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Ruby's Round the World Adventure

The Fear Mongrel

UNITED KINGDOM | Sunday, 29 June 2014 | Views [1743]

As the new-old saying goes ‘a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle’. Well at least that is what I thought before attending the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in the UK, I know now that the international fight for feminism is not just a matter of ‘people need people’. The longest social movement in history of what seems like a perpetual fight for the rights of women around the world is much more than this, it is a matter of women need change. The cold truth is that within our patriarchal society men sit at the top of the social paradigm and posses the power to enact such change. So finally I recognise that whilst a woman might not ‘need’ a man as such, feminism needs men. Social change and the progression of female kind is dependent on all you males out there who often cringe at the word feminism.

The truth of the matter is that to many men the word 'feminism' means nothing more than a group of extremist, bra burning, men hating women who need to 'chill out' because in the 21st century they have nothing to complain about! Sadly many men and women are of the opinion that now females have the right to vote, work, divorce, use contraception and wear pants to work inequality is a thing of the past. Sexist jokes are still the funniest, pornography is still harmless, catcalling remains a matter of fun not objectification and rape is still the fault of the victim not the perpetrator. Until we can change these social norms and attitudes towards women and feminism we cannot expect further progression, but the biggest problem is that we don't expect change for as far as most are concerned females and males now equal.

Well I hate to break it to you ladies and gentlemen but sexism is (whether we believe it or not) enshrined in our daily existence and accounts for an extensive list of inequalities, causing universal problems in developed and undeveloped nations. Some of these include the incredibly low percentage of working women in top positions, disgraceful pay inequalities, the transnational sexualisation of women, a shameful rape culture of victim blaming, genital mutilation, disturbingly high figures of sexual abuse and the list goes on. 

Upon first glance of the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict my heart jumped with excitement, the fire in my belly roared and rumbled with growling hunger. Upon closer observation of the exhibition audience I saw hundreds of people from mixed classes, ages and nationalities (117 different countries were formally represented at the summit),  yet to my dissatisfaction I soon realised that the one trait among this vibrant, diverse crowd which was lacking; men. Yes, there appeared to be a shocking (or not so shocking) underrepresentation of men! I tried my best not to let this sad reality change my experience of the summit. As I roamed I chatted with the different members from various organisations within the summit, I started by gathering some facts that could help to enlighten those people who (god knows how) still believe that sexism, gender based conflict and inequality ceases to exist, some of these include the facts that:

- In the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo half of all women have experienced sexual violence from a husband or male partner.

- In Commonwealth countries more than 10% of women aged 15 to 49 undergone genital mutilation. According to The UNICEF’s State of the worlds have children’s report on hidden violence in the commonwealth Sierra Leone (88%), Nigeria (27%), Kenya (27%) and Tanzania (15%) all have prevalence above this threshold.

- In 19 commonwealth countries the prevalence of child marriage is well over 40%

- Around the world an average of 35% of women report sexual harassment, violence and abuse with unreported cases estimated to be almost twice as high.

When people ask me why I fight for feminism instead of other ‘more relevant issues’ my answer rarely differs, I look them straight in the eye and explain that I fight for feminism because gender inequality has direct consequences for 52% of the worlds population whether we like it or not. I then go on to elucidate that there exists an inextricable relationship between our patriarchal society and poverty, that gender based inequality is undeniably interconnected with the growing gap between the rich and the poor AND because out of 7 billion people on this planet, over 1 Billion women will be raped or beaten over the course of their lifetime. 

And it comes down to nothing more than Fear.
Fear towards the freedom, independence and advancement of female kind continues to be the leading cause for inequality in the 21st century. Fear held by both men and women. Fear, yes FEAR. To think that centuries of discrimination, poverty and inequality is a result of men being afraid of women and women being afraid of men is enough to make me scream. Because it is not okay that today women walking home at night all over the world feel ‘fearfully female’, nor is it okay that rape culture, pornography and the sexualisation of women throughout history allows victim blaming to excuse acts of rape, violence and torture.

Fear of violence and sexual vilification in underdeveloped countries like Peru and regions of Brazil is a part of everyday life; it is as much a part of poverty as hunger, disease or malnutrition. This was made abundantly clear to me upon my arrival in Cusco; If I thought being a woman could be scary in Australia, then I was in for a big shock.

Most of the time I found it difficult to deal with the masses of poverty on the streets; mainly comprised of women who placed themselves on the ground trying to take advantage of the tourist market by selling goods. I began to understand what it means to be born female in the developing world.

The harsh reality for most women and their offspring in third world countries (the satellites of the rich), is facing a way of life shaped by a vicious cycle of poverty and violence,  but to their credit these women get  by and  by god they do it with their chins held high, wearing their bravest and toughest face. I have known some very strong women in my life, but the women of Peru have revolutionised my knowledge of the strength of woman- both emotional and physical, I was and remain left in awe. Babies, grown children, crops and goods heavier than I can fathom are carried daily by the sturdy backs of the Peruvian women, however poverty in the city of Cusco is different to the poverty experienced by those who cannot gain from the tourist industry, as a result many of the rural workers experience high levels of exploitation and many tourists don’t get to witness this reality for most Peruvians.     

                                                                                                         

This in mind, it must be noted that whilst life is hard many Peruvians are extremely happy people who don’t sing a word of complaint. It's really important to understand that whilst a behaviour may be considered as socially unacceptable in one society in another it may be a social norm and general way of life, for example according to a researcher at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, one study in Sudan found that when questioned 72% of men said that they felt it was their duty as a husband to ‘have sex with their wives be it forced or consented’. Whilst in the Western world this statistic would be appalling, the fact of the matter is that in some cultures forced sex, AKA rape within marriage is a social norm and as inhumane as it may be (using the international declaration of human rights as a basic measure of justice), there is little good that can come out of forcing western change upon a culture. In these types of situations whilst western standards (which themselves need improvement) towards human rights and the treatment of women can be used as a point of influence, the most important lesson we can learn from history is that positive social change is generally far more successful when it comes from the people and by the people. That is to say when it is forced or carried out by others chaos and disintegration of culture and tradition often results. The difficulty in advancing the position of women in underdeveloped nations is that it needs to be done in a non-compromising way to the culture and traditions which distinguishes a land and culture from another.

 

Ultimately it is education which plays a crucial role in changing the hearts and minds of generations and cultures around the world of the treatment and attitudes towards women. Such treatment has always been dependent on the socialisation of young boys and girls and is interrelated with perceptions of masculinity and femininity. In order for real success in terms of the advancement of women worldwide we need to teach young boys all over the world that it is okay to cry, to play with dolls, to like to cook to play dress ups and dance. We need to tell our young girls that it is okay to play with cars, to wear brown and black, to build and to have short hair. What we need is to teach girls and in particular boys that standing up for women, speaking out for the rights other human beings is not something to be ashamed of; it is something to be proud of. I hope my children are raised in a world where both men and women universally take pride in calling themselves feminists. I hope that my little boy grows up knowing that sexist jokes are not jokes, that catcalling is objectification, that pornography creates a demand for the sexualisation and demeaning of females and I am certain that my little man will know that there is NO excusing sexual vilification of any kind, in any circumstance. I wish for my daughter and son to grow up in a world where those in positions of real power are not afraid to stand against discrimination of 52% of the world's population. Feminism needs strong male and female leaders around the world to fight, and to fight now.

Tags: feminismneedsmen, globalsummittoendsexualviolenceinconflict, universal sexism, women

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