International Day of the Girl Child: how far have girls’ and women’s rights come?

Young woman shopping
Image: iStock

 

Yesterday was the United Nations’ International Day of the Girl Child. On Paul Murray Live last night, they were talking about women and girls’ rights, including here in Australia.

There is no doubt that women’s and girls’ rights and attitudes toward them have changed in the past forty years in the West. Some may argue that in some areas, such as education, the pendulum has swung too far the other way. Education experts have suggested that the education is nurturing for girls, yet failing boys. Attempts to reengage boys into education through non – traditional mean, while not wide – spread, seemed to have a positive impact.

By law, in New South Wales, women can’t be discriminated against on the basis of their gender, marital status, pregnancy or sexuality (there are exemptions for areas such as marital status and sexuality. Single – sex institutions/ clubs also are protected with exemptions).

There has been a push to make workplaces more ‘family friendly’ with many employers trying to accommodate for new mothers. Some companies, such as retail giant, Myer, offer female employees paid parental leave. The government also offers mothers eighteen weeks’ paid parental leave at A$695.00 a week.

Another area where women in Australia benefit is health awareness, with campaigns that are endorsed by celebrities making a commitment to raising awareness for breast cancer and putting it at the forefront of people’s minds. Movember aims to raise awareness at men’s health, particularly prostate cancer and mental health every November. While it’s a start, more can always be done.

Domestic violence has become another hot issue. In recent years, the Australian court system has come under heavy scrutiny over how domestic violence perpetrators, including murderers (yes, that’s what they are when they kill someone. I don’t buy the “guilty plea makes it manslaughter crap), are given way too lenient sentences.

More recently, the public has become aware of “child brides” (a.k.a. rape victims). These girls who are often barely teenagers, are often ‘married off’, (i.e. raped), to men decades older than them. These ‘marriages’ (a.k.a condoned child abuse), have been solemnised by religious leaders. Unfortunately, when taken to court, perpetrators have been given insanely low sentences.

 

Aboriginal women are particularly vulnerable to domestic  violence. with statistics indicating that Aboriginal women are thirty – five times more likely to be hospitalised because of family violence than the general population. Until recently, this is another issue that people have been keeping their heads in the sand about. Fortunately, more people are speaking up. Last year, former National President of the Labor Party and Chairman of Government Advisory Council for Aboriginal Affairs, Warren Mundine wrote an article in the Australian, condemning the epidemic of violence in Aboriginal communities, the actions (or inaction) of prominent Aboriginal leaders and the demonising of people who dared speak out.

 

Girls and women around the world

Obviously, Australia is, by and large, much better off than many other countries around the world when it comes to the rights of women and girls. Last month, I wrote that even though women were able to drive in Saudi Arabia,  no long – lasting change would happen unless attitudes changed.

 

According to UNESCO, around the world, there is 31 million primary school – aged girls that don’t go to school. 34 million adolescent aged girls don’t attend high school. Women make the majority (two – thirds) of people who are illiterate world wide. This means more than 60 million girls and teenagers are at risk of early marriage and pregnancy (which, for many can be fatal for both the baby and the mother).

 

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is also a big issue. It’s been brought to the attention of Westerners due to cases that have happened in the UK and here in Australia. Worldwide, it’s estimated that over 200 million girls are  victims of the barbaric ‘procedure’. This is due to myths and scaremongering over females and their sexuality. This is inexcusable.

 

While many countries around the world have made strides in women’s and girls’ rights, many still have a long way to go. The West in particular should not turn a blind eye to the atrocities that happen to girls worldwide, nor excuse them. I think it’s also important for women in the West to acknowledge that great strides have been made to benefit us. It’s not perfect, things by and large are still good.

 

What do you think is the greatest achievement made in regard to women’s and girls’ rights? It can be happening anywhere around the world. 

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Women can drive in Saudi Arabia. But if attitudes don’t change about women, nothing will

Saudi woman driving with niqab on
Women can now drive in Saudi Arabia, although it’s very restricted and guardianship laws still apply (Image: iStock)

Laws have been passed to allow women to drive in Saudi Arabia. They will come into affect from June next year.

Saudi Arabia, a Wahhabism state, has implemented a strict form of Islamic law, based on a fundamentalist interpretation of the Qu’ran. According to FutureScopes, Saudi Arabia has been only one of two countries in the world that have had a ban on women driving (the other being Afghanistan when the Taliban ruled in 1996). This ban has given Saudi Arabia a bad reputation around the world, including by their ally, the United States.

