10 inspirational women that would make better UN ambassadors than Wonder Woman

by Sara Belhay

Wonder Woman UN Ambassador

When the UN decided to appoint the fictional character Wonder Woman as the honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls, I had a few issues with this, and I wasn’t the only one…

Women protest outside UN

Protests ensued after the appointment of Wonder Woman as the UN’s Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls.

Sponsored by Warner Bros and DC Entertainment, the campaign was part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 5; set to achieve gender equality for women and girls by 2030. The appointment of Wonder Woman sought to highlight women and girls around the world that are ‘wonder women in their own right’ who overcome barriers to achieve their goals.

The appointment was not received well with roughly fifty UN workers turning their back in protest. A petition signed by just over 45,000 people called out the character’s ‘overtly sexualised image’ which is ‘not culturally encompassing or sensitive’ and that the position was ‘too important to be championed by a mascot’. This begs the question – how is it the UN could not find a real life woman to advocate the rights of all women and girls?

The campaign was set to run over the course of a year but ended after just two months. It is unclear whether the UN plan to relaunch the campaign with someone new.

This inspired me to create a list of ten women, I believe are far more suitable for the role.

Malala Yousafzai

Image source: parade.com

1. Malala Yousafzai: Shot by the Taliban for her activism and determination in giving girls in Pakistan access to a free quality education, she is the youngest person to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The Malala Fund, an organisation she co- founded in 2014 with her father, has funded education projects in six countries, empowering girls to achieve their potential through education. Malala advocates globally for education as a fundamental social and economic right.

Image source: Al Jazeera English YouTube

Image source: Al Jazeera English YouTube

2.  Obiageli Ezekwesili: Founder of the anti-corruption organisation Transparency Internnational, Ezekwesili has also held the position of Nigeria’s Minister of Education in 2006, and was the Vice President of the World Bank’s Africa Division from 2007-2012. Ezekwesili organised a global campaign #BringOurGirlsBack after more than 200 girls were kidnapped from a Chibok school by Boko Haram’s militant group in 2014. Twenty-one girls were recently freed, but the campaign continues for the release of the others.

Shirin Ebadi

Image source: Radio Free Europe

3. Shirin Ebadi: Served as the first Iranian judge before being removed from her post after the 1979 Iranian Revolution because she was a woman. Outraged, Ebadi claimed early retirement but in 1992, acquired a lawyer’s licence and established her own practice. Ebadi prioritised cases concerning the unfair treatment of women and children and in 2003 was the first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Now living in exile, Ebadi is the co- founder of the Nobel Women’s Initiative and continues advocating for human rights globally.

Li Tingting activist

Image source: BBC News

 4. Li Tingting: Was detained and tortured for thirty seven days in 2015 by the Chinese government for her plans to campaign about sexual harassment. The detention of Tingting and four other feminist activists gained international attention and triggered a global campaign #FreeTheFive. One year on, Tingting continues advocating for gender equality and is campaigning against forced marriages.

Leymah Gbowee

Photo by Michael Angelo

5. Leymah Gbowee: Received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for leading a women’s peace movement to end Liberia’s second civil war. Gbowee is a founding member of the Nobel Women’s Initiative and in 2012, established a non-profit organisation – Gbowee Peace Foundation which provides educational and leadership opportunities for women and girls in Liberia. Gbowee actively speaks out internationally about the vulnerability women and children experience in war torn areas and gender based violence.

Jody Williams campaigner

Image source: SABC News

 6. Jody Williams: Is the founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which within five years, succeeded in advocating for an international treaty banning anti-personnel landmines; which Williams received the Nobel Peace Prize for in 1997. Chair of the Nobel Women’s Initiative, Williams’ advocacy is focused on issues surrounding peace, human security, women’s rights and is currently working on a campaign to ban killer robots.

Yusra Mardini

Image source: Al Bawaba Sports

7. Yusra Mardini: A true symbol of hope, strength and empowerment, Mardini is an eighteen-year-old Syrian refugee that made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea in a rubber dinghy. After the motor failed, Mardini and three others that could swim, jumped in to the water to push the boat to shore, swimming for over three hours. Under the Olympic Refugee team, Mardini competed in the 100 metre freestyle and 100 metre butterfly race at the Rio Olympics in 2016. Mardini continues to swim and support other refugees.

Tawakkol Karman

Image source: Aquila style

8. Tawakkol Karman: Is a journalist, human rights activist, member of the Nobel Women’s Initiative and known as the ‘Mother of the Revolution’. Karman was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, for her non-violent efforts in promoting human rights and women’s participation in peace building in the Yemen. Karman has continued to support female journalists and galvanize Yeminis against the government’s corruption and injustice.

Rigoberta Menchu Tum

Image source: Alchetron

9. Rigoberta Menchu Tum: Has actively campaigned for the rights of indigenous people and women, receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992. The Rigoberta Menchu Tum Foundation was soon after established to help Mayans that had been impacted by genocide under the military dictatorship. Rigoberta ran for President in Guatemala in 2007 and 2011 under the first indigenous led political party that she founded. Rigoberta has continued campaigning for Indian rights and ethno-cultural reconciliation worldwide, and is also a member of the Nobel Women’s Initiative.

Zahra Nemati

Photo by Harry Engels

10. Zahra Nemati: Eager to break stereotypes in her home country Iran, Nemati is a Paralympic gold medalist that promotes sport as a source of empowerment to women and people with disabilities. In 2005, Nemati founded the Spinal Cord Injury Dynamic association and advocates around road safety, autism awareness and an international non-profit- Special Olympics, which provides sporting opportunities to disabled people.

These are just a selection of inspirational women that have advanced gender equality and created positive change in adverse conditions; but if the UN is serious about empowering all women and girls by 2030, what better way than to hold states accountable to their duty to uphold human rights?

Here’s in hope that one day we won’t need an honorary ambassador to advocate the right to equality.

