‘they would have equal access to opportunities and resources – a good job with equal pay, or access to land – and social protection, which together would provide enough income to support a decent standard of living, from birth to older age. Their life choices would be unconstrained by gender stereotypes, stigma and violence; the paid and unpaid work that women do would be respected and valued; and women would be able to live their lives free from violence and sexual harassment. They would have an equal say in economic decision-making: from having a voice in how time and money are spent in their households; to the ways in which resources are raised and allocated in their national economies; to the broader economic policies set by global institutions.’  In their progress report in 2015 of the world women – 16 ‘Transforming Economics, Realising Rights’, they urge member states:

 To support substantive equality, economic and social policies need to work in tandem. Typically, the role of economic policies is seen primarily in terms of promoting economic growth, while social policies are supposed to address its ‘casualties’ by redressing poverty and disadvantage and reducing inequality. But macroeconomic policies can pursue a broader set of goals, including gender equality and social justice. Conversely, well-designed social policies can enhance macroeconomic growth and post crisis recovery through redistributive measures that increase employment, productivity and aggregate demand.

Let us call for a more equal world this International Women’s Day with the UN Women’s proposals listened to in order to help forge a better working world, a more inclusive, gender equal world. We can only keep trying and urge governments to enact and enforce these policies that would also change attitudes towards women and we can gradually get to see the qualitative change as and when the insurmountable obstacles are removed.


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A woman must not forget that she is an International Woman until Equality is achieved

Piya Mayenin profile photo

By Piya Mayenin

International Women’s day (IWD), Mothering Sunday, Mothers Day are celebrated on 6th and 8th March respectively which are the official dates and time to remember Women and their contributions.

However we do not remember women in the same way on those days. Whilst Mothering Sunday, Mothers day and even Valentine’s day we think of women in a warm, fond way in their roles as mothers, grandmothers, stepmothers, mother in laws, wives and lovers, IWD bears a very different history and significance which must never be forgotten. Political and Human rights issues are at the core of it and have been marked initially by struggles of working women, economic fairness, social justice, suffrage rights and leading to overall gender parity.

IWD has been celebrated now for over a hundred years with the first one in 8 March 1909 in New York and then 19th March 19 11 in Denmark, Germany , Austria and other European countries. It has since become the inspiration of all women and the pledge for parity (gender equality) in addition to celebrating of women’s political economic and cultural success. IWD has been given international official recognition during International Women’s Year in 1975, by the United Nations and was taken up by many governments who had not previously known of its existence.

Whilst the shape of women’s struggles is different depending which part of the globe they are in, their struggle at the end of the day is the same one. While developed countries battle with the objectification of women in media outlets, under-representation in positions of power and unequal pay rates, developing countries struggle with  ‘…dowry related violence; rape; acid throwing; domestic violence; illegal fatwa; sexual harassment; wage and social discrimination’ (Odhikaar, 2016). Not to mention forced marriages, Honor killings, in addition to Diasporas of the developing nations.

The writer presents a radio program on Betar Bangla radio based in the UK on Violence against Women and states that one of the top most reason for violence against women is perpetuated by attitudes of historical the male dominated society; an attitude that is imbibed also by the female population resulting in the parroting of words to give effect that stigmatises other females and fitting into the male thinking misogynistic atmosphere. There is an old adage, ‘Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t’ and this in the writer’s opinion describes why whilst the male misogynist is tolerable as one can fight it, the female misogynist is far more dangerous, damaging and difficult to fight.

An example of this is the Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who did everything that the worst male misogynist would want to do. Only one other single female soul was in her entire cabinet, namely, Baroness Young. Even in Prime Minster David’s Cameron’s cabinet there are far more women which should embarrass the Lady Thatcher. However it has been evident that it doesn’t. Her atrocious comments on single mothers have been attacked fiercely by single parent support groups and William Hague simply distanced himself from her comments. Many women applaud in loyalty to Donald Trump exist comments, who is not only a xenophobic but also a misogynist not to mention a fascist. In a magazine several years ago, the writer was stunned to read an article where a man was stating that he saw all women as cows. In his picture with the article, his loving devoted wife was holding him tight as if he were a cuddly toy pleased with her designation (that she was a cow).

