The piece below was adapted from an article by African author Ify Otuya. It depicts a peculiar blend of pop culture and feminism. It argues for basic feminist objectives, but through the rhythm, tempo, language and flair of pop culture. It includes valuable statistics about women’s disenfranchised realities across the globe, questioning, rejecting and proffering solutions to these institutional injustices. It is a piece that could very well be seen as an interesting foreplay of feminist theory meets pop consumerism. That being said, it fiercely challenges conventional method of dissecting feminism, thereby pushing the boundaries of feminist discourse. Adapted and re-published with permission. ©2014. Secular African Society. All Rights Reserved.
A Woman’s Place is in the Democratic and Popular Revolution ~ By Ify Otuya.
‘We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or out of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the triumph of the revolution. Women hold up the other half of the sky’
Female feminists who speak passionately of women’s disenfranchised realities, risk being perceived as braburning man-haters. Even though in reality, many of them love men; like, really really love men… good men.
Truth is, the brilliance of women likewise their contribution to society, is so clearly under appreciated, it hurts just thinking about it. We – men and women folk alike – have come a long way from the super patriarchal times of the Georgian era, where brilliant female writers (e.g Jane Austen) had to write under pen names because social attitudes considered it inappropriate for women to contribute to literature. Ours today, is a place in history where female authors like Beyoncé and Tiwa Savage are celebrated precisely for their contribution to pop culture literature.
Girl Group Destiny’s Child, shooting a video for the empowering anthem ‘Survivor’.
There is still so much to be achieved in the field of equal rights and women’s liberation. Women currently perform 66% of the world’s labour, but receive only 11% of the world’s income and own 1% of the world’s land! Furthermore, in spite of the fact that women outnumber the global population of men by six million, there are places where women to this very day, still aren’t allowed to vote! It’s one thing to deny womenfolk their wages, but to not let them have a say in elections, national or municipal? At this point, it very eerily seems like someone in the highest echelons of power still hasn’t listened to Beyoncé’s feminist-charged anthem Who Run The World. Or is it that the song has been listened to and lyrics meditated on, but Major Lazer’s Pon De Floor beat just doesn’t ride hard enough? Lyrics like “make your cheque come at they neck/ disrespect us no they won’t… I work my 9 to 5 better cut my cheque” call to question: why women folk who work significantly more, should be earning significantly less? Lyrics like “see, you better not play me/ oh come here baby/ Hope you still like me/ F’ you pay me” call to question: why women, who are most capable of making outstanding contributions to society, are denied the basic democratic right to vote in elections, in certain parts of the world? Suddenly, Beyoncé’s epileptic-like choreography to choppy pulsated vocal phrasing and aggressive lyrics, appear well in order, not braburning or man-hating at all.
- Feminism’s agenda is basic: it asks that women be afforded equal political, social and economic rights as men. For a start, it makes not the least bit of sense that those who work significantly more globally, should earn significantly less globally.
We live under an international caste system. At the top of this system is the Western white male ruling class – you know, the wealthy oil conglomerates in Texas, and Multi National directors in Europe. At the bottom of this caste system is the female of the non-white colonized world, many who experientially, know little more than surviving armed conflicts in global south countries like Afghanistan and the Congo. There is no simple order of oppression and disenfranchisement within this caste system, and it is safe to say that within any culture, the female is exploited to some degree by the male, whether it be a global north or global south terrain. However, the racial privilege to which this pyramid is tailored, is such that the further down the pyramid one travels, the less one sees what is phenotypically and biologically representative of the Western white male. In other words, if wealth was the inevitable outcome of hard work and enterprise, nearly 70% of the world’s 1.3 billion poor people would not be women, most of whom are women from developing countries.
Women in global rural terrains have little or no access to basic amenities such as electricity and clean drinking water. Many women in Sub-Saharan rural Africa, for example, spend about 40 billion hours a year collecting water. When these figures were broken down, it was found that per week, women in Guinea collected water for 5.7 hours, in Sierra Leone 7.3 hours, and in Malawi 9.1 hours. Water for their families. The time spent by men on the same task paled staggeringly in comparison, with an average in excess of over 50% difference. The time rural women spend collecting water is one that impacts negatively on their employment opportunities, training and work experience, and ultimately reinforces their economic disenfranchisement. It is worth noting that it is these same rural women who take on the additional task of producing 55% of all foods produced in developing countries. Another factor that reinforces women’s disempowerment is political instability, and more specifically, armed conflict. In the Congo alone, reports of sexual violence used as a weapon of war, is excessively well documented. More arms are also being poured into global south countries, reversing signs of tangible progress there. Even though women are major targets of armed conflicts, they are so minimally represented in official negotiating delegations in peace talks. To date, the UN has never actually appointed a woman in any UN-supported peace process. It is safe to say that in a world where disparity is rife, the odds are bracingly stacked against the already marginalized. Overcoming layers of reinforced oppression requires layers of reinforced resistance.