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‘You wanted equal treatment’

by Joshua Piercey

Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon faces a civil suit for attacking Amelia Molitor. Image source: Tulsa World

Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon faces a civil suit for attacking a young woman. But comments on the graphic video suggested that by wanting equality,  women who start a fight deserve to be dealt with the consequences, equal to a man. Image source: Tulsa World

There’s a video that’s been popping up on my social media, a symptom of the simultaneously sophisticated and asinine algorithms that control our content. Facebook knows I enjoy NFL and knows I’m interested in feminism… and so it shows me an act of shocking violence, perpetrated on a woman by a college footballer. Great catch, Facebook, just what I wanted for Christmas.

equality-quotes-13The video makes for uncomfortable viewing; I will describe it instead if you would rather not watch it. To do so might seem oxymoronic – why offer to protect you from distressing material only to force it on you via another medium – but it’s important because both the way the violence makes you feel and the way you subsequently assess it are important.

In the video a young woman and young man are arguing. The woman is speaking loudly and apparently aggressively to the man. After a second or two of footage she shoves the man in the chest. The woman is slim and perhaps a foot shorter than the man, but the shove is enough to make him take a step back. He lunges towards her but she doesn’t back away, instead she slaps him. From my reading of the footage the slap is not particularly powerful, if only because the woman is off-balance. The man retaliates with a brutally fast punch, hooking his arm around to punch downwards into the woman’s face. The man is tall and obviously muscular, though not particularly broad – a sprinter’s build. The punch looks very powerful, and the woman is absolutely floored: clubbed to the ground. The man immediately turns and walks quickly out of shot.

The footage is from 2014, and the man is Joe Mixon, a then running back for the University of Oklahoma. The woman is Amelia Molitor; four bones were broken in her face and she had to have her jaw wired shut. Mixon was suspended for the 2014 college football season but is back playing ball: the footage was released by his attorneys in 2016 (Molitor filed suit in federal court in the summer of last year).

I read the Facebook comments on the video for the same reason most of us do: the wound demands prodding, the tooth demands wiggling, no matter the pain nor noxious discharge that may result.

Like many comment streams an initial argument derailed the overall discussion; all subsequent conversation related to two points. In short: did Molitor partially deserve what happened to her, and more broadly, is violence against women ever ‘justified’?

The last part of that sentence makes me immediately uneasy, but I think it’s worth exploring for reasons which hopefully will become apparent. I should make it clear at this point that neither the mainstream media nor the NCAA shared these views: both condemned Mixon’s behaviour.

Whether you watched the video or not, I hope you agree that Mixon’s assault on Molitor was without any kind of justification. The shove and slap delivered by Molitor caused no physical injury, and the retaliation was in an entirely different league. One might have stung – the other shattered bones.

The commenters who maintained that Molitor ‘had it coming’ or ‘not to start shit if you can’t handle what happens’ are entitled to their personal views, but the law is clear on who was at fault. Any attempt by Mixon to claim self-defence would be rendered moot by the sheer level of force involved. An attack using the same level of force on another man would have been equally vicious, equally unacceptable, equally open to prosecution and punishment.

The use of the word ‘equal’ is problematic, and this was picked up by the commentators. Many of them identified a disparity of feeling and used it to move to an often-used argument that is tricky to work through: that it is hypocritical (and therefore sexist) to reserve greater judgement on male-on-female violence over female-on male or male-on-male violence.

Image source: Hong Kong Free Press

Image source: Hong Kong Free Press

This argument makes a basic sort of sense, especially as an unsophisticated argument against feminism. If women want to be treated equally, then a woman hitting a man should be treated as seriously as a man hitting a woman. The legal consequences should be the same. And since, a secondary thread of the argument often runs, a man hitting a man might reasonably expect to be hit back, a woman hitting a man should accept any subsequent violence as either self-defence or a consequence of her own actions.

This line of reasoning is touted with triumph by anti-feminists because it appears to use feminism’s core tenet – a simple plea for equal treatment – against it. You want equal treatment? Fine, and don’t come crying to us when equal treatment hurts. To quote a commenter: “She put herself in man (sic) position. So she got treated like a man.” This argument is, unfortunately, utter horseshit – for several reasons.

But there are two key (and deliberate) misunderstandings at its heart.

The first is that with equal treatment must come an end to nuance or circumstance. Mixon is several inches taller, several stone heavier and many times more powerful than Molitor. The law in most western nations is surprisingly refined in this area: it takes differences like this into account. The law cares only a little for who starts the fight, and less for who ‘deserved’ what. It’s not specifically to protect women in most cases (although this is an inescapable effect), it’s to protect the weak when they are abused by the strong. And this leads us to the next flaw in the argument: the false equivalency between equal treatment and identical personhood.

Women do not want to be treated “like” men, they wish their treatment to be equal in social status and opportunity. Woman are normally shorter, lighter and not as physically powerful as men. Fine. To confuse this very specific set of physical differences with the differences in social treatment is to – deliberately or not – denigrate or obscure the issue.

Male-on-female violence is not reprehensible because of some chivalric distinction between the sexes, or some implicit demand from women for special treatment – not wanting to get beaten up does not count as special treatment, even if you want it extra, extra bad – it’s reprehensible because it is almost always the powerful abusing the less powerful.

Feminism extends beyond women to equal treatment for all (something that should be obvious from the word ‘equal’ but seems to need constant repeating). To state that it is hypocritical to want equal positive treatment but leave behind the negative is both despairing for our progress as a species and some pretty wack logic.

Equal treatment means only positives: why would we preserve the negatives at all? If we could extend our society’s inbuilt unease about violence against women to everyone, would men not benefit most?

Women do not ‘deserve’ special treatment when it comes to combatting violence. Everyone ‘deserves’ special treatment, but until those who cry hypocrisy can truly admit that (and believe it, without dismissing the giving and receiving of violent acts as a part of the male experience), not everyone is going to get it.

The world needs our stories, not our statistics

by Lindsey Kukunda

Image source: Gabriel Isak at berlinartparasites

Image source: Gabriel Isak at berlinartparasites

I met a young Kenyan lady who told me that at 15, her parents sold her body to a man who was to pay the school fees they couldn’t afford anymore. She did not know this. To her, he was a benevolent uncle.

Until one day, he got permission from her school during a visit, took her somewhere and raped her. After the third time, she took herself out of school, told her parents to keep the money and the man to take his penis elsewhere.

