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Tag: Plan International

International Women’s Day – Keeping Feminism Relevant

Last night on ABC’s Q&A Janet Albrechtsen made the following statement on the state of feminism amongst our young women:

A few days ago at a Sydney girls’ high school, the girls were asked whether they were feminists. Of 90 girls, 30 girls put their hands up. Now, I think that’s quite unfortunate. These are girls who are obviously in favour of female suffrage. They’re in favour of equal pay and yet there is something going on here that a lot of young girls are not finding feminism attractive. The debates around quotas and discrimination are all part of a wider debate about feminism and we have to ask what it is that’s turning young girls away…

I’m not sure that I agree with Ms Albrechtsen’s assumption that this generation of girls are fleeing from feminism. Rather, I think they have a healthy interest in women’s issues, even if they do not necessarily relate to the terminology. Monica Dux, author of The Great Feminist Denial, argued in an article I was also interviewed for (“Putting Girls Issues Back On The Radar”) that a feminist consciousness is there but that we have just got to start claiming back the label.

And make no mistake, it is vital that we connect this generation of young women to the feminist agenda as the work is far from done.

Despite making up 45% of our workforce, the number of women on corporate boards is just 8.3% (an issue the Q & A panellists also discussed at length). Violence against women is a huge issue: one in three women has experienced physical violence since the age of 15; nearly one in five women has experienced sexual assault since the age of 15; and almost every week, one woman is killed by her current or former partner. One need only look at popular culture to see that misogyny and sexism are not only alive but indeed well paid (think footballers who choose to behave badly and Charlie Sheen). Meanwhile, for our sisters overseas, every day is an ongoing battle. The following extract from REFUGEES magazine, produced by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, is deeply shocking:

There are approximately 50 million uprooted people around the world – refugees who have sought safety in another country and people displaced within their own country. Between 75-80 per cent of them are women and children.

The majority of people flee their homes because of war and the proportion of war victims who are civilians leaped in recent decades from five per cent to over 90 per cent of casualties. Eighty per cent of casualties by small arms are women and children, who far outnumber military casualties.

Females are subjected to widespread sexual abuse. In Bosnia and Rwanda rape became a deliberate aim of war. More than 20,000 Muslim women were raped in Bosnia in a single year, 1992, and a great majority of the female survivors of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide were assaulted.

More than 300,000 youngsters, many of them female refugees, are currently serving as child soldiers around the world. The girls are often forced into different forms of sexual slavery.

More than 16.4 million women today have HIV/AIDS and in the last few years the percentage of women infected has risen from 41 to 47 per cent of the affected population. In sub-Saharan Africa, teenage girls are five times more likely to be infected than boys.

The majority of trafficked people are women, especially those bound for the world’s sex industries. Females are particularly vulnerable to trafficking because many have little individual security, economic opportunity or property or land ownership. Many victims are kidnapped or sold into slavery by their own families.

An estimated 1.3 billion people worldwide, 70 per cent of them women, live in absolute poverty on less than $1 a day.

Me and my PHD student friend and colleague Sarah Casey - rockin' Feminism.
Me and my PhD student friend and colleague Sarah Casey - rockin' Feminism.

The team here at Enlighten Education also investigated some of the reasons why young women are distancing themselves from the “F” word when designing our newest workshop aimed at inspiring girls to be proud Feminists – Real Girl Power. Some girls thought the work was done: “We have a female Prime Minister and a female Governor General.” Others thought that only those with “hairy legs” and those who hated men could join the club. Kate Ellis, our Minister for Employment Participation, Child Care and Status of Women, hinted at the latter misconception too when she revealed on Q & A that when she first entered politics she was advised to cut her hair and wear glasses (despite having perfect vision). Can we be taken seriously as female leaders, and indeed as feminists, if we have long hair, stilettos and wear lippy?

Yes.

We do not owe it to feminism to dress down. Nor, of course, should we feel pressured to dress up. Feminism surely must be about informed choice.

Sarah Casey, a friend and colleague, is currently completing her PhD at Griffith University. Her focus is on the relevance of feminism to the world today. Sarah argues that feminism will be revived for mainstream audiences through action rather than continual academic dialogue, which is often inaccessible to the majority of youth. “I believe that human rights violations against women throughout the world need to be addressed with urgency and focussed feminist organisation that takes into account and critiques youth culture. For example, we must tap into and explore new technologies, celebrity consumer culture and philanthropic capitalism,” writes Sarah.

In our work, we have discovered  that  when we inform girls about some of the struggles women are enduring in the third world, they soon realise that the feminist battles have not all been fought. A Western woman’s experience is vastly different to that of a woman in the developing world.  We remind girls that not only are they privileged to have choices, but that they also have powerful voices they may chose to use to effect global change. Sites like The Girl Effect and Plan International’s Because I Am A Girl are both great starting points and offer not only education but also practical ways in which we can all contribute to making a difference.

We also encourage girls to act on issues that do affect them directly. We distribute “Girl Caught” stickers (you may download a PDF with these stickers here: GirlCaught Stickers(2009)) inspired by the US Mind on The Media campaign that encourages girls to talk back to advertisers who portray women in a negative light. To say girls love these would be an understatement – every time we hand these out at school girls try to sneak extra copies from us!

GirlCaught_Sticker

We are now also distributing The Equality Rights Alliance’s postcards calling on The Hon Peter Garrett (Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth) to put the Voluntary Industry Code of Conduct for Body Image into force. An electronic version of this card may be sent from here.

I’d love to hear how you are connecting the young women at your school to feminism too.

