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Shivani Gopal

Shivani Gopal

August 14, 2022
| Womens Advocacy

Founder's Weekly 29th Oct 2021: Oh, boy! Apparently “men often get the shorter stick in life”, but they aren't complaining.

TV host rips into the new US gender equality strategy, while a politician urges mothers to turn their sons into monsters.

Fellow remarkable community,

A new report has revealed what The Remarkable Woman team has long suspected: the global advance of gender equality progress has been slowed by COVID-19.

Australia only scrapes in at No.24 on the Women, Peace, and Security Index, down two places from 2019. Disturbingly, South Asia dropped to last place in the regional rankings—falling for the first time behind Sub-Saharan Africa—reflecting the region’s high levels of legal discrimination, intimate partner violence, and discriminatory norms that continue to disenfranchise women, often coupled with low levels of inclusion. The results are sobering.

Even more sobering is the opposition to the launch of the United States’ first-ever National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality. Despite it having the admirable objective of advancing gender equity and equality in both domestic and foreign policy, angry middle-aged white men are describing it as “B.S”.

However, I’m constantly inspired by the women who refuse to step away from the fight for equality. Two brave Egyptian sisters are using music to fight oppression in Egypt. 

Here’s the lowdown on what’s been on my radar this week...

Why middle-aged white men are furious about the new US gender equality strategy

There has been huge progress for gender equality in the US with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris launching the country’s first-ever National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality, which sets forth a vision and agenda to advance gender equity and equality in both domestic and foreign policy.

The pair noted that no country in the world has achieved gender equality, but they believe it’s a moral and strategic imperative for the United States to lead the push to make it happen.

They say it’s essential to economic growth and development, democracy and political stability, and the security of nations across the globe and I couldn't agree more. Women being welcomed into these key areas only makes more ground in championing equality that is imperative to social, political, economic and cultural progress for all women. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has fuelled a health crisis, an economic crisis, and a caregiving crisis that have magnified the challenges that women and girls, especially women and girls of colour, have long faced. It has also exacerbated a “shadow pandemic” of gender-based violence around the world. 

While it sounds like an admirable, long-overdue imperative to me, many middle-aged white men in the US are furious about it. Cue an eye-roll from the rest of the female population, please. 

Fox News host Greg Gutfield is among those who’ve slammed the move, saying it’s not important at a time when the country is facing hyperinflation, rising crime rates and a supply chain crisis.

“Never mind the murder rate, the open border hyperinflation here at home, there's a hostess making three cents less than her male counterpart,” he griped on his show.

“Apparently this is to remedy an unequal playing field, one that has been worsened by COVID, which is such B.S. the smell of it should be seeping out of your TV. So you want to talk COVID inequality? The global death rate for men from COVID is about 50% higher than women.

“I bet that's the first time you heard that. And probably the last. Because unlike me, gender equality only goes one way if you're a woman who disagrees.

“Men often get the shorter stick in life, but we aren't complaining. Women however, need a national strategy to fix something that does not rate compared to the issues that both genders face right now under Joe. It's like a doctor giving a patient with diabetes a treatment for his dandruff.” Watch the video here.

Right, thanks for mansplaining Greg. I love how you compared domestic violence and death to diabetes and dandruff, one of which you might have as you scratch your head thinking about why half the internet is on your case right now. 

Young white men are also being recruited by the right wing’s anti-feminist agenda.

Among their vocal leaders is Madison Cawthorn, a North Carolina Republican and Trump loyalist who recently noted in a speech (as reported by the watchdog organisation Right Wing Watch): “Our culture today is trying to completely de-masculate all of the young men in our culture….They're trying to de-masculate the young men in our country because they don't want people who are going to stand up…. All you moms here — the ones who I said are the most vicious in our movement — if you are raising a young man, please raise them to be a monster.”

Terrifying words.

I’m with Biden and Harris - advancing gender equity and equality is fundamental to every individual’s economic security, safety, health, and ability to exercise their most basic rights. 