The question of women’s emancipation is not that of a mechanical equality defined by “acquiring habits recognized as male – drinking, smoking, wearing pants”. It is also not defined by merely acquiring diplomas and university certificates. As genuine feminism would have it: “a diploma is not a free pass to emancipation”. Acquiring education itself is a superb form of resistance, but it is not the goal of feminism per se. To aim for it as an all in all goal, is to miss the wood for the trees. The genuine emancipation of women is one that entrusts responsibilities to women, that involves them in productive activity and in the different fights the people face. The genuine emancipation of women is one that compels men to give their respect and consideration to women. Representation thus, is everything. The marginalized must have apt representation in the decision-making echelons of power.
Of course, having more women in the higher echelons of power, making decisions and welding influence, does not empirically translate to less wars or less armed conflicts; however any democratic government purported to represent the people must be proportionately represented by the people! Men in turbans, dashikis or suit and ties, really should not be given the sole or majority responsibility of drafting action plans to address women’s disenfranchisement. It is only practical to have more women in power, to represent all the other women in armed conflict zoneswho are victims of violence. What do men understand by the struggles faced and endured by women who are victims of sexual and physical violence, to the point that it is men who should be the ones entrusted with the majority responsibility to attend to such cases? Women’s disenfranchisement is well ingrained in society to the point that although it is easy to visualize men negotiating peace settlements for civilian women who were victims of abuse by other men; it is quite the arduous task, to visualize women negotiating peace settlements for human right violations suffered by men. It is certainly important to increase female representation not only for the benefit of advancing women’s rights, but also for the benefit of advancing the rights of children. Studies show that increased quotas of women represented in government often yields a “double dividend”, as women end up advocating for children anyway, alongside advocating for themselves. On the one hand, it is needful to empower women with education and necessary ideological training, on the other, women must equally be entrusted with responsibilities to govern themselves and the larger society. There are far too many instances in society where women are by far the more vulnerable, yet the least representational figure – by significant margins – in higher echelons of power.
- Feminism’s expectation is as straightforward as a choppy monotone melody: it asks that women are considered enough to the point they are afforded visible representation in spheres of meaningful influence. Women too, should be allowed to “freak this” like some of them men do!
According to the UN’s report on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, as at May 2010, globally, women held 19.1% of seats in single/lower chambers of national parliaments. So far, only 30 countries have actually achieved the 30% target, and 2 countries the 50% target. In UK Parliament, there is a ratio of approximately 5:1 male MPs for every female MP. This is a figure that computes to women making up 22% of the total number of 650 MPs, compared to 9% 20 years ago. This improvement, though laudable, is not near the UN’s 50% target required for all countries, including and especially for a permanent UNSC member who oversees peace processes globally.
|Rank||Country||Lower or Single House||Upper House or Senate|
↑ The top 10 countries with the most representation of women in national parliaments (as of 1st feb 2013, culled from World Classification data)
More could be done to increase female quotas in other areas besides representation in national parliament. In regional and international action plans to coordinate peace and security regarding countries plagued by armed conflicts, women in general, whether from war-torn countries in question or not, are virtually non-existent. Since 1992, women have represented, on average, less than 10% of official negotiating delegations in peace talks, and only 2.1% of signatories to peace agreements. It is women after all who suffer the most from wars and armed conflicts, it seems rather illogical that so few of them would be involved in formulating and implementing solutions to these conflicts. Why is there a short supply of the critical mass believed to be necessary, for women to make a visible impact on the style and content of political decision-making, not just in national affairs, but internationally?
Between 75 and 80 per cent of the world’s 27 million refugees are women and their children. A country like the Congo, where armed conflict and insurgency are rife, has not known political stability or peace since its colonial days under King Leopold’s brutal dictatorship. In the eastern DRC alone, there have been more than 200,000 cases of rape documented, with the actual numbers considered higher. It is recurrent knowledge, that rape is consciously used as a tool of warfare and genocide. It is hardly the case that a war breaks out, and women (and girls) are not subjected to widespread forms of sexual violence. Approximately 250,000 to 500,000 women were raped in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. There were also tens of thousands of women raped during the Darfur crisis of 2003, and similar documented cases during the US war on Iraq, Libyan civil war, and the current Syrian civil war. About 75% of the refugees and internally displaced in the world, are also women – women who have lost their families, homes and dignities. Again, if women make up more than half of the world’s adult gender population in excess of six million, then why are they still as underrepresented in issues that gravely pertain to them?