Hers was a long journey but she was able to take herself back to school and successfully paid her fees herself. She told me something that I will never forget:

“Lindsey. I’m tired of hearing us being talked about as statistics,”

“Oh, such number of girls get raped’; ‘these girls get sold into early marriage’; ‘these girls undergo Female Genital Mutilation.’ Those girls are US. People see us every day and talk about ‘those girls’ and we’re right in front of them. We are those girls. And we have to be seen and our stories have to be told.”

Because her story opened my eyes to a wrong I used to read about and absorb passively, I want to share three of my own stories with you. You will not fail to take something away from it.

I WAS THE DRUNK GIRL WHO ASKED FOR IT

I was at a university party. I was not a heavy drinker in those days, but since I was surrounded by classmates in a friend’s hostel, I was feeling safe. Having become too intoxicated to move to the next stage of the party, my friend Bob (not real name) told our classmate Peter (not real name) to take me to his (Bob’s) room.

Peter deposited me onto Bob’s bed and locked the room. My jeans and knickers were removed while I put up a very drunk feeble fight. Soul destroying things happened to me in that bed but events did not transpire to their full conclusion. Bob started banging on the door loudly for Peter to open up. I covered myself up in a blanket so Bob could not see my new state of undress.

I did not report Peter because I feared it was my fault for being drunk.

Image source: Moonassi at berlinartparasites

Image source: Moonassi at berlinartparasites

I WAS THE GIRL WHO WAS SIMPLY UNLUCKY

I was in a discotheque, smoking a cigarette, when a waitress warned me it was not allowed. I put it out. Five minutes later, a bouncer came and threatened to beat me up for smoking. When I looked for a manager to report him, the other male bouncers reported me to him. These male bouncers stood by while he hurled me against the wall, flung me down the stairs out of the club and ordered me to ‘come back bitch!’

I did not report the bouncer because I feared the police would judge me for smoking and drinking.

I THINK I WAS THE GIRL WHO WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE

I was on my way home. It was 10.00 pm. Two men stopped me and grabbed each of my arms. I begged them to let me go, and they leered at me, the lust in their eyes telling their plans for me. I yelled at a teenager passing by and asked him to help me. The men told him to ‘mind his own business or face fire’. The teenager ran away.

The men begun tugging me in a direction I was unaware of as I struggled to free myself. A boda boda man passing by stopped and rode in our direction. They let me go and I run.

There are no words to describe the emotions of running away from predator, knowing you are the prey and cannot afford to get caught. One of the men chased after me. I turned around and saw him raising his foot. I ran faster but succumbed to the heavy kick he delivered to the small of my back. I flew like a bird, hitting the ground and cutting myself on stone.

I thought I’d brought this on myself because it was late and I was out alone.

Sex education ban in schools a blow to sexual reproductive health in Uganda

by Patience Kwiyo

Image source: NHS Cumbria

Image source: NHS Cumbria

I had a great childhood. I was never the kid hiding in the closet, wishing and praying that when I opened my eyes, I would be thirty and living it up in the big city with a great job and a good life.

I was perfectly content remaining a child forever. So when my metamorphosis into womanhood begun, heralded by the painful process of breast development at age nine, I was bewildered and sad.

Sad because I didn’t want to grow up; bewildered because, while I knew that this was how people became adults, it was a personal experience and I still needed someone to explain and reassure me about what was happening to my body.

Ideally, this should have been my parents’ job, but for many African parents whose approach to sex education is ignoring the topic – and when it get’s beyond the point of no talking; giving a vague warning about how boys are dangerous, this was a tall order.

In fact, it wasn’t until a year later, in my P.5 science class, that I finally learnt what was and would be happening to me.

The next few years were marked by the shifting, stretching and displacing of the body into a new normal that which extended beyond the physical, having an emotional and psychological toll on me.

Did the little knowledge I had about sexual reproductive health make my adolescence any less strange, scary and tumultuous? No, but knowing what was happening, and knowing it was normal and okay was important.

Having said that, that information wouldn’t have saved me from much, had I been the kind of adventurous teen. It was helpful but it barely covered anything beyond the physical part of adolescence.

Image source: Trinity Hall JCR

Image source: Trinity Hall JCR

Activists have been advocating a more holistic and comprehensive approach to sex education that covers the psychological and emotional aspects of adolescence, as well as a more open dialogue about sexual reproductive health as a way of helping young people make more informed decisions.

And for a while it seemed like they were making headway, until this year when these efforts received the perhaps the biggest blow yet. The Ministry of Gender tabled a shocking motion to ban comprehensive sexual education in schools.

The reason for the ban? The discovery of sexual reproductive health books in 100 schools that included the full breadth of sexual orientation and a non-negative portrayal of masturbation, that sent a panic among parents and the parliament.

Law makers immediately concluded that kids were being taught homosexuality in schools and that the reason for high teenage pregnancy rates was because sex education was stripping young Ugandans of morality. Because in Uganda, the only kind of immorality that truly matters is hypocritical concern about sex.

A few weeks later, the motion was passed. It’s disturbing to know that given Uganda’s history with high defilement rates, teenage pregnancy and HIV/AIDS, we would willingly let young people go through adolescence without a comprehensive form of guidance.

Image source: Sexual Health West Sussex

Image source: Sexual Health West Sussex

You would expect the president, who has been at the helm of the most successful AIDS prevention campaign, and knows how important the role of sex education in schools has been in this, would come out to challenge the ban. Instead, his reaction was very disappointing. Apparently, since his children turned out okay with the simple advice to ‘do everything at the right time’, it should be able to work for everyone else.

While the Ministry of Gender was right about regulating sex education for young young people depending on age, taking out important parts of the syllabus or completely banning sex education is not a solution.

As activists and stakeholders who are passionate about young people’s rights to sex education and their future, we can only hope and continue to fight until our voices get too loud for the country’s law maker’s to ignore.

Everyday consentism

'Clothes are not my consent' placard

Image source: The New Statesman

Despite what recent news headlines might lead you to believe, the issue of sexual consent and what constitutes it; is an issue that extends far beyond the murky and privileged waters of professional football. There are many lessons to be learned from the infamous Ched Evans case but you can read a previous post on the AND site for a more in-depth analysis of this.

