International Women’s Day is upon us once again and around the world people pay tribute to women while raising awareness to the challenges women continue to face. Last year I wrote a feature entitled ‘women’s equality let’s make it happen’ which outlined why we need to celebrate women’s day and the inequalities women faced in 2015 which included;
- Employment Pay Gaps– “Women earn on average 15% less than men and at the top of the pay scale, 21% less.
- Restricted Economic Opportunities– there are 128 countries with at least 1 legal difference restricting women’s economic opportunity.
- Psychical and Sexual Violence– Global statistics show that 35% of women have experienced sexual violence in their life time. Only 52 counties criminalise rape within marriage. 2.6 Billion Live in a country that doesn’t.
- Under Political Representation– Only 22 per cent of all national parliamentarians were female as of January 2015 (UN Women)
- Lack of Access to Education– 1 in 5 girls of lower secondary age is out of school, 1 in 3 girls in the developing world is married by the age of 18.
A year on and it’s still the case that these inequalities remain in the lives of women. This is despite the fact research clearly shows women’s equality and sustainable development goes hand in hand. It therefore makes no economic or development sense to hold women’s equality back. With this unjust reality it’s important to ask why these inequalities remain for women.
Last October I attended the ‘Peace, Power and Patriarchy’ conference hosted by the Foyle Women’s Information Network in Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland, which discussed the social system of patriarchy which underpins women’s inequality.
Maureen Hetherington a community leader and peacebuilder, stated in her opening ‘I’m happy to have a voice here today, not every woman has this’. A statement reflecting the fact that millions of women in our world find they do not have a voice in their own society because of patriarchy.
By definition patriarchy means ‘rule of the father’ with origins dating back a thousand years, influencing the way in which we think and act within society. Dr Cathy Higgins outlined a society or social system is patriarchal to the degree that it promotes male privilege by being male dominated, is male identified and centred. While it also involves the oppression of women through structural violence.
Over the day we heard the experiences of women who’ve challenged patriarchal systems. Like guest speaker Lilian Seenoi, who spoke of the male dominated culture which created hostility towards her when establishing a girl’s education programme in Kenya, hostility forcing her to seek asylum in the UK.
She highlighted too the situations refugee Syrian women are finding themselves in from sexual exploitation, increased domestic violence and child marriage, consequences of a war created by men in their society. Lilian ended by saying “It took me a while to find my voice and now I’ve found it I’m not going to lose it”.
Mona Eltahawy a reporter and author of the book ‘Headscarves and Hymens’ was the keynote guest speaker, who I also had the opportunity to interview before the conference which can be read here. In her conference talk she spoke candidly about the need for a sexual revolution where women solely controlled their minds and bodies. She shared her experience during the 2011 Arab Spring in Egypt, when she was detained had her arms broken and sexually assaulted by government security forces.
Mona recalled how people have labelled her an angry women for speaking out, but as she said with pride “An angry woman is a free woman”. She spoke of the need for women to write their own narratives and talk about their lives because they matter. And then posed the question, ‘What would a sexual revolution look like in Ireland?’
The conference highlighted the need for all women to feel free to claim their voice, challenge injustices and be equal partners within society without fear of violence, it delivered an empowering message that women should feel ‘I can and I will’.
To end this patriarchal system which hold women’s equality back requires a united effort for change.
There is a need for men to recognise that they have to do things differently, that it should not be women who change to fit into an unhealthy culture. Women also need to support other women and those women at the top need to leave the ladder down for other women to rise up and join them.
Women should feel free to claim their voice and be equal partners, we must keep striving for this goal locally and internationally. As women we must transform our frustration and anger at current structures and turn them into empowerment that will help us drive for change. We must make ourselves agents of change because we know what has to happen we just need to implement it.
I firmly believe the more women are empowered and their voices are heard the more things will change for the better, both for women and the wider society. So ladies and gentlemen let’s start this revolution and end Patriarchy.