 

The excuses given to prohibit women from driving are nothing short of ludicrous. An article from The Atlantic in 2013 reported that  Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al – Lohaidan, a judicial adviser of an association for Gulf psychologists, claimed that women shouldn’t be able to drive because it pushes the pelvis up and affects the ovaries. This is not backed up by any science.

Saudi women who have dared to drive or protest the ban have also been likened to terrorists. According to India Today, two Saudi women were arrested for ‘terrorism’ offences when they defied the driving ban in 2014.

 

Earlier this year, Asma Alsharif wrote in Reuters that King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz permitted women to be able to vote. Also, this year, Saudi women have been granted the right to take up tertiary studies, access some medical care and work without the permission of a male guardian.

As I pointed out above, while much progress has been made, there seems to be ingrained beliefs that will keep women oppressed. To be frank, I doubt that the most recent change has anything to do with rights of women itself.

The reasons why this ban has been so – called ‘lifted’ is to allow women to drive to work, to help the Saudi economy. From what I can gather, the change hasn’t come about because attitudes about men and women have changed. This explains why male “guardianship” is still enforced in the strict Islamic Kingdom.

 

Saudi Arabia is also infamous for accusing and executing people, predominately women for ‘sorcery’. Sounds quite 17th century, doesn’t it? (Note: for those who are confused why I picked that century and not the first millennia, I had the play The Crucible by Arthur Miller in mind. Same diff. Outdated and barbaric beliefs).

That is why these ‘advances’ that Saudi Arabia has made has been taken with a grain of salt. The reason why Saudi Arabia has had such a bad reputation globally when it comes to women’s rights is the fundamental beliefs about them. Without changes to those beliefs and attitudes across the country, what’s to stop women’s rights to study, access medical care and drive being stripped away again? Nothing, really.

 

From the outside looking in, Saudi Arabia is an epitome of how far the rights of women has to globally. It’s not just laws that need to be changed in such countries to make long – term impact. It’s beliefs, attitudes and distribution of power, particularly between men and women. Then, maybe the world will applaud Saudi Arabia for real progress.

Have you been to Saudi Arabia? Do you live there? What was/ is it like? Feel free to tell me your experiences.

What sisterhood?

Design
Image: Canva

Last week, Keryn Donnelly blasted model and actress, Ruby Rose for a tweet in which Rose immaturely and rudely attacked Katy Perry’s new song ‘Swish, Swish’. Donnelly condemned Rose’s action as ‘being bad for all women’.

Er, what?

The idea of ‘the sisterhood’ has been a buzzword surrounding feminism for at least as long as I’ve been interested in the topic. The idea that women are meant to stick together, stick up for each other and fight for each other’s rights. The problem is, women themselves can’t agree what that means and certain women feel alienated from feminism causes – even when feminists themselves know what they are fighting for.

An example of this sense of alienation was felt in the aftermath of the Trump election win last year. While crowds of women in Washington DC and around the Western world gathered in protest, many women didn’t feel a part of it and couldn’t see their point.

One of these was Brittany. a YouTuber known as ABitofBritt.

 

It seems like this article has the same alienating effect. As I said before, what Rose did to Perry was rude and immature (I should say that she did apologise… well, kinda). But, bad for women? It didn’t affect me, as a woman. I didn’t even know it happened until I read the article. So, while I don’t condone it, it wasn’t bad for me, or other women I know… at least from what I know.

Is the ‘sisterhood’ a myth?

One of the commenters of Donnelly’s article said that the so – called ‘sisterhood’ doesn’t exist:

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Some comments on article. 

I think ‘Guest’ has a point. Why? Well, obviouslyfor one, women are all different! Noone can ‘represent’ women. Celebrities like Katy Perry, Ruby Rose or Taylor Swift may ‘click with some young women, but not all. Obviously, the ‘Women’s March’ clicked with some women (and men, for that matter), but it was inevitably not going to click with others, even if certain women weren’t there and conservative women were a part of it.

‘Guest’ was right. The sisterhood is a myth. I think for the most part, women stick with and defend people theycare closest to, either relationally or culturally, and, frankly, I think the’Third Wave of Feminism’ proves that. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t stand up for other women, such as those in ISIS territory, but too often, we don’t (I put myself in that camp, by the way).

 

I don’t class myself as a conservative, but maybe they’re right on one thing, that we should stand as individuals, no as ‘tribes’. Even feminism, especially where it’s at currently, only speaks for certain women, but unfortunately not others. That can change when we acknowledge that women are not homogenous and we aren’t fighhting for the same thing.

This question goes to women in particular, but anyone can answer it – how do you feel about feminism currently? Do you feel a oart of it or not? Leave your thoughts in the comments.