Girls are humans too!

The Johann Hari column in the independent this morning, got me going again…I have hardly been blogging of late but every now and then a topic comes up that inspires in me the hopeless desire, in an almost Liberal Polemic type way, to write a series of essays on a subject – an urge almost completely missing from my university career more’s the pity!

There are lots of things in politics that get me quite excited, especially when I am applying them in a practical sense, for example, as a school governor instead of just proselytising on them. BUT there are two subjects that to me a so big and important that I metaphorically pace up and down in my head, I get so worked up about them. One is the current assault on our civil liberties (and anybody else’s, for that matter) and second, and related, is human rights and specifically the lack of human rights that are attributed to women all over the world.

Hari makes a compelling case for the fact that too much respect for multiculturalism makes us blind to what is often a blatant disregard and contempt for the human rights the female half the world. So often our analysis of a situation is based on the experience and sensibilities of men; the experience of a woman is invisible or silenced. But in every oppressed, minority or dispossessed group or culture, the women will be there, at the bottom of the pile.

One of the courses I took at University, as part of my degree in International Relations, was entitled ‘Feminist Theories of International Relations’; at the time it was the only course available in the UK on such a subject. In fact I must have been writing an essay, after all, because I remember my Step Dad’s surprise, as he looked at my pile of books brought home for the holidays from the university library, that it was possible to find enough to say on such a subject to fill one book, let alone the six that were on the kitchen table.

That was during the first round of the Balkans wars and only then was rape becoming recognised, in mainstream as opposed to just feminist dialogue, as a bona fide weapon of war. Of course, it always has been from the Vikings to the fall of Berlin, but it’s only in the last 20 years or so that academic discourse has included it along side analysis of, say, military hardware and intergovernmental organisations. Until that point the experience of women in war, beyond keeping the home fires burning and knitting socks, was yet again invisible.

It’s not just war; a different set of human rights standards exists in everything - from the fact that women in Iran often spend far longer in jail for political crimes than men (see for more info on this topic), for no other reason that I can identify other than a deep seated misogyny, to the approach to educating women in countries and cultures, we may consider as highly educated. It is often just the elite that is so; I have a friend, from the Sinai, whose sister was taken out of school aged 9 to help her mother look after the rest of the kids, whilst he went off to university to study English. Such an education is an impossible dream for her as she can’t actually read. When travelling in Egypt, much is made of experiencing traditional Bedouin culture. I’m sure there’s not many women tourists who would really like to experience it, in all its glory – there’s a lot more to it than camels and tea!

And then, don’t even get me on to the topic of Saudi Arabia! We are all so rightly repulsed by the idea of BAe bribes, hardly blink at their human rights record as it pertains to women, but again are rightly outraged when a western contractor is flogged for smuggling in alcohol.

Human rights and respect for others cultures includes everybody, women and men…and, as Hari points out, we must not allow any fear of appearing racist or intolerant of other cultures get in the way of that.


Chris Black said...
1 May 2007, 08:08:00


Good article by Hari - and I'm glad to see a Lib Dem blogging about it... I agree 100 percent

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