women's rights

words and visuals by @rosiewhittle_

Food for thought: Women’s rights. Women’s rights are still, in 2017, are not something that can be taken for granted. As a young girl attending an all-girls school it was only recently that I questioned this. However, in many countries around the world, teenage girls do not have the privilege of freedom of speech and access to education. 

Throughout history, literature has taught us about the patriarchal society. In Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ the main female character is portrayed as ambitious and devious, although without the assistance of her husband in the play, she is unable to succeed in life - not that murder of one’s sovereign and friends is perhaps a worthy goal!  Yet even this strong character, Lady Macbeth cannot be seen as strong on her own.  In fact, Shakespearean actors were all men, even the women, so Lady Macbeth would not have even been able to have been portrayed by a woman.  Things have improved, as last week my school put on a production of ‘Barnum’, where all the actors were female, even the males! Hopefully this is conveying a small evolution of women’s freedom compared to some 400 years ago. 

Even though we are so fortunate in this country, and in this time, to be able to do such things, it is important not to forget that in other countries such as West Pakistan, these opportunities simply do not exist.  Malala Yousafzai’s story is an example of how she was punished for standing up for what she believed in. It has only been six years since the Pakistani school girl wrote and anonymous diary about her life under the Taliban rules in North West Pakistan. In October 2012 Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban for expressing her opinion how she believed all children should go to school. Somehow, Malala managed to survive this horrific assault and has since become the youngest person ever to have won a Nobel Peace Prize. The Teenager said she was ‘humbled’ to be the first Pashtun and Pakistani to have been awarded the prize. The events throughout the last five years of Yousafzai’s life demonstrate that prejudice and discrimination still happens in today’s society but can be overcome by strong women.

Whilst researching this topic, it became apparent to me that more often than not, female figures throughout history are portrayed as causing trouble, more so than creating good. This I believe extends from society maintaining the inequality. For example, Emmeline Pankhurst, Rosa Parks, Jane Austen, Joan of Arc, Boudicca, Cleopatra, Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria are all known for not doing what society expected. A google search of imagines of historical figures features no females in the first 34 entries.  Strength in women has been seen as challenging the status quo of patriarchal society, leading to the unjust label of being ‘badly behaved’. Perhaps, the restrictions on women have always been so tight that only breaking them will result in their name being remembered.

International Women’s day celebrates the importance of gender equality and promotes women’s position in society. Throughout the last century, women’s right have become more recognised and without a doubt, we are a long way from where we were this time one hundred years ago. However, in many parts of the world, men still dominate women dramatically so this is no time to stop campaigning. Whilst it is difficult to view female bankers as a discriminated group, the day before International Women’s’ day this year, the London Evening Standard reported substantial differences in the financial industry between male and female remuneration and these are the industries with the more established genderequality policies.  

International Women’s day is supported by many famous women for example: actress-Emma Watson, singer- Paloma Faith, comedian- Sandy Toksvig, songwriter- Annie Lennox and the great-great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, Laura Pankhurst. They all attended the March in London on the 8th March, International Women’s day, campaigning for women’s rights. 

Many people believe feminism is thinking that women are better than men however, a feminist is defined by Oxford dictionary as someone who supports the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. Paloma Faith said“I think we have to acknowledge that women’s rights are human rights and it would be really good to see men and women go hand in hand on these things, because we’re all human,”. She also went on the say“Any one of the women over here could be any one of the women in a far-off land suffering from injustices. It goes to show how important it is that women stand together and fight for each other’s rights.” It is clear that people are discriminated by others in all aspects of life; whether that be due to lack of women’s rights, slavery, racism, age, religion and belief, sexual orientation and many more.

‘Teen Opinion: How books made me a feminist’ was an article featured in The Guardian in March this year. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie describes her ambitions growing up as a young girl in Nigeria. She describes her parents as ‘very supportive’ and told her she could do whatever she wanted too. Adichie said she dreamt of doing many things: flying to space, becoming the first female President of Nigeria, writing books and becoming a ballet dancer. However, in her own words she says “I knew that because I was a girl, there were limits to what I could do” However, why is it that Adichi simply assumed these things were not possible? Could it be that if we did what society did not expect, women's position in society would be forced to change. Perhaps, the answer to the question: 'What can we do to achieve gender equality?" is as simple as trying hard at school, giving a baby girl a blue toy or men doing the laundry. 

Could it be that the answer to a big question is not a big answer, but rather, bysimply looking at endless small things differently and not how we have been told to look at them, answers may emerge?