Instead I’d like to highlight that undermining the concept of consent is a problem that faces all of us, regardless of background, profession or upbringing.

by Jamie-Lee Cole

It is remarkable that a grey area still exists and ‘no meaning no’ is not always enough. From the small screen, a recent episode of BBC’s Poldark saw the protagonist, and supposed hero, sexually overpower his love interest in a heat of passion after discovering she had committed to marrying someone else, until she stopped resisting.

A woman of 18th century England would have been expected to keep quiet about such a grotesque offence with her own reputation being brought into question if her peers were to find out.

Unfortunately, it is not just cases like Ched Evans’ that offer us a painful reminder that little has changed since then.

In the courtrooms, some judges have chosen to publicly humiliate rape victims – in one recent instance, a judge went as far as to ask the victim why she hadn’t just ‘kept her knees together’ and whether she was attracted to the alleged perpetrator. The victim was then subjected to questioning about her alleged attacker’s penis size.

And in politics, a similarly dismal example is set by certain elected leaders; who will ever be able to forget the US President-elect Donald Trump’s infamous p***y gate?

'Yes means yes and no means no' placard at a women's right's rally

Image source: olisa.tv

In some media outlets, a critical rhetoric towards victims who come forward, many years after being assaulted, or once someone else has made a similar accusation, unsubtly shines through.

This has been prevalent in cases of condemned celebrities and serial offenders such as Bill Cosby and Jimmy Savile. The victims, at best, have been branded as ‘convenient’ or ‘money-grabbing’. It’s little wonder that victims often don’t come forward and that sexual assault statistics are unreliable and unreflective of the true epidemic.

Physically coerced or emotionally manipulated, regardless of how you paint it, these acts are violations of a person’s mind, body and soul. Unwelcome. And non-consensual.

It is concerning and to be frank nonsensical that anyone could believe that a man or woman would make up a case of rape or assault for personal gain. Where there are a tiny minority of instances where this is the case, the plight those who have the strength to come forward face in the media circus, their communities and even the courtroom is nothing if not a deterrent to speak out for other victims.

In risk of repeating myself, the claimant in the Ched Evans case reportedly had to change her identity and move home five times to escape persecution from the footballer’s supporters.

One of my most hated phrases is ‘you have to earn respect’. My particular gripe is it’s often used in conjunction with the generic classification of women – insulting in itself – that a woman needs to act and dress modestly in order to be taken seriously and treated with dignity. The phrase is so passive-aggressive that it’s almost exclusively used when someone is trying to teach a hard lesson. It’s also a phrase that is used to victim blame and discredit those who come forward.

I recently saw a Facebook post that used this language:

Dear ladies,

There is one thing I want you to understand about us MEN.

When you post half-naked pictures of yourself on Facebook, doing a sexy pose, or showing us your boobs or lying seductively on your bed… The only thing you are doing is making us feel lust about you.

I know you will feel excited about the 500 likes, 120 sweet comments and countless inbox messages you will receive and you will feel so high more so to be on top of the world.

BUT ONE IMPORTANT THING YOU SHOULD KNOW in reality, none of those guys who will like and comment on your photo or send you messages in your inbox loves you.

They are just lust about using and dumping you. In fact they hate you because none of them would take you to his home to be his wife. Trust me they take you as a whore looking for cheap popularity on Facebook.

Continue reading

Calling out sexist advertising

Protein World 'Bikini Body' ad

Woman protesting against the now banned ‘beach body ready’ advert on the London Underground. 350 complaints about the objectifying nature of the campaign and “concerns” over the weight loss claims made in the campaign, meant the advert was pulled.

Sexism is so ingrained in our lives that many people fail to question even the most blatantly sexist advertisements. Critics are silenced with arguments such as you just can’t take a joke or don’t buy it if you don’t like it. This of course ignores the fact that many advertisements are built upon harmful stereotypes. But with so many sexist ads out there, it all seems normal to us and therefore we tacitly accept gender-based discrimination as part of our daily lives.

by Robert Lutz

My goal here is not to define what counts as sexism in advertising but to inspire the reader to take a stand against sexist ads. I recently tried to get such an ad removed from Facebook. I cut out the Facebook support team and filed a complaint directly with a regulatory body, taking a David vs. Goliath approach. This method is just one of many routes I could have pursued to address this issue; from mobilising people to protest outside the company’s offices to getting the company’s own employees to condemn the sexist practices it perpetuates.

Regardless of whether you take an individual or collective approach, the most important point is if you want to see change happen, you have to keep pushing.

Case Study: OTTO’s Campaign featuring “Irmgard”

While browsing Facebook late September, an ad by German retail giant, OTTO, grabbed my attention. Here is a screenshot of the campaign:

Example of sexist advertising

The OTTO removal service ad campaign

The campaign promotes a furniture removal service – you hire OTTO and they pick up unwanted items from your home. The images feature a plain and stereotypically ‘geeky’ looking woman called “Irmgard” whom the campaign portrays in a naïve and idiotic light.

The campaign outlines “Five things that our service cannot remove for you,” including: wives, cute animals, love letters, travel groups, and well-meaning advice on how to carry things. In the body copy of ‘Love letters’ – OTTO states that they cannot deliver love letters to Irmgard – implying mockingly, that regardless of how much she may want one, OTTO can only remove unwanted items. On ‘well-meaning advice’ – OTTO states that their employees do not need advice on how to carry old couches from brain-dead Irmgard—they got skills.

This blatantly sexist ad campaign compares women to objects that, unfortunately for the customer, cannot be disposed of like unwanted possessions. Likening women to trash is not only highly insulting but promotes harmful perceptions; that women are worthless; while playing on the lazy stereotype that after a woman has succeeded in conning a man into marrying her, the woman who was once desirable becomes an irritation and a nag as the years pass. Even on a surface level, the campaign exploits gender stereotypes and relies on cheap humour to generate sales.

The portrayal of Irmgard promotes the idea that women are better suited as props in a narrative for product marketing, than to be shown as whole persons. Given the fact that OTTO sells lots of women’s clothing, this is not just insulting but incredibly foolish on their part.

