I don’t get caught up in the feminist discussion nor do I condone the ill-treatment of men. What I do believe in is fairness. I believe that each human being, regardless of gender, colour, creed, class, nationality, society or religion ought to have the same basic rights. I am well aware that this does not hold true for all states and their citizens.
The Universal Declaration on Human Rights of 1948 lists a number of rights, inter alia-
- the right to life, liberty and security of person
- the right to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal
- the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution
- the right to marry and to found a family
- the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association
- the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment
- the right to education
- the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits
Unfortunately, there are women and girls who exercise too few of the rights of the UDHR. Despite international efforts by women’s organizations, women and girls are still trafficked, abused, forced to marry and start families. They are not permitted to make decisions which might impact their personal lives nor do they have opportunities to thoroughly explore avenues to contribute in their communities. Those who are bold enough to step outside of societal demarcations in order to seek a better life for themselves and their children are met with resistance from those who have conformed, violence or even death. Violence against women is a social (economy, health, welfare, politics) problem and not a private problem. Violence against women includes, but it is not limited to violence occurring in the family, marital rape or rape in a relationship, other sexual abuse, sexual harassment at work, trafficking in women and girls with intention of sexual and other forms of exploitation, forced prostitution, abortion and infanticide of baby girls, traditional practices harmful to women such as genital mutilation, forced or too early marriage, widow burning, honour killing, acid attacks and stoning.
According to a 2016 World Health Organization (WHO) report on violence against women, global estimates published by WHO indicate that about 1 in 3 (35%) women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. The report further states that “factors associated with increased risk of experiencing intimate partner and sexual violence include low education, exposure to violence between parents, abuse during childhood, attitudes accepting violence and gender inequality.”
As it relates to education, a topic very dear to my heart, girls continue to face sever challenges and suffer disadvantages. Providing girls with an education helps break the cycle of poverty. When all children – regardless of gender – have access to a quality education rooted in human rights and gender equality, it creates a ripple effect of opportunity that influences generations to come.
I recall my study trip to India in 2015 and during one of the tutorial sessions, the professor shared on Indian society and way of life. I queried the dearth of females in positions at my 5-star accommodation and the way women are allotted very menial jobs. He explained that over her schooling age, depending on where she resided (more rural villages encountered worse conditions), a young girl will drop out of school before she reached aged 11 owing to economic and social factors, safety and other infrastructural barriers.
In rural areas, some schools are located far away from the main housing districts and children must travel by foot to school. The professor shared that in many instances girls were raped or abused along the journey. It would also appear that in some rural schools, pupils share the same bathroom facilities, once again inviting a lack of privacy and leaving young girls open to abuse. Further, as a girl approached the age to enter secondary school, her parents might decide to keep her at home, especially in cases where she had male siblings, the preference is that the boys would attend school and girls can stay at home and become domesticated. Therefore, this absence from secondary education can make college or university matriculation extremely difficult for girls; hence, the lack of women in senior positions at the hotel. That day I was moved to tears.
You see, I understand the value of education. It is right and privilege that my forefathers fought for and in no way will I ever be ungrateful for the opportunities afforded my small nation. My maternal grandmother – Bless her soul – could not read nor write and going to school and being successful was one of her enduring wishes for all her grandchildren.
A Times of India story from 2016 further supports the discussion we had in class on that day with the professor. The article reported figures from Guragon, stating that at least 15,000 female pupils had dropped out of school, with the majority coming from primary schools; and this was by June of that year. The Hindu, another Indian daily, reported that the three main reasons for school dropouts were, “[p]overty, availability, and accessibility are three big reasons why children drop out of school.” The article continued that another reason why dropout rates rose around the 10-11 age year range was that this stage was considered suitable for induction into child labour.
It would be naïve of me to consider that these challenges facing girls as it relates to education are limited only to India. In Barbados, it is known that economic factors have hampered children from attending school. Some of our girls also face poor parental guidance and must deal with adult situations in their teen years. This in itself is unfair.
A painful observation of mine, is that we find time to quibble about material things. I will never understand how Western television portrays teens as rude and insipid; so ungrateful at times for what has been provided when there is so much to be thankful for.
My heart is heavy for women and girls who will not enjoy a third of the privileges that women like myself currently do.
If it is one thing I would love to see more of in my lifetime, is that women are kinder toward each other. The bashing is old and tired. We write each other off, we kill each other’s dreams, we chide and criticize without taking the time to discuss ways to self-improvement or even trying to get to the root of the problem. At times we are our own greatest enemies. Many have been burnt by other women so it makes it difficult to trust another and to confide. I find being more discerning works. You might say it is easy for me to say this, but I can only reflect on what has worked for me. I don’t have all the answers.
I wish we would compliment each other more, share our time with those who might need a listening ear or hug, be a friend and confidante, support each other’s dreams, empower and uplift.
When we support each other amazing things can happen – emotional healing, stress reduction, rebuilding of self-esteem and confidence, envisioning and achieving new goals for self, family and community; we become accountable to each other. From my own experiences, there is such a empowering feeling knowing that there is someone in your corner, someone is actually willing to bat for you.
The topic of Women’s issues is extensive and therefore presents so many other areas I could share on. My main point though is that we ought not to only emphasize March 8 as the day to highlight Women’s issues. We should make everyday the day we look out for each other, bring a positive ray of sunshine to another woman’s or girl’s life. We don’t have to be a part of a big NGO. Let’s do our part in our homes, schools, churches and communities.
*All photos taken from my Pinterest account on the www.
*Some important links: –
- UN WOMEN – PLANET 50-50 by 2030 | STEP IT UP!
- HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
- WOMEN’S LEADERSHIP
- UN HUMAN RIGHTS
- NATIONAL ORGANIZATION OF WOMEN (NOW)
- SHARED HOPE INTERNATIONAL
- UNITED NATIONS OFFICE ON DRUGS AND CRIME (UNODC)
- WORLD YWCA