Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Internalising Women´s Issues

If the human rights of one person are abused all our rights are violated. I sat in a discussion in Norway recently  where a woman -annoyed that the South African ANC government was being criticised as we watched a film titled Dear Mandela in which poor people in townships struggle for housing - decided to shout out that only one or two women had their rights violated. And so what was the fuss all about? The violation of two, to her meant that the government and situation was not so bad because only a few girls were reported hurt and not millions. Reported. She never wanted to imagine a silent majority. Reported. She did not want to see the political side she supports taken on. It appears that to her, support means something else.

She was asking for numbers and how many women were treated so badly in order to downplay the fact that one woman was arrested and tortured. Those of us in the house stood up for the one. That one. One is not always one. One is not one. For there is something so important about how we take the threatening or the deprivation of the rights of one that has to do with us all.

When it comes to women´s issues it is a fact that many are inclined to see the world in very small bits but still use the words ´globalisation´, ´´internationalisation´ and so on. Key for many should be the fact that if we do not internalise women´s issues we cannot resolve the dilemmas that face women. This is because we then take regional patterns and not see how one form of oppression leads to the other, and the next and the next. That oppression is one but takes different forms.

Womens´issues are couched in cultures. It is a cultural matter how we decode them, not just a matter of figures and geographical expanses even when they must be included too. Culture is very deeply internalised that it often relegates women to the voiceless masses. It is true that the number of women who speak out is important, it is necessary to have a majority representation for change to happen but very little changes if we have numbers but no internalisation of women´s issues.

Big words. Internalisation of women issues is important for surely if we are not internalising  them, there is not need internationalising them. I consider the sharing between nations vital whether they are nations in one continent or in many. But of no use if one regional group is not able to overcome Female Genital Mutilation amongst neighbours who practice it and instead wait for power to come from the West to help them stop the malaise.

I consider that there might be one unknown woman with unsual ideas in a part of the world we are not familiar with and this woman, whoever she is we have to recognise as international even if we do not know her. She can stop the genital mutilation of the girls near her without hitting any headlines. We overlook such work. This is the real reason that women´s issues look isolated and as if they are to be drawn out of a dark well. It is the fact that we only want to recognize most often those we know and of the day, especially if they are celebrities. Women issues have always been global even when it was only one woman lost on a river canal - and paddling a canoe on her own as I was told about one toothless woman doing this - in Thailand to go and vote.

Women issues have always been received with concern in different areas of the world even when it was only one woman Kabata who lay in hospital dying from domestic violence. In her head was a universal if global makes us think some are smaller. The issue was that she was dying and would not be visible to us anymore because her husband in Ukambani Kenya, had battered her until she was close to death and then dead. For sometimes we can go too far in divorcing some parts of the world and then celebrating as if everything is new.

I know recent cases move us and I am greatly moved by the recent reactions to rape in India. Many of us are campaigning for literacy and freedom of expression with Malala Yousoufzai and that is why I want those who write on women´s issues especially in papers that have a great reach to go much deeper. We have to take these issues beyond the big resound in what is normally recognized as international.

The words ´global village´, ´globalisation of issues´ too are many years old now. But depending on how they are used and who uses them, they can look almost new. The old book Globalisation and its Discontents by Joseph Stiglitz is almost a dozen years old now. In this book about the world of economics Stiglitz argues the case for the discontents of globalisation. Looked at in the same way women´s issues can risk being unseen because they are considered as globalised.

It is clear so often that in the South and I speak for the part of Africa that I try to understand, the West is always welcome and well known. It is always known as global and is hardly questioned. On the other hand, the West finds it very hard to include the rest and the South that I know in its dialogue. I have been looking for writers in Europe who have a heavy presence even just of the many people who live in their nations but in vain. They do not dent the psyhe of the West. This cannot be with regard to women´ issues. Women have always been part of the global and world issues. There is nothing so new in this if you ask me. To read about globalisation as if it is new concerns me because it seems that then we are stagnant. So I wonder where we belong in Africa when I hear this:

“Women issues are world issues,” Michelle Bachelet, the executive director of U.N. Women and former president of Chile, said recently. “Today there is greater awareness than ever before that women’s full participation is essential for peace, democracy and sustainable development.”

I am sure that Lusita Lopez Torregrosa has written other articles I may have not read and while I react to her article, I know it was not her doctoral or other thesis but the dialogue is important and especially as big media from the West shapes public opinion more than the stories my grandmother told me by the fireside in Kenya. I opt for the internalisation of women's issues.

What is it about a New York article on the Female factor by Lusita Lopez Torregrosa published on January 8 2013, see the link below, that might not be a good indicator for women even if she starts on a note of cautious optimism? Ít is the lack of a historical take. It is the reduction of the issues to the women present in positions today to the ones who make issues international.

Why is New York celebrating the internationalisation of Women's issues today without a word about the rural women of Mexico, Mexican women journalists when they die in big numbers to this very day to defend their nation and opinions? Where is mention of Mexico 1975, Nairobi 1985 and Beijing 1995? Are we not at this level then recording women´s gains throughout decades?


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  2. Did you mean this to just be a rant? I find myself asking halfway through, "so?" Your thoughts on a way forward? There are too many people posting rant-blogs and very few with pro-active material. I thought you started off great with a recognition of the particular as universal and an conceptualizing women's rights as human rights. But then it went downhill from there - into a rant. Also, were you referencing the global south?