 

Example of sexist advertising

The copy reads: “Our motto: If it talks, we will not remove it [from your home]”

Taking a stand

I get it; companies believe that sex(ism) sells. But it really shouldn’t. That’s why I decided to take action.

Germany’s advertising regulatory body Deutscher Werberat prohibits gender discrimination in advertising. The public can file complaints about ads, which Deutscher Werberat then reviews and decide whether to take action.  I did not contact Facebook to try to get the ad removed because in my experience they don’t bother to follow up on complaints about sexism. I therefore sent Deutscher Werberat the two screenshots above to highlight the sexist nature of OTTO’s campaign, with particular focus on the offensive ‘wives’ element. I explained:

“OTTO relies on harmful and idiotic clichés [in their ad campaign]. The removal service is for removing unwanted objects. The company is likening married women to trash. Sexist advertising is harmful for all people—it is just unnecessary. There are thousands of other ideas that can be used for advertising that do not disparage people based on their gender.”

One week later, I received a letter from Deutscher Werberat. It stated that they had contacted OTTO, and OTTO had then told them that they would no longer broadcast the ad going forward.

Response letter from German advertising regulator, Deutscher Werberat

The letter in response to my complaint

Following up is crucial

After receiving the letter, I checked Facebook and saw that the ad was still up. I waited a few days and then contacted Deutscher Werberat to ask why the ad was still online. The employee I spoke to was just as confused as I, as to why the ad had not been taken down and promised to get in touch with OTTO again. I was promised a follow-up call from Deutscher Werberat, but I never received one.

A few days after the call, I saw that the ‘wives’ image had been removed from Facebook. The rest of the campaign is still online as of the time of this writing.

Example of a sexist advertising campaign

The ad campaign after OTTO removed the “wives” image

Sexism is still not taken seriously

Why did the regulatory body for commercial advertising request that OTTO remove the ‘wives’ image but allow them to continue promoting the other components of the campaign? The whole thing is clearly sexist—the storyline is built on the delusions of Irmgard.

The reason for the limited scope of Deutscher Werberat’s intervention became obvious. When I spoke to one of their employees, I asked whether Deutscher Werberat was committed to dismantling sexism on a structural level or only proceeding on a case-by-case basis.

Sadly, although the employee said they pledge to do both, the rest of her response made it clear they only really deal with sexism on an individual case basis. The employee even said that the ‘wives’ image was not “necessarily sexist per se but discriminatory against married women as a group of persons.” This distinction is so absurd that it boggles my mind. Deutscher Werberat acknowledges that the ad relies on gender stereotypes but simultaneously denies that this constitutes sexism – although that is the very definition of sexism.

Unless sexism is taken seriously, it will continue to taint commercial advertising. Case in point: Deutscher Werberat failed to challenge the sexism of OTTO on a company level and since my complaint, at least one other sexist ad has been posted on their Facebook page. A video from early October jokes about how women are crazy hoarders who carry an infinite array of items in their handbags at all times. Glad to hear the oldest stereotype in the galaxy is still being used to drive sales.

The road ahead: rocky but absolutely necessary

What I’ve learnt from this incident: keep pushing. My next step is to contact Deutscher Werberat again to push for the removal of the whole Irmgard campaign instead of just one image. I will continue to file complaints about other sexist ads by OTTO in an effort to get Deutscher Werberat to abandon the case-by-case approach and take sexism seriously as a structural issue.

Depending on how much energy I decide to invest in this particular issue I may try to mobilise other people to collectively pressure OTTO to stop broadcasting sexist ads and appeal to supervisory bodies such as Deutscher Werberat to take sexism seriously instead of shying away from the term.

Ceaseless advocacy is the only way to bring about the end of gender-based discrimination.

Ched Evans retrial: A failure for the victim and all rape victims

I have felt anger many times in my life but this weekend as I read the headline that Ched Evans had been cleared of rape, I felt an overwhelming sense of rage. The kind of rage that makes you want to walk into the middle of the road, stop the traffic, lie down on the ground and scream.

Ched Evans and girlfriend at court

Image source: The Daily Mail

And keep screaming until the whole world is listening to you. Rage dances through my veins, pulsating and getting stronger as more news comes in throughout the week. The rage I feel curses throughout my body.  I can’t stop questioning how and why this is happening. Nothing makes sense and it all feels so unfair.

Ched Evans is a Welsh footballer who was 22 when he was accused of raping a 19-year-old woman who was too intoxicated to consent to having sex. Evans was later found guilty of the crime in 2012 and sentenced to five years in prison. He served two years of his sentence before being released, vowing that he was going to clear his name after maintaining his innocence and that is exactly what he has just done. After winning the right to a retrial, on Friday, Ched Evans was found not guilty of rape.

Looking at images from the CCTV footage released after the original trial, of a girl who was so drunk she could barely stand, being lured away into a car by a predatory man – footballer and friend to Evans, Clayton McDonald – there was no doubt that this girl could not have consented to sex just moments later. You can read more about the case and come to your own conclusions but really, our beliefs about Ched Evans’s guilt is of no real importance because the jury has decided that he is not.

I am angry that someone who I believed committed rape has been let off and I feel sickened every time I hear Evans speak about wanting to ‘educate’ other young players so they don’t end up in his unfortunate position. There’s something similar about his actions to the post-trial events of the Brock Turner case. Turner sexually assaulted a girl on a university campus earlier this year. Somehow, these athletes who have committed some of the most abhorrent crimes aim to repent by saving other poor boys from meeting a similar fate, citing the perils of alcohol consumption.

I am not sure most young men need advice from convicted, or controversially cleared rapists, to know that if a girl is unconscious, it is probably best not to have sex with her.

Most young men would not be interested in having sex with a lifeless body, I am not sure that is the kind of passion they are looking for.

Back in 2012, media narrative painted the claimant as a pathological liar, trying to thwart the promising career of an idolised footballer. People who hadn’t really looked into the case or listened to the details didn’t understand what the fuss was about – the girl was just drunk wasn’t she? It wasn’t really rape though, was it? Back in 2011 when the offence was committed, the law was very clear and it remains so today. If a person is too intoxicated to consent, by having sex with them, you are committing rape.

Every part of the Ched Evans case made me angry, but this anger had a short reprieve when a jury found him guilty. I thought some kind of justice had been served. And when he was released from prison, there was quiet satisfaction in seeing his football career suffer, after Sheffield United fans called for his contract not to be renewed and an 170,000-signature strong petition was published supporting this notion.

Pressure was mounted on the club by high profile individuals such as Jessica Ennis-Hill, who asked for her name to be removed from a stand at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane stadium if Evans was given a new contract.

But perhaps public opinion had changed since then.

There are two injustices surrounding the clearance of Evans at his retrial. One: Ched Evans has gotten away with a crime a jury found him guilty of five years ago. Two: our justice system has failed the victim of a hideous crime by allowing Ched Evans’s defence team to put forward evidence which was based on the victim’s sexual behaviour – something which legislation imposed severe restrictions on in 1999, due to the ridiculous assumption that if a woman has previously had sex with numerous partners, a jury would find her less credible as a rape victim.

For seventeen years this legislation has been in place and throughout this time we have been encouraged relentlessly by police campaigns to report rape. Even though rape convictions remain horribly low, we live in the hope that legal proceedings have evolved beyond courtroom batterings from defence solicitors, accusing claimants of having too many sexual partners, too many sexual encounters and no self respect in a bid to undermine their story. We have been led to believe that this simply does not happen anymore – it cannot happen anymore because of this legislation.

The retrial of Ched Evans shows that this legislation isn’t as far reaching as we would like to believe and that in fact, the smearing, undemocratic courtroom tactics are a lot closer to home than that of developing countries where women are robbed of human rights and opressed as second class citizens. In fact, many applications made by the defence in rape cases to use previous sexual history as evidence, are successful. There are exemptions to the use of this evidence but according to the Judge hearing the retrial of Evans, this case did in fact warrant the exposure of this private information to the jury.

Section 41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act states that ‘If the issue is one of consent, the behaviour to which they relate is either alleged to have taken place at or about the same time as the alleged offence or is so similar to the complainant’s behaviour at that time that it cannot reasonably be explained as coincidence,’… then it would be acceptable to use the claimant’s sexual behaviour as evidence in a trial.

Ched Evans mugshot

Image source: The Mirror

The new witnesses, who were key to proving the innocence of Evans, were used by the defence to show that the victim’s behaviour was inconsistent with her accusation towards Evans. One of the witnesses stated that she’d had sex with him a fortnight after the night she had reported Evans to the police, and the other said she had used language during sex with him which was very similar to the language she used when having sex with Evans, according to Ched himself. These key witnesses’ two testimonials are the reason Ched Evans was found not guilty.

I am struggling to understand why this case was any different to any other rape trial. Why was this evidence so compelling? Two witnesses came forward after being offered a £50,000 reward by a hefty, powerful defence legal team and told some stories about the behaviour of the victim. Because she had sex two weeks after being raped, does this suggest she wasn’t raped? I don’t think so. It is impossible to homogenise the experience of all rape victims and expect them to display the same behaviour as each other, weeks after an assault.

Many victims are in denial for weeks, months, or years after their attack. Everyday life continues, and not everyone breaks down and cannot function.

I was raped on a Saturday night at a friend’s house, and got picked up by my Dad on the following Sunday morning and talked to him about what a great night I’d had. I then went for Sunday lunch with my Grandma and chatted freely about school and my friends. I went to bed on Sunday questioning what had really happened on Saturday and struggled to sleep, but on Monday I went to school. I can assure you that I was raped. My ‘behaviour’ doesn’t take away the truth of what happened on that night.

When something awful happens that is too traumatic for you to understand, sometimes it is easier to carry on as normal. Sometimes, it is not even a conscious decision.

As for questioning the victim for hours about her sexual preferences, how many partners she’d had, what sexual positions she favoured, and how she liked to have sex, I’m at a loss on how to even rationalise the Judge’s decision to allow this line of questioning to continue. Because it is completely irrelevant. In any rape case it is irrelevant.

Every case of sexual assault is different. Rape can happen between a husband and a wife; it can happen between two strangers, or friends; it can happen between a parent and a child. Every outcome and consequence of rape is different, but what remains the same is the pain that every victim feels. Whether you were conscious or unconscious when you were being raped, the feeling of gut-wrenching sadness and desperation will still live deep in your soul.

We don’t need to compare the atrocities of different rape cases to each other. Each case is awful in its own right.

In the same way, the criminal justice system should not be able to determine whether one case of rape should be treated differently to another when considering Section 41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act.

There should be no circumstances when a woman’s previous sexual history should be used against her by the defence. If this is allowed to happen, the myth that some rapes are more serious than others, will continue. If Ched Evans wasn’t a famous footballer who had a girlfriend with a multi-millionaire father who funded a very expensive legal appeal to clear his name, he would still be guilty of rape.

Justice has not been served in this case and unfortunately will have a great impact on the likeliness of women reporting serious sexual assault committed against them. Rape is humiliating enough without having to endure someone questioning your sexual history in a courtroom full of people, doubting your integrity.

I have always believed that if I was raped now, I would most certainly report it to the police. What has just happened in our country within a supposedly first-class criminal justice system, has made me reexamine whether I really would. I have experienced the painful consequences of rape, I am not sure if I could withstand more trauma in a courtroom. This is not the way it should be in twenty first century Britain.

‘This is an outrage!’ – righteous indignation post Brexit

by Joshua Piercey

Brexit

Image source: bbc.com

Post Brexit, outrage is everywhere. Righteous indignation covers the front pages, the columns, my Facebook feed.

It’s all equally unhelpful. As a somewhat resigned Remain voter I’ve been disappointed by the outrage from other Remainers. Often it’s articulate, occasionally it’s informed. It’s almost uniformly redundant, because the meaning of outrage has been so diluted by resentment and incoherent fury.

I AM RIGHT SO YOU ARE WRONG

In its base form ‘outrage’ simply means a strong anger or indignation, but in the strange unwritten gestalt that English words have, a moral connection is implicit. Outrage is righteous indignation. Without a moral component it’s merely rage.

And as a moral component is implicit in outrage, so an empathic component is implicit in morality. To make a moral judgement, one must either empathise with the wronged, or refuse to empathise with the perpetrator. If an empathic act doesn’t occur, you never had the moral high-ground to start with.

Image source: castle2016.com for the FT

Image source: castle2016.com for the FT

Men’s Rights Activists are low hanging fruit here, but sometimes an easy target is the best way of getting a point across. The outrage that MRA’s often display over inequality or violence that men suffer is too often tinged with a lack of empathy that makes it ludicrous. How can men be expected to tolerate this treatment, they ask, all the while unable to fathom that the outrage they feel – the exact same sensation – might be the one felt by women in a similar situation for generations. Denigrating feminism while trying to defend a male agenda is equally absurd – it creates hypocrisy where none existed before.

The issue is that this outrage clouds the discourse. No one is arguing that men do not suffer, and that the problems they face are not genuine. Ignoring or diminishing those issues based on some hierarchy of suffering is redundant and dangerous – problems need to be solved, no matter who or how many they afflict. But the outrage that dominates the conversation from MRAs obscures legitimate concerns and undermines the cause.

WEANING YOURSELF OFF INDIGNATION 

Post-Brexit outrage is similarly obfuscating.

Blame, accusations – and, as we come to terms with the fallout, I-told-you-so’s – are satisfying but lack the required empathic exploration. The Government has failed us on both sides – refusing to truly condemn the rhetoric of xenophobes while failing to empathise with the disenfranchised who dominated the vote.

Without genuine consideration, the temptation that many ‘Facebook warriors’ have fallen prey to, is to combine the two groups. All this does is muddy the waters… and generate further outrage. It becomes harder to identify and condemn racists, for example, when other Leave voters find themselves unfairly labelled as such. Everything is cloudy, the real issues are hidden by ones we stirred up ourselves.

Image source: ibtimes.com

Image source: ibtimes.com

Outrage rails now against any change to the status quo, and so women and minorities need to be extra vigilant against the emotional hijacking it creates. Women learning, voting, driving: all these once met with automatic resentment masquerading as moral indignation.

Xenophobic rhetoric positions immigrants as morally at fault – they steal jobs, resources, the place in a doctor’s waiting line.

Women have a greater right to moral fury than anyone. I’ll couch this as my personal opinion, though I’ll respect you less if you disagree. Women are most oppressed, suffer the most. Take a beleaguered minority and stick the word “female” in front if you want to compound their difficulties. Yet even feminism has had its cause hampered by the incoherent form of outrage, the kind that leads to shaming, pop-targeting of man-spreading, screaming Daily Mail headlines. More straw for the man-hating, Dworkin-esque strawman. None of this advances the true cause, rather it blunts the impact of real outrage – the genuine righteous anger we need, that fuels us to combat bigotry, violence and inequality.

The kind of outrage that is fed to us now is inherently conservative, anti-progressive. What I’ve learned from Brexit is how emotionally satisfying it is, and therefore how treacherous. If you consider yourself a feminist – or any kind of liberal – you should think twice about letting it suck you in. Your anger is a gift. Respect its use.

‘Evolutionary speaking’

by Emilia Passaro

Image source: Jarek Puczel at berlinartparasites

Image source: Jarek Puczel at berlinartparasites

As with all of my passionate opinions, I discovered this one through a conversation in a pub. I was talking to a work mate about his (in my opinion) failing relationship: “You don’t get it” he said, “Men are just not meant to settle down. It’s against our nature to be monogamous. It’s an evolutionary fact!”

Now, I do not profess to be an expert in any field, in fact, I know very little about anything but, my degree is rooted in biology and my dissertation was centred on evolution.

Consequently, while he was explaining this to me I almost believed him. For a second it made sense. As with many other animals the male of the species needs to be visually and physically impressive enough to attract the attention of the females.

Their aim is to impregnate as many as possible in order to pass their genetic code onto as many offspring as possible. Conversely, the females aim to seek out one male who will protect and provide for her and their offspring. I agreed. But then, a second passed.

Darwin's Tree of Life; a metaphor used to describe the relationships between organisms, both living and extinct. Image source: www.fossilmuseum.net

Darwin’s Tree of Life; a metaphor used to describe the relationships between organisms, both living and extinct. Image source: http://www.fossilmuseum.net

After that I realised how embarrassing this idea is. I have to believe that we as a species have evolved past that. Yes, it may have been relevant in the past when we were evolving our culture and society but surely not anymore.

There are many things we have done in our evolutionary path to the present day that we have discarded simply because they are no longer appropriate. The gender roles that defined these sexual choices are slowly resetting themselves. We have plainly moved on. Humans are no better than any other organism on this beautiful planet but we certainly have evolved differently.

Don’t get me wrong, I accept evolution wholeheartedly, it has bestowed upon us such amazing gifts not least our big, beautiful brains. With this astounding, complex organ I believe that we are able to overcome our base instincts if we so choose.

If we decide we want to be in a monogamous relationship then surely we can be, humans have definitely performed greater feats. We walked on the moon, we conquered Everest, we even squeezed the juice from an orange to create the drink of the Gods.

In all of these scenarios we used our brains to overcome the voices in our heads which tell us to stop, which say “hold on, maybe we’ve gone too far this time”. We still did it though, through sheer want of will.

So I refuse to demean and patronise my male counterparts (even if some choose to do so themselves) by perpetuating the idea that they are unable to or find it almost impossible to maintain a monogamous relationship.

Although, if someone decides that they much prefer the polyamorous lifestyle and wish to practice with other like minded people; go for it! You do you. But please, don’t use this “evolutionarily speaking” defence to run around on your partner and then blame it on ‘innate qualities’ because you are not being a ‘bloke’, you’re being a bad person.

In my eyes this entire argument is an obvious patriarchal gas lighting tactic to persuade ourselves that it is OK for approximately half of the population to do as they wish even if it directly and negatively impacts the other half.