Rather than exclude women from the realm of decision-making, women should be “involved at all levels in conceiving projects, making decisions, and implementing them”. This is definitely the progressive’s paved path. Policies must be put in place to ensure that women are included in social organization. Sexual violence towards women in war zones could itself be seen as a microcosm of society where exploitation is a rule; a symbol of negative traditional attitudes towards women, that view women as by nature, lesser beings not deserving of equal consideration but contempt, violation and charity. These would be the same traditional attitudes that made it so that adult women in the USA were not allowed to have their own bank accounts until the 1950s; the same attitudes that made it so that at the beginning of the 20th century, the majority of the world’s adult women were still denied suffrage (the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S Constitution itself, wasn’t signed into law until 1920). This same tolerance for disenfranchising women is the reason why today, only 28% of women currently participate in the workforce, in Arab states. As a matter of fact in Saudi Arabia, women to this very day have zero representation in government, and are still not allowed to vote (not even to vote for male representatives)!
Statistically, women are working more, but earning less and are overwhelmingly underrepresented. Why do men still have the higher hand, economically and politically? We can only safeguard women’s achieving initiatives, by creating the conditions for unleashing such initiatives. There is no reason why any human society should need to have a debate regarding whether or not women should be allowed their own bank accounts, allowed suffrage, allowed to drive, or allowed any similar privileges or rights or responsibilities; that men are normally allowed without a single question asked. Why in 2013 are women globally, working more, earning less, losing out even more from armed conflicts, yet underrepresented in spheres of influence where policies get designed to end armed conflicts?
At this point, I understand too well, why Beyoncé yells “who run this mutha”: it is to reaffirm belief in the self of a woman. At this point, I understand why Doria Shafik and 1,500 women stormed Egypt’s Parliament demanding women’s suffrage; it is because of her passion and brazen resistance that Egyptian women now have the right to elect and nominate in the Egyptian constitution. At this point, I understand why Hodan Shaarawi after World war I, so daringly mobilized women to part ways with the harem which they were confined, and spurred them on to organize anti-colonial demonstrations. Indeed, a woman’s emancipation is not granted, but conquered. Women have an obligation to mobilize, to win their demands.
Feminism does not cater only to the welfare of women, it also caters to the welfare of society. Through the benefit of “double dividend”, feminism caters to children and family. Feminism caters to justice – personal justice, family justice, public justice, legislative justice, constitutional justice, sovereign justice. If justice is freedom, and injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, then feminism is the very soul upon which freedom thrives. For how can society ever be liberated without the liberation of women who hold up the other half of the sky, and who make up more than half of the population? Like a hypnotic beat that takes a life of its own once it finds release through a pair of speakers, the need to liberate women is raw, present, and alive! Suffrage and representation in government are only bare necessities. As long as the disenfranchisement of women exists in society, there will always be a moral indictment on society’s conscience, to liberate women, urgently.
- Feminism’s desire is simple: it asks that women not be forced to choose between public justice and private happiness.
A woman’s place is in the struggle: in organizing social life, being considered an equal human, implementing decisions, and in nurturing society. Women make up 66% of the world’s illiterate adults not because they are prone to illiteracy, but largely due to socio-economic factors. Changing traditional attitudes regarding women does not only require affording them due representation in spheres of influence on issues that directly affect them, but it also requires demonstrating a commitment to help women be fit to fill the shoes of their rightful place in society. A soldier without proper ideological training is a potential criminal after all. Women having equal years of education does not translate to economic opportunities or political power, still women must be taught. Women must be trained to become soldiers who will attain their highest potential in life, and be encouraged to contribute positively to society. There is no question about the achieving or learning potential of women. Women currently account for 55% of all college students. Two of the highest IQs ever recorded, through standardized testing also belong to women. Of course, IQs aren’t perfect in measuring intelligence, but are an obvious way to dispel traditional sexist ideas of women’s intellectual inferiority or ineptness. In truth, every time there have been monumental achievements regarding women’s rights, they have occurred by way of pressure from below, not benevolently. Women have been as instrumental to their emancipation in the past, as they will be today, and tomorrow. They must be equipped with education and ideological training, supported by dispelling all traditional notions which are sexist and non-considerate; and most importantly, granted representational responsibilities to govern themselves and the larger society.
Who run the world? Girls!
©2014. Secular African Society. All Rights Reserved.