Many of us have been shocked by the story of Tony McLernon, convicted on the 6th March 2013 of brutally beating his pregnant ex-fiancé to death in the street. It may come as a surprise to many that two women are killed by current or former partners every week in England and Wales.
Research conducted by Avon UK’s Speaking Out In Her Name campaign, in conjunction with Refuge and Women’s Aid revealed that 51% of the women questioned knew or suspected that someone in their life had experienced domestic violence. Whilst just last week it emerged that Amazon Marketplace were selling t-shirts with the slogans, ‘Keep Calm and Cut Her’ and ‘Keep Calm and Knife Her‘. At least Amazon removed the t-shirts with the slogans ‘Keep Calm and Rape Her’ and ‘Statistically 9 out of 10 people enjoy gang rape’. Between 2009/10 and 2011/12 there were an estimated 78,000 victims of rape per year; 69,000 of these victims were females. Unfortunately behaviour commonly associated with rape culture including victim blaming, sexual objectification, and the trivializing of rape still exists in our society.
Casual sexism is reflective of a culture and the presumed acceptance of it could have dire consequences. ‘Uni Lad’ is an online magazine totally devoted to the worst type of misogyny, a place where they define women as ‘slags’ and described rape as ‘surprise sex‘ . This site – which boasts 436,148 Facebook likes – most recent blog reads: ‘…most lads will have bought enough double-vodka-redbulls to convince some skank in a short skirt that engaging in a bit of a naughty snog on the dance floor is a great idea.’ A ‘boys will be boys’ attitude is usually taken to these kind of sites and an assumption that ‘they’ll grow out of it’, yet women of all ages continue to be subjected to sexist comments ranging from the minor to the outrageous as demonstrated by the ‘Everyday Sexism Project’.
Unfortunately not all these young men are hurling abuse from behind their computer screens. Recently the Cambridge Union Society voted unanimously to revoke membership with the Glasgow University Union after alleged sexist heckling. Kitty Parker-Brooks, a judge at the competition, said: “I was sitting behind the boys from Glasgow Union and could hear them making audible derogatory comments about the speakers’ appearances – their hair, dresses, chest size, how attractive they were … I ‘shushed’ them – and one then called me a ‘frigid b****’.”
Clearly, a change in society is overdue but where should this change start? Parliament is the institution that makes our laws, yet men currently outnumber women four to one. Moreover, the government creates legislation on a range of issues affecting women from childcare costs, reproductive rights to equal pay, yet there are only three women in government.
Sarah Teather once described the atmosphere in Parliament as ‘like a public school full of teenage boys’. Former Labour MP Barbara Follett also complained that Tory backbenchers used to cup their hands under pretend breasts and mouth ‘melons’ when she spoke. And the Conservative Baroness Gillian Shephard recounted how one MP called her Betty, explaining that “you’re all the same: it’s easier”.
It recently emerged that Lord Rennard has had allegations made against him for sexual harassment. To make the situation worse after initially claiming he knew nothing, Nick Clegg admitted ‘indirect and non-specific concerns’ were made known to him five years ago. In a society where half the population are women the Lib Dem’s have 7 female MPs out of 57.
Channel 4 News presenter, Cathy Newman says that the claims (which Rennard denies)
“reinforce the impression that Westminster can be a potentially hostile environment for women. The trouble starts with casual sexism – throwaway remarks that might seem harmless to some but which create the conditions necessary for the kind of behaviour of which Lord Rennard is accused.”
The Global Gender Gap Report 2012 benchmarks national gender gaps of 135 countries on economic, political, education and health-based criteria. In this report Iceland came first, the U.K. came 18th and last were Tunisia, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe. No Arab country ranks in the top 100 in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report.
In Yemen, particularly in rural areas, girls as young as eight are married off by poor parents who see marriage as financial security for their children. A study carried out in 2007 by the International Centre for Research on Women found that 48% of Yemeni girls are married before turning 18%; in 2008 the Gender Development Research and Studies Centre put the figure at 52%.
Yemen’s movement against child marriage gathered strength after a series of high profile cases including the story of Nojoud Mohammed Ali, a 10-year-old Yemeni girl who managed to divorce her 30-year-old husband. Fawziya Abdullah Youssef, a 12-year-old girl who died in childbirth after three days of labour and the death of 13-year old child bride Elham Assi, who reportedly bled to death after being tied down and forced to have sex with her 23-year-old husband. These cases sparked outrage among rights activists in Yemen. Roaa Alef, a teenage Yemeni activist, during a protest said “There is a lack of education among parents on what they are doing to their children when they marry them off. The girls drop out of school and then has no opportunities; they’re stuck”.
Egypt went through a revolution last year; women took to the streets to protest for their freedom and many were detained by soldiers and subjected to ‘virginity tests’. Despite a civilian administrative court already concluding that the military had wrongly forced several women to undergo the tests, a military court acquitted army doctor Ahmed Adel el-Mogy.
Egyptian-American columnist Mona Eltahawy who was beaten and sexually assaulted by Egyptian police, breaking her left arm and right hand, wrote:
“Abuses occur fuelled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend. When more than 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt – including my mother and all but one of her six sisters – have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty, then surely we must all blaspheme. When Egyptian women are subjected to humiliating ‘virginity tests’ merely for speaking out, it’s no time for silence”.
On the subject of Female Genital Mutilation (which he refers to as circumcision), Egyptian Islamic theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi, (host on Al Jazeera) wrote in one of his books: ‘Anyone who thinks that circumcision is the best way to protect his daughters should do it’ adding, ‘the moderate opinion is in favour of practicing circumcision to reduce temptation’. Qaradawi has since issued a fatwa against female genital mutilation but many women are still subjected to this practice and fall victim to this kind of mentality. It is also important to note that it is a cultural and not an Islamic custom. Jamiatul Ulama, a council of Muslim theologians says: ‘A body – be it alive or dead – should be respected. It cannot be disfigured at any stage’.
Just going to school is a risk for young girls in Afganistan. Last year 125 Afghan girls were rushed to hospital after the Taliban attacked school with toxic powder. Founder of a girls’ school outside Kabul, Razia Jan said ‘the day we opened the school, (on) the other side of town, they threw hand grenades in a girls’ school, and 100 girls were killed… every day, you hear that somebody’s thrown acid at a girl’s face… or they poison their water.’ There were 185 documented attacks on schools and hospitals in Afghanistan in 2011, according to the United Nations, mostly by armed groups opposed to girls’ education.
People say the major battles for female equality in the West have been won, women have the vote and are able to work, yet many are still struggling against sexism, low representation in positions of authority and unequal pay. Moreover, all over the world women are still subjected to female genital mutilation, acid attacks, rape, domestic violence and forced marriages, showing that a lot more still needs to be done.