A cat ought to behave like a cat, not a snake as this confuses the world. In May 2015, The Lib Dems were annihilated from 57 seats to only 8 while the Conservatives rose despite of their non social non liberal policies. The reason should be obvious, practice what you preach or be the cat who acts like a cat and not a snake. Likewise a woman should remember she not only a woman but an international woman. As she is representative of other women, she must go beyond of being a single personal with single aims and goals and see them though the eyes of women everywhere and in every situation. She must not support the misogynist.

A name comes to mind, the late Rosalind Elsie Franklin, an English chemist and X-ray crystallographer whose works on coal and viruses were appreciated in her lifetime, but her contributions to the discovery of DNA were largely recognized posthumously. In fact it was men who had taken the name for her works. James WatsonFrancis Crick and Maurice Wilkins shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962. Watson suggested that Franklin would have ideally been awarded a Nobel Prize in Chemistry, along with Wilkins, but the Nobel Committee does not make a posthumous nomination which is a great tragedy and injustice in the writer’s opinion.

In London one has to stroll about the city to see all the high financial and other positions held by men in suits whilst their secretaries are women. Waitresses are women. Which begs the question whose city is London? A man’s or a woman’s

On the international level it is welcome sight that for the first time ever two women are official candidates in the 2016 UN elections. Irina Bokova who is currently the UNESCO Director General and Vesna Pusic Deputy Speaker of the Croatian Parliament.

In the sub continental mindset misogynistic views are often perpetuated by the movies and literature that constantly depict and describe ‘good’ women as being virgin, loyal and obedient and sacrificing wife who endures all torture because she should resemble a ‘Sati Savitri’ naari as opposed to the ‘bad’ disobedient wife who is to be shunned. ‘Naari haath is used as a term to describe womanly tantrums.

Of course if one studied the Hindu scripture from Gita, the Vedas, Upanishads even the Puranas and epics like Mahabharata, would find that apart from Brahma ‘the God’ most of the other major deities in Hindu religion are female including Durga Kaali and Saraswaathi to name but a few. This simply goes to show there is no ceiling that women cannot go beyond. Yet misogynists continue to use Hindu scriptures to subjugate women!

Likewise, Islam was the first religion that recognized women as ‘being’ in her own right. A woman not to be shunned buried alive or tied up and kept for carnal needs of men. Islamic jurisprudence although complicated was applied to render justice and equality. The modern misogynists apply laws with a mixed misogynistic touch and interpretation that do not reflect the true intentions of the religion passed to Muslims by the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) which was simply to battle inequality. A prime example of this misogynistic application of Islam is Saudi Arabia where women virtually have no rights at all.

In Bangladesh women are made to endure abusive situations as the economic alternative and shunning by misogynistic society would be unbearable. Widows are still stripped of assets, given a rough deal through Islamic intestacy rules which are applied by misogynistic men, yet again. That is if they are not or are not also victims of violence from the deceased husband’s family and wider community.

Similarly in Afghanistan, perhaps one of the most illiterate and misogynistic states under the Taliban stopped women from accessing education through violent killings and forced them to wear the niqab and jilbab so nothing but the eyes are seen and even then one wrong move and they were shot.

Across the Bangladeshi Diaspora these misogynistic views continue. Without naming names, disturbing comments regarding single mothers can be heard on community TV. Wholly offensive and incorrect statements are frequently made. Surprisingly women present on a particular program did not rebut a statement that was equally puzzling and disappointing.

In the duration of my practice as a lawyer in the UK, I have dealt with many cases of domestic violence, separation, divorce and children matters. I have never seen a case where the separation or divorce was not absolutely necessary in the circumstances of the matter. The usual scenario even where there is no physical violence there is nonetheless an abusive nature of the husband with extreme unfairness on the woman and quite frequently on children alongside that. Moreover, no sensible person could claim that a widow has done that to herself (made herself a widow) and is thus of less value as a human being because her husband has died.

The vast majority of single mothers in Bangladesh and across the globe are mothers raise children (the children of the nation, of the globe) whilst their husband’s work abroad or in other parts of the country to earn a living.

In the Western world, single mothers are forced to take on the role of breadwinner, carer, housekeeper, cook, teacher and not to mention counselor! They are known to stretch themselves beyond limits and any limit what most couples would as parents, even if they do not quarrell over their respective burdens and responsibilities. A single mother does not even have that privilege.