Postscript: Thank you to Rachel Hanson for bringing this excellent TED Talk to my attention. Here young feminist Courtney Martin ( author of the insightful Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters) gives a personal account of how she reinvented feminism and connected with the movement.

Wanted — more girl champions

Women hold up half the sky. — Chinese Proverb.

Don’t you just love it when you read a book that changes the way you view the world? Last year for my 40th birthday Melinda Tankard Reist bought me a copy of  the Pulitzer-prize-winning Half The Sky. This brilliant work has been described by the publishers as a “call to arms against our era’s most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls in the developing world”. I became so passionate about bringing an awareness to the plight of girls in the developing world and to how simple some of the solutions are that I immediately incorporated some of the messages into our Enlighten Education workshop on feminism as it applies to this generation of girls: Real Girl Power (for more on this workshop, you may be interested in this news article: Putting Girls Issues Back on the Radar).

One of the key resources that informed this workshop was Plan International’s brilliant “Because I am a Girl” campaign. Yesterday I was fortunate enough to have been invited by the forward-thinking team at Mercer (a global leader in financial services) to attend the launch of Plan’s new paper: “Because I am a Girl, The State of The World’s Girls 2010. Digital and Urban Frontiers: Girls in a Changing Landscape”. Plan is producing one girl report each year in the run-up to 2015, the target year for the Millennium Development Goals. Each report provides tangible proof of the inequalities that still exist between boys and girls. Mercer is supporting Plan in its life-saving work and has also been using me to present to executives who are involved in their truly vibrant Women in Leadership Network. Isn’t it exciting to see corporations involved in partnerships that make a real difference to the lives of not only their staff but to those who have fewer opportunities?

The launch started with a reminder about why unleashing women’s potential is not only the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do in order to combat poverty:

This year’s report was particularly of interest to me as it examined the impact of both urbanisation and technology on young women — issues we are also struggling with at a domestic level. A full copy of the Executive Summary may be downloaded here: Because I am a Girl – The State of the World’s Girls 2010.

What are some of the key findings?

Bright lights and big hopes — adolescent girls in the city:

For the first time in history, there are more people living in cities than in rural areas. This has the potential to lead to increased education opportunities and access to better health care services, and it is delaying the age at which girls marry. However, girls in cities are at particular risk of exploitation, poverty, overcrowding and physical and sexual violence.

I was particularly moved by the manifesto street girls and former street girls put together when they met at the 2010 Street Child World Cup in Durban, South Africa:

We, the girls living and [who] have lived on the streets and those of us in shelters from seven countries, the UK, Tanzania, South Africa, the Philippines, Ukraine, Brazil, and Nicaragua, have the following rights and we want them respected:

The Right to live in a shelter and home, The Right to have a family, The Right to be safe, The Right to be protected from sexual abuse, The Right to go to school and get free education, The Right to good health and access to free health services, The Right to be heard, The Right to belong, The Right to be treated with respect and decency, The Right to be treated as equal to boys,  The Right to be allowed to grow normally.

Adolescent girls and communication technologies — opportunity or exploitation?

The report identified several reasons why technology is important to girls. These included using technology as a tool to connect, educate, gain employability skills and increase knowledge about health issues such as HIV and AIDS.

Just as we are finding here, however, there is also a dark side: 79% of girls said they did not feel safe online, almost half the girls surveyed said their parents did not know what they accessed online, only a third of girls said they knew how to report danger or something that made them feel bad online, and almost 50% said they would go to meet someone they met online (this is particularly troubling in the developing world, where many young women are tricked into the sex trade by the offer of jobs overseas). Cyber-bullying was also a growing problem.

Moving forward

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Two young women who have been assisted by Plan International in Ghana — Gifty and Aisha — were at yesterday’s launch. They both spoke to me about the positive impact intervention has had on their lives. Education works. Investing in girls works.

Plan’s report concludes with a powerful call to action:

We can all contribute. We need to listen to adolescent girls’ views and ensure that their voices are heard by decision-makers. We need to learn from what they have to say. We need to include them in research, in planning and in policies. We need to invest in girls’ skills and ensure that they have access to information, the skills to use it and the power to protect themselves. And finally, we have shown that what many of them have achieved in the face of adversity is truly remarkable. We need to celebrate these achievements and ensure that all girls, wherever they live in the world, have the same chances in life as their brothers.

Girl Effect, an organisation that also does incredible work with young women in the developing world, tells it how it is on their website. The  launch page is emblazoned with the following:

The World could do with a good kick in the pants. Agree?

Yep.

So, what am I going to do to make a difference? I am going to continue, and in fact enhance, the workshops we run that inform girls about these important equity issues. I am also going to strengthen the work I do here in Australia with our Indigenous girls — many of these young women are living lives not dissimilar to those girls in the developing world are living, which I find deeply shameful. I am currently coordinating diaries with the amazing Cathy Freeman and hope to work with her on Palm Island with Indigenous girls. Cathy is a true champion of girls and if you are not yet aware of the work her foundation is doing in this area, do investigate.

I would like to also encourage you to act now too. Plan are calling for the United Nations to declare today, September 22nd, to be International Day of the Girl. A simple first step? Sign their petition. And then find out more about the numerous organisations that work to turn oppression into opportunity for women worldwide. Donate. Share this post with colleagues. Educate your girls about the plight of their global sisters.  The following video from Girl Effect is also well worth showing and using as a stimulus for discussion – perhaps girls might be asked to produce their own manifesto of rights they think all girls should have respected?

I have found that girls here do care — deeply. In fact, I believe they yearn for something that matters more than just the right jeans, the hottest boyfriend and the latest celebrity that has gone into rehab.

By not discussing the real issues, we do all girls a huge disservice.

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