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Archive for June, 2011

Pretty Goddamn Awful

Today TrustLaw published a survey they conducted with over 230 women’s rights activists to try to determine the most dangerous place to be a woman (disclosure: I participated in this survey). The results showed that the worst place in the world to be a woman is Afghanistan, closely followed by the Democratic Republic of Congo (you’re allowed to snort derisively at this use of the word democratic), then Pakistan, India and Somalia. The survey received positive media attention propelling the issues of violence and discrimination against women to the top of the international agenda (for a short while at least). Generating global media interest in violence against women is not an easy task and I would like to applaud TrustLaw for this great result.

Of course, critics of this survey were quick to point out their reservations. In this piece in The Salon, columnist Natasha Lennard questions the basic methodology and validity of the survey pointing out that TrustLaw gives no information about who these women’s rights activists are and how they were selected. She also claims it is not clear from the survey questions posed what was meant by the use of words like ‘rape’ and ‘domestic abuse’ saying these can take on “many forms”. Maybe this is why TrustLaw approached experts for their survey? Cause you need at least a PhD in Gender and 20 years in the field to understand what rape means. Not.

The article also questions the framing of the survey which uses the word ‘danger’ in such a way that it “was always going to point to Non-Western countries as the most dangerous for women”. Lennard then recommends Lila Abu-Lughod’s article ‘Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving’ and ends her piece by suggesting the survey was both racist and culturally insensitive.

Let’s take a moment and think about how unfair it is that a survey is saying Afghanistan is a terrible place for women. I mean, it’s not like life for women in Afghanistan is worse than it is in France or Argentina, right?!?

Oh, no, wait a minute!

Yes it is.

In fact, abuses against women in Afghanistan are pretty goddamn awful.

So women’s rights activists felt the need to name the country and shame it into taking action.

So what?!

Women’s rights are non-negotiable, they don’t end when conflict begins, they don’t bargain with culture and religion, and they sure as hell don’t pack their bags and leave cause someone calls them ‘insensitive’.

I haven’t read Abu-Lughod’s article, but I’m guessing the answer to her questions is: ALL women really need saving. Nowhere in the world are we safe from violence, abuse and discrimination. But you know what? some places are much (much) worse than others.

It doesn’t even matter if the survey is scientifically accurate or not.

It’s a wake up call!

The survey is telling us that not enough is being done, not enough is being said, and not enough people are taking action to prevent abuses against women. The survey is pointing out to a terrible tragedy that we don’t care about at all. And instead of being horrified by the reality of everyday life for girls in Somalia, who have a higher chance of dying in childbirth than they do of completing secondary school, Lennard cries ‘racism’.

Well, I for one am glad that someone had the nerve to carve a small space for women out of a busy male controlled media agenda. Even if maternal mortality in Sierra Leon is worse than it is in Afghanistan and more girls are trafficked in China than they are in India. At least the conversation has begun, and it’s being conducted within a strong legal rights framework which is a rare treat in this day and age of instrumentalist (‘gender equality is smart economics’) arguments.

Keshet Bachan

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