A typical day starts often early in the morning with taking children to school (if they are of school age). On return from dropping the child or children if she hasn’t dashed off to work, it is the task to clean toilets, bathrooms, and kitchen and leaves preparation for cooking and then run off to work. When the day’s work is done they return (Many do part time shifts or part time work so they can pick up their children) The rest of the evening is again never ending cleaning, cooking, overlooking homework, washing the children, feeding, and teaching . The mother sleeps when everything is done and after the children are done she often catches up on work duties. The added onus of bearing the responsibility of a mother and the missing father engages a single mother around the clock and includes breadwinning, paying bills, housekeeping, Garden keeping, washing family clothes, ironing and constantly finds herself learning about how to best raise her children, provide stability and a loving and secure environment for the child’s development. These basic things are quite frequently overlooked by a two parent family as the social focus is on the single mother. On a national level state help to a single mother is minimal especially if not working. Many single mothers find ways of supporting their children at universities and do not expect help from Adult children merely because of the passion that their child should not lose out and should do well. A single mother usually sacrifices social activities and ‘fun’ for the wellbeing of their children and as they are forever catching up on their tasks at hand. For a civilized modern society not to note that is really a shame.

There are countless examples of extraordinary and great personalities who have been inspired and nurtured by single mother; Why don’t’ we start off with the current most important leader in the world? Barack Obama, 44th President of the US, Aged 54 who credits his single mother Ann with encouraging him and nurturing his ambitions:

‘I grew up without a father in my life. I had a heroic mom and wonderful grandparents who helped raise me and my sister, and it is because of them that I am able to stand here today.’ (Mail Online 10 Oct 2012)

What about Gymnast Louis Antoine Smith, the 26 year old British gymnast who received a bronze medal and a silver medal on the pommel horse at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2012 London Olympics. In 2015 he became the European champion on Pommel Horse. Louis credits all his success to the sacrifices made by his mum Elaine Petch from Peterborough.

I could go on and fill up pages but one could simply Google it to stumble on an extensive list as I have found.

The stigma surrounding single mothers is decreasing in the Western countries and it must do so in the sub continental originated communities too. If blame is to be apportioned then it must be to the right person which is usually the father, whether you want to blame them for being irresponsible, abusive, violent, drunk, gone abroad for work, or even having died on their widow!

Being a single mother is better any day than living in an abusive or even borderline abusive environment and in fact, in the UK, it becomes a duty for mothers to leave their abusive partners for the safeguarding of their children as is stipulated in the Children Act 1989.

Finally, stigma must be replaced with the acknowledgement of the true role of a working single mother who usually works 10 times harder as a parent than in a two parent family and are only a single parent as result from unfairness in life. She is usually a person fixed on a strong sense of principles and values and is not on drugs or dating different men as their own success and their children’s success demonstrate.

Whilst having a secure family surrounded with mother and father is everybody’s ideal, the reality is that half of women are probably single and that is even when they are married sometimes as the example of women bringing up children in Bangladesh and other places indicates! These children in fact go on to pull along their families to a better economic situation in later years.

Stigmatising single mothers for personal or political point scoring is reinforcing that it’s okay to victimize the poor. As a poor person who is also a single mother is more likely to be violated. If she is uneducated and unaware of her rights (and a single mother), she is more likely to be violated. She or her children are more likely to be trafficked.

The essence of International day is women’s right. The fact that women must not be sold. A woman is a person of her own, with a mind of her own and has a moral right to agency of her own mind. As single mothers are in a place to have agency of their own minds, they would do everything in their power to raise top -class children of the globe and society must help them as otherwise half the population is dead.

We need to broaden our horizons as shallow people will only raise shallow people – that is the main point here. That is the focus. If one wants to focus on single mothers then here are the two points.

  1. Society that failed women and young people have the highest debt to these single mothers as without them society would have nothing as they are the ones who support the future generation with their utmost being. So society instead of demonizing and shunning them let’s pay a tribute to them. Look at it theoretically, if single mothers abandon their children, would society be able to afford to look after them? The writer answers ‘no’ because the economy will just go bust in trying to achieve what these single mothers have achieved.
  2. A woman must be an International woman in order to represent all women, single mum   or otherwise.

 

Endnote: The Author is a solicitor of England & Wales, an active human rights campaigner and writer with a feminist edge. Piya ‘s work includes generating awareness amongst the community and challenging discrimination, bigotry and hypocrisy that affects Immigrants and all communities’ at large, creating barriers and causing alienation and segregation.