The Suffragettes 100 years on. click on link for Guardian article March 2013
Little girls in China having their feet broken when their bