Monday, 14 March 2011

What Women Want

I am left here with the familiar need to apologise to my regular readers, as a week has gone past without me writing entries on International Women's Day, or the devastating events and subsequent death toll in Japan.

I was touched somewhat by the words of Rosemary Unwin in the London Evening Standard last week, as they echoed the words of my own friend when discussing the subject of International Women's Day with her boyfriend. "Why," the unfortunate lad asked, "do we even need International Women's Day?" She fixed him with a steely gaze, before replying, "Because you get the other 364 days a year."

As Unwin herself identified, the reply is somewhat facetious but it is still worth looking at some of the pertinent facts. Women own 1% of the land in the world, are more likely to be illiterate because of reduced access to education, are more likely to be unemployed or involved in informal work, have reduced access to healthcare and absorb the overwhelming burden of the care responsibilities within a family unit. Those who consider that feminism has had a negative impact upon society may wish to reflect upon why Orwell wrote about Big Brother and not Big Sister. Equality, it seems, still has a way to go.

The emancipation of women worldwide has a lot of implications for humanity. It may begin with the social breakdown of traditionally accepted gender roles and progress by promoting women's rights to bodily integrity, autonomy and reproductive rights. In the UK, a progressive agenda has seen greater awareness of and opposition to domestic violence and sexual harassment. There is still more to be done to ensure equal political representation, workplace conditions and pay.

The United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set out a number of key aims agreed by all participating countries to assist with improving the lot of humankind throughout the world. MDG3 is the specific goal that is intended to promote gender equality and empower women through improved access to education and higher-paid work, with particular attention being paid to young girls having equal access to primary education. However, all of the MDGs can be viewed from a feminist perspective and contributions to programs promoting equal rights for women can be run concurrently with those promoting core labour standards, social protection and shared learning.

It is generally accepted that poverty worldwide is caused by inequality, discrimination and lack of power. This shows us that an attack by our current government on lower-paid workers or those in receipt of benefits is by default an attack on women, and therefore discriminatory in nature. Furthermore, by forcing women to work longer hours to make up for the financial shortfalls imposed upon them by government, this reduces the time that they can spend with their families and weakens the traditional family unit that David Cameron claims to be promoting.

The backdoor privatisation that we are experiencing in our public-sector workplaces and in the NHS impacts more severely on the lower-paid and part-time workers, and the continued culture of short-termism with regard to results delivery contributes to a race-to-the-bottom effect where service standards suffer. The family breakdown that we identified earlier leads to increased likelihood of involvement in crime, increased likelihood of social exclusion, lower incomes and so on. The potential implications of female inequality (and indeed, other types of inequality) are truly mind-boggling, and that is why we all have a responsibility to tackle them wherever they are found.

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