That may seem like an outrageous and militant statement and so I will qualify it with the idea that many of us are oblivious and blissful in our ignorance. I have had discussions on this topic many times, which is not surprising. What is surprising is that I have often been debating with other women who have themselves been cheated on or strung along for months. I hate the idea that there are people who feel blameless for cheating on their partners because ‘they just couldn’t help it’. What an awful cop-out.

In short, what I am trying to say is that we are capable of making our own decisions in all aspects of our lives, including our love and sex lives, and we need to step up to that ability.

There is no other creature on this planet who has created science, art, literature, peanut butter, music etc. We are conscious of ourselves and others, we feel empathy and sympathy, we act altruistically for the benefit of others. We should never seek to blame our biology for things that we can choose and should change.

Nevertheless, these thoughts are solely my own. This is my opinion, as you can see there are no citations or references. I have absolutely no empirical evidence from published members of the scientific community to back me up. Hopefully, this will spark an interesting conversation. I am always interested to hear from people who disagree with me and even more interested in those who agree. Let’s discuss…

Image source: Tran Nguyen at berlinartparasites

Image source: Tran Nguyen at berlinartparasites

Breastfeeding: the realities of a working mother

by Flora Aduk

The speaker of Uganda, Hon Rebecca Kadaga shares a moment with children at the Ugandan parliament day care centre. Image source: @SarahKagingo

The speaker of Uganda, Hon Rebecca Kadaga shares a moment with children at the Ugandan parliament day care centre. Image source: @SarahKagingo

Breastfeeding and work: “Lets make it work”, that was the theme for last year’s World Breastfeeding week. After my maternity leave at the end of 2013, I was determined to make it work, like we all usually are. My son was three months old and I wanted to try and breastfeed exclusively until he was six months old as recommended by health experts.

According to World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, World Health Organization and UNICEF, breastfeeding a baby in the first six months enhances healthy growth and development of a child. It guards them from lethal health problems and diseases such as neonatal jaundice, pneumonia, cholera, diarrhoea, respiratory tract diseases and many more that can lead to early death. The infant mortality rate (per 1,000 live births) in Uganda was last measured at 38 in 2015, according to the World Bank.

While in Uganda, breastfeeding practices are progressive, with 98 percent of mothers breastfeeding new borns, by age 4-5 months about 33 percent of children are already on foods other than breastmilk, water or juice. By six months, only around 10 percent of infants are exclusively breastfed.  Working mothers are particularly challenged at breastfeeding when they go back to work after their maternity leave. As a mother in a fast-paced media industry I sought out to try and breastfeed as long as possible.

A breast pump was going to be my magic wand. And I was going to start early I told myself. And I did. I got my pump ready, in fact two, one manual one that I bought for about 30,000 shillings (about £6) and one electric one which was a gift from my sister Betty.

A month to the end of my maternity leave, I began my journey. I opted for midnight as the perfect time to express because then the baby was asleep. With a good movie I went about my business and managed to fill a milk bottle of 150mls usually.  Having searched the internet about how to store breast milk appropriately, I started putting away all the milk I expressed. It helped quite a lot to have breast milk readily available for my son on the days I had to run errands and leave him with his nanny.

When my leave ended, I had quite a stock of breast milk in my freezer. I was determined to exclusively breastfeed until my son was six months old. Ordinarily in my society, working mothers supplement with formula and other foods when they go back to work, breastfeeding only in the evening when they get back home.

Italian MEP Licia Ronzulli back in 2010 accompanied in the Strasbourg European Parliament with daughter Vittoria. Image source: Getty images

Italian MEP Licia Ronzulli back in 2010 accompanied in the Strasbourg European Parliament with daughter Vittoria. Image source: Getty images

While this option usually works, I wanted to try to achieve the six months. I had many bottles of frozen milk so I felt safe. But not for too long. I had to keep the supply constant. This meant that I had to find time to express during office hours. One of my workmates had taken to pumping in the office so I figured I would survive. I bought an ice cooler, ice jelly, towels and all I needed. What I hadn’t thought about was where I was going to do this exercise that requires absolute peace of mind. My workmate had expressed her milk in a room adjacent to the ladies, and that just wasn’t ideal.

But without options, as is the case in many work places in Uganda, what was a mother to do? I decided my car would have to do. I made 1pm the ‘milking’ time as I could take an hour plus. The afternoon heat wave seemed to attack from all ends.

“Setting all my things in order was a daunting task. I was caught between positioning my breast pump whilst trying to shield myself from possible curious passersby near our parking lot”

It was tough to say the least. I hated each moment but I knew it was important to have this milk for my son. Once done with a 150ml bottle, I would carefully place it in a cooler that had ice gel blocks.  I often left the office at 4pm which was three hours later. At home I expressed some more milk in the night and put it away in the freezer.

Later I discovered an empty office on my block and turned it into my expression room but the trouble of carrying my cooler around was just too much. As a working mother it is tough. I managed to sustain this for two months at least and I felt so proud of myself. I had breast fed my son exclusively for five months.

My experience made me seek audience with the Human Resources Manager. She offered a store room adjacent her office as alternative space for nursing mothers, but truth be told, it was just inconvenient especially since her office was blocks away and as a temporary solution just wouldn’t do for mothers.  Today we have a male Human Resources Manager at my work place. I brought the topic up a year ago and he promised to set aside a room for mothers who want to express while at work, or must nurse their babies. Nothing has been set up yet.

Last year, the Ugandan Parliament opened up a breastfeeding facility on site to serve members of parliament and staff; becoming the first public institution to offer a breastfeeding facility. It comprises of a play area, kitchen, sleeping area, breastfeeding room and bathroom. It was reported to have cost 90 million shillings (about £20,500 then). The initiative is expected to encourage public institutions to adopt similar good practices and for employers in the private sector to invest in workplace breastfeeding programs and policies. This move was, however, met with some public criticism due to the fact it seemed to benefit politicians rather than empowering the common man.

Nevertheless, regardless of where the first facility was opened, breastfeeding is a crucial aspect of child development and matters that concern it need to be given a priority in our society. I believe that it will take legislation and serious enforcement to encourage the launch of nursing areas for mothers, as currently, it never seems to amount to more than good fodder for conversation in the work place.