The US government’s strategic priorities include:

    • Improving economic security by ensuring that people have equal access to good jobs, including by addressing persistent gender discrimination and systemic barriers to full workforce participation.
    • Investing in care infrastructure and care workers to help rebuild the economy and lower costs for working families.
    • Dismantling the barriers to equal opportunity in education that undermine the ability to compete on a level playing field.
    • Preventing and responding to the gender-based violence that’s endemic in homes, schools, workplaces, the military, communities, and online by developing and strengthening national and global laws and policies, plus investing in comprehensive services for survivors, and increasing prevention efforts.
    • Addressing sexual violence in conflict settings; the elevated risk of violence facing women human rights defenders, activists, and politicians; human trafficking both at home and abroad; and the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people.
    • Promoting the safety and fair treatment of all people in the justice and immigration systems.
    • Increasing access to health care.
    • Defending the constitutional right to safe and legal abortion in the United States and promoting access to sexual and reproductive health and rights both at home and abroad.
    • Supporting women’s and girls’ full participation in social, economic, civic, and political life and ensuring they are represented at the tables where decisions are made.

They have also promised to:

    • Work to advance gender equity and equality in the law and ensure that rights on paper are fully implemented in practice. 
    • Work towards gender parity and diversity in leadership roles, including in peace processes, national security and defence, global health and humanitarian efforts, and in the private sector.
    • Promote the leadership of women and girls in addressing the challenge of climate change and seek to close gender gaps in STEM fields so that women and girls can shape the workforce of the future.

To advance economic security for women and girls globally, the US government has also established a Gender Equity and Equality Action Fund, which supports efforts to address the impact that COVID-19, climate change, conflict, and crisis have on the economic security of women and their families. 

The President also launched a whole-of-government effort to respond to the recent Texas law which it said blatantly violates women’s constitutional right to a safe and legal abortion.

It’s so good to see this positive action by the US government and I truly hope Australia’s PM is taking notice, taking notes and making actionable recommendations that leads to tangible progress.

The 10 best & worst countries to be a woman in 2021

A new report has revealed what The Remarkable Woman team has long suspected: the global advance of gender equality progress has been slowed by COVID-19.

The third annual Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Index, published by Georgetown University’s Institute for Women (GIWPS) and the PRIO Center on Gender, Peace, and Security and funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was presented at the United Nations last week.

The WPS Index draws on recognised data sources to measure women’s inclusion, justice, and security in 170 countries.

“The results are sobering,” said Dr Jeni Klugman, managing director of GIWPS and lead author of the WPS Index. “The global pace of improvement in the WPS Index has slowed considerably, with widening disparities across countries. This reflects a worsening of inequalities in the status of women, as countries at the top continue to improve while those at the bottom get worse, mirroring global trends in wealth and income inequality. The COVID pandemic has triggered multiple and overlapping crises, magnifying existing inequalities. For women, major challenges have worsened on several fronts—not least juggling paid jobs and unpaid care work—and have exacerbated threats to safety.”

Norway, Finland, and Iceland lead the rankings, while Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen were at the bottom. The range of scores has widened: this time, the top score is three times better than that of the worst performer, compared to two times better in 2017.

The United States has dropped out of the top 20, to 21st place. Australia lagged three places behind it at No.24, on equal ranking with United Arab Emirates and down two places from its 2019 ranking. 

Disturbingly, South Asia dropped to last place in the regional rankings—falling for the first time behind Sub-Saharan Africa—reflecting the region’s high levels of legal discrimination, intimate partner violence, and discriminatory norms that continue to disenfranchise women, often coupled with low levels of inclusion. Fewer than one in four women in South Asia is in paid work, less than half the global average.

Yet efforts by the Biden administration to address the global crisis are met with derision. It beggars belief and I can only hope those who understand the importance of addressing the issue continue to outweigh those who devalue it. 

At the end of the day, it’s not a competition for who wins this feat but a plor for immediate change. This list puts things into incredible perspective, the perspective being that there is still a long way to go with equality, but the journey has only begun. It is far from over.

Sydney University college finally opens to women

Sydney University’s all-male St Paul’s College will finally open the doors of its undergraduate wing to women from 2023.

The council of the 165-year-old college voted on the proposal on Monday night, saying that in order to “excel at forming the nation’s leaders” in the 21st century, it was important to include women. “We are so pleased to be able to announce this exciting new chapter in the history of our College,” said the warden, Reverend Ed Loane.

You’d think the move was long overdue, but it’s faced opposition from some students and alumni.

