In 1998, Samantha Jones – a symbol of female sexual liberation from Sex and the City – sipped her martini and said, “This is the first time in history that men and women have had the same amount of power and money in Manhattan.” I’m not the first to admit that in many Western societies women currently enjoy a far greater level of empowerment than in the past. Unfortunately, what Samantha is forgetting is that any advance in women’s liberation is limited to the West. We have arrived at no triumph or end point for feminism. Gender inequality and sexual discrimination are still rampant throughout the world. Just because it isn’t screaming in our face like it was 30 years ago, does not mean it has gone away.
I am an Australian woman. I study law at university. My male counterparts treat me with respect. Each day when I wake up I can wear what I want, drive where I want and choose who I want to date. However, for most women in the world, every day they wake up as second-class citizens and are denied rights and opportunities simply because they don’t possess the right sex organ.
When I tell my male – and sometimes female – friends that I am a feminist, I often get disparaging looks. Their eyes tell me that they believe my passion is misguided; we have achieved equality, the battle has come to an end.
How can this be so if women work two-thirds of the world’s working hours, but earn only 10% of the world’s income and own less than 1% of the world’s property? When the Egyptian criminal code allows a woman to be beaten by her husband “with good intentions”, how is she equal to him? Why do women represent 70% of the world’s one billion poorest people? Why is a girl in Sierra Leone more likely to be sexually assaulted than attend high school? Why is it that in the United States, their House of Representatives has only 16.6% female representation? It’s because equality has not been achieved, and everyday justice for half the world’s population is denied.
In many societies around the world, women are denied a voice. Even if a woman manages to gain a position of power, she is still faced with gender discrimination. In Egypt, the Salafi Nour Party placed the image of a flower in the place of each female candidate’s face. These women are in parliament, but are still neither seen nor heard. Julia Gillard, a woman with considerable power, has openly discussed the underlying misogynistic tone that permeates Australian politics, “I was offended when the leader of the opposition stood next to a sign that described me as a man’s ‘bitch’. I was offended by those things. Misogyny. Sexism. Every day.” Hillary Clinton, another woman who commands power, has said, “it doesn’t matter what country [extremists] are in or what religion they claim. They want to control women”. Yet Ms. Clinton represents an administration that actively supports many a misogynistic despot. In the Saudi Arabian parliament, a report was prepared last year warning the “end of virginity” if women were given the right to drive. In Saudi Arabia, women are so hated that 15 girls died in a school fire in Mecca in 2002 after the “morality” police barred them from fleeing the building, and kept firefighters from rescuing them. They did so because the girls were not wearing the cloaks and headscarves required to appear in public.
Are we so blind? Is there a fog over many Australian’s eyes that makes them believe the bright age of equality has arrived in the world? As Mona Eltahawy said – “when it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it’s not better than you think. It’s much, much worse”. In the Middle East and Africa, one half of the population is treated like animals. That is not the case in Australia, but true ingrained equality has not yet been achieved here either.
Forget your gender and any predisposition you have towards the idea of feminism. These facts are not only alarming, they are terrifying. “To hell with political correctness”. We cannot hide behind cultural acceptance and hold back from criticising the societies that treat women as second-class and the property of men. Now is the time for hard truths, and this a truth that can no longer be ignored by the global community under the guise of cultural sensitivity. The women who are powerful and educated need to work to make sure their developing world counterparts are not forgotten or pushed to the sidelines when it comes to the fight for equality.