Today is eight of March. Amnesty International in Lund, where I am an active member, has highlighted domestic violence. Mainstream Swedish media try benchmarking the state of gender equality in Sweden today. I don't hesitate to call myself a feminist, but it is a tragic fact that in ten last years, feminism in Sweden has developed much faster than gender equality.
Meanwhile, women all over eastern Europe receive flowers, chocolates, restaurant visits etc. by their lovers. My humble guess is that most women feel quite comfortable with the tradition, but that does not prevent east European feminists to use this day to highlight gender politics. For example the Romanian blog Monkey monkey underpants, or the Bulgarian left wing students' organisation Priziv, asking whether 8th of March is "a day for struggle or a day for flowers".
Photo: Nationaal Archief
Maybe the struggle we actually want to win is fought with flowers. But what is the rationale behind working for gender equality? Yesterday maybe 500 people were killed in ethnic violence in Nigera. Last week an earthquake shook Chile, only months after the catastrophe in Haiti that killed 200 000 people and left a country in ruins. On top of this there is the threat of a hotter climate that will render some of the poorest countries in the world uninhabitable, and farmland into deserts. Are these not bigger issues that deserve bloggers' and activists' attention more than gender equality?
The question is rethorical, and the answer is no. For three reasons: Women are human beings and women are victims. And last but not least - female empowerment is part and parcel of saving the world.
Women are humans and as such they do have human rights. It is a shame that we still need to write such truisms in 2010, but it is a fact beyond discussion that women in many countries are denied their human rights, simply for being women. Every human has a right to education, but in Zambia, many girls go to school fearing sexual harrasment from their teachers. The fact that we know speaks good about Zambia - a government that has the courage to bring this problem up deserves respect. The Indian government vows to combat gender inequality, which is visible in "low health, education and nutritional indicators of women that have made achieving our MDGs a far cry" Times of India writes. All humans have a right to eat and to live healthy. Also Indian women. But again, acknowledging the problem is part of the solution.
Also in Europe gender inequality is manifest in lower salaries for women and domestic violence. Not to mention the criminal networks trafficing women throughout the continent. A lucurative business that requires customers in wealthy countries as well as desperate women in poor countries. No human being should live in slavery. Not even if they are destitute women.
As long as humans are being denied their rights because they are women, we need to discuss gender issues. But it does not halt there. In all the other problems, the big ones that get precious TV time, like wars and natural catastrophes, where women suffer from studpidity, greed and politics not for being women per se, but for being breadwinners in the world's poorest families. In military conflicts, more men than women take part, but no one suffers so much as female civilians - starving, fleeing and in addition being raped and abused by soldiers, or civilians in the chaos that conflicts bring.
Climate change is already affecting women harder than men, which might be the reason why less than educated men are allowed to doubt about the existance of climate change even in respectable media. Women suffer from droughts becase of their "marginalized status and dependence on local natural resources, their domestic burdens are increased, including additional work to fetch water, or to collect fuel and fodder" an IUCN report from 8th of March 2007 states.
There is no major problem in the world today where women are not hit harder than men. Fortunately, there is also no major problem where the empowerment of women is not also part of the solution. there is no magic about this. Only the simply fact that problems are best solved by the individuals that encounter them daily. The UN Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro in her
opening speech of the fifty-fourth session of the Commission on the Status of Wome on 1 March highlighted the role of women's organisations in development work, and underscored: "Where women are fully represented, societies are more peaceful and stable. Standing up for women’s rights and development is standing up for the global good."
It is a great dissapoiontment, therefore, that the gap is still so wide between the UN's policy statements, and political praxis. In the new UN Climate Change financing group, a group that will hold immense power over what happens next in the global cooperation to restrain climatechange, only 1 out of 19 names is a woman's Grist writes. That is embarrasing, and potentially dangerous. We need women to come to grip with climate change, and everything else.