Women’s New Year Round up
The start of the Chinese New Year is a good time to reflect on some of the big news stories of the previous year, to consider what kind of a year it was for women and what to expect in 2015.
Unfortunately, one of the most recent stories in the news was also one of the most distressing. No-one could fail to be horrified by the Taliban attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan, in which 132 school children and nine teachers were gunned down by Taliban militants. According to Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, the attack was retaliation for a government offensive in the north: “This is a reaction to the killing of our children and dumping of bodies of our mujahideen,” a spokesman said. However, Taliban attacks on schools in Pakistan are nothing new as they are seen as an easy target and symbolic of Western influence. According to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, 838 schools were attacked between 2009 and 2012 and hundreds destroyed.
Malala Yousafzai (Credit: AP/ Rui Vieira)
This attack targeted both girls and boys, but girls’ education in particular has been a consistent target of fundamentalists: when the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley, Pakistan in 2009, schooling for girls was banned entirely and although it was later allowed for girls up to the age of 10, by that point many tens of thousands had already stopped going to school. Two years ago, the teenager Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by Taliban militants for speaking out and blogging against the Taliban’s ban on girls’ education. In October last year, Malala was the co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for what the Nobel Prize called her “struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right or all children to an education.” At 17, she is the youngest ever recipient.
Girls’ education has also been under attack in Nigeria. In April last year, 273 school-girls were abducted from their school in Chibok, Nigeria by the terrorist group Boko Haram (which translates as ‘Western education is forbidden.’) The leader of the group stated that the girls should not have been in school and that they should instead have been married as girls as young as nine are suitable for marriage. The majority of the girls have still not been found, and activists from the #️⃣BringBackOurGirls campaign gather daily in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, to protest and keep the abduction in the public eye. On the 23rd December, representatives of this campaign paid a solidarity visit to the Pakistan Embassy in Abuja and released a statement saying “The world cannot watch on helplessly while children across nations are forced to choose between getting educated or being killed.”
Bring back Our Girls campaigners in Abuja (credit: Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde)
In the West, education is something which we all too often take for granted, but of which so many children — girls in particular — are deprived. Kitty Ferreira is proud to support the Commonwealth Countries’ League Education Fund, a charity which helps girls complete secondary education in their own country, and earlier this year we took part in the British10KLondonRun to raise sponsorship for the charity. As the CCLEF says, “when you educate a girl, you educate a family, a community, and a country.”
Gender equality continues to be an issue in the UK, too. From 1st November until the end of the year, women in the UK were effectively working for free because they earn 80p to every pound a man earns. Figures from the Office of National Statistics show that the pay gap between men and women in their 20s has actually doubled since 2010. A woman working full-time now earns £5000 less a year than a man.
On 16th December, MPs in the Westminster Parliament voted to change the law so that companies with more than 250 employees will have to publish anonymous details of their employees’ pay. Hopefully, this transparency will be the first step in bringing about change.
Incidentally, even Hollywood actors find their pay depends on their gender: one detail of the Sony emails leaked last year was that the female stars of American Hustle, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, earned significantly less for their work than their male co-stars — all four got Oscar nominations. Perhaps their pay-gap is unsurprising, given that the male co-president of Columbia Pictures, which made the film, earns almost $1m more than his female counterpart.
Back in the UK, in October, the Fawcett Society, a charity which seeks to promote women’s equality and rights, collaborated with Whistles to revamp their ‘This is What a Feminist Looks Like’ T-shirt. Various people in the public eye were photographed in Elle Magazine wearing them, including the Deputy Prime Minister, and the leader of the opposition, David Miliband. The Prime Minister, however, declined.
No doubt this was partly a political decision and he was keen to avoid the inevitable accusations of hypocrisy given that only four of his 22 Cabinet Ministers are women. However, it was extremely disappointing that David Cameron did not show public support for feminism, especially as he has himself faced accusations in the past of being patronising to women MPs in the debating chamber.
This was not the first time that David Cameron has dodged describing himself as a feminist. What is particularly worrying about this is that it suggests that he is unclear about what it means or, more worrying still, that he fears that using the word ‘feminist’ would risk alienating voters. As Lorraine Candy, editor of Elle magazine said, “When the man in charge doesn’t engage, it doesn’t bode well.”
Women’s rights remain a matter of contention in the UK. The end of the year saw heated twitter debate over whether or not Ched Evans, the former Forward for Sheffield United and now an unrepentant convicted rapist, should be allowed to train with his old team or sign for a new club. Widespread condemnation has so far prevented such plans, but there is vocal support for Evans: when Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill said she would request the removal of her name from a stand at Sheffield United if he were offered a new contract there she received a torrent of twitter abuse, including rape threats. Similarly, the feminist campaigner Jean Hatchet, who started an online petition calling for Sheffield United to break ties with the player, received up to 500 abusive tweets a minute from fans of the footballer. The woman Evans raped has received so many threats that she had to change her identity five times.
All in all, then, 2014 was not a great year for women. Yet women continued to speak out against inequality. Whether it was mothers rallying in Abuja despite police opposition; Malala being recognised for her campaigning for girls’ education; or simply people in the UK refusing to be silenced by twitter trolls, women raised their voices. This is the only way feminists — of both sexes — can hope to make things a little better this year.