When the college sought views on the idea five months ago, 200 students signed a petition opposing it, including 80 female students from a nearby college.

The 165-year-old college has a history of sexist traditions and was the subject of a pro-rape Facebook scandal in 2009, which led former Sydney University vice-chancellor Michael Spence to call out a “deep contempt for women” in the culture at St Paul’s.

The University of Sydney Women’s Collective told Honi Soit in April that “St Paul’s is trying to ‘reform’ an institution which excuses sexual assault and bolsters rapists, by throwing some women into the mix. It will fail. Making St. Paul’s co-ed will only mean more women are assaulted at college…The deep culture of disdain for women, of excusing sexual violence, of promoting and covering-up for rapists will not change.”

In a position paper justifying the move, the college said that “relating across genders in a normalised (non-sexualised) manner…will accelerate the formation that college provides” and that “it is hoped that a more representative student body will provide a natural curb to anti-social behaviour and mindsets.”

Current enrolment trends – men now making up only 41% of students - mean it makes business sense for the college to admit women.

However, the college’s warden, Reverend Ed Loane, told the Sydney Morning Herald the main driver for the decision was the college continuing to do what it's done in history - producing society’s leaders – “which in the 21st century is men and women”.

There are now only two all-male university residences in Australia: St Leo’s at the University of Queensland and Warrane at University of NSW.

While I applaud the decision to provide gender balance and change the misogynistic culture at St Paul’s, it’s important the college also works over the next 12 months to ensure women’s emotional, mental and physical safety is assured at the residence.

Canadian PM leads the way in political gender parity

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau has fulfilled his vow to retain gender parity in his Cabinet following his re-election.

Trudeau announced his new Cabinet earlier this week, which now features 19 women in a line-up of 38, with females now in charge of the ministries of finance, foreign affairs, and defense.

The reshuffle came after four previous women ministers lost their seats or did not seek re-election. There were 102 women elected to the new House of Commons last month, the highest number and percentage of women – 29% - that has ever held public office in Canada.

However, Eleanor Fast, executive director of advocacy group Equal Voice said the percentage still isn’t high enough.

“I wouldn’t call 30% anything to celebrate,” she said. “It’s important for both representation and for the way that Parliament operates that we have more women sitting in seats.”

Now that’s something to tell NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet, who insists he’s too busy sorting out COVID-19 issues to address the abysmal lack of female representation in his Cabinet.

The Egyptian sisters fighting oppression through song

Songs about misogyny, child marriage and female genital mutilation aren’t usually regarded as chart toppers, but an Egyptian band hopes to use music to inspire change in the conservative African nation.

Feminist duo ElBouma – sisters Marina and Mariam Samir - are writing lyrics to draw attention to injustices women face in their country.

ElBouma means “The Owl” in Arabic. The birds are usually seen as bad omens in Egypt, but the band wanted an owl to represent their feminism.

“We believe that the voices of women need to be heard,” they told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We hope to hear and express those faintest voices. We want to be able to see even in dark times and to prey on an established patriarchy far greater than we are.”

Their new album, Mazghuna, features nine tracks, filled with themes and lyrics sourced from three storytelling workshops for women in Upper Egypt.

According to a 2016 survey by the United Nations, nearly 90% of Egyptian women and girls aged 15-49 have undergone female genital mutilation, despite the government introducing tougher penalties for the practice.

The third track on Mazghuna, Astek Ya Astek, features lyrics that expose the trauma of the practice:

“Gather the scalpels and snip away,

And let her red blood drip,

over a piece of white cloth.

Oh mother of the “pure” circumcised girl,

Snuff out the candles ten times,

Give them coffee instead of sharbat.”

“Music might not change everything,” said Marina. “But the way I see it, someone can wake up one day feeling alone, like no one goes through what she does, and just stumbles upon a song on Soundcloud, and finds an echo of her own voice. 

“I think that is the first thing that change can stem from, us finding each other."

You can listen to ElBouma’s music – which fuses experimental indie with traditional Egyptian folk music - on platforms ranging from SoundCloud to YouTube.

I’m completely enamoured by the power in the lyrics these incredible women have scripted. Songs of truth, purpose, honour, raw realties and sisterhood all melted into powerful tunes.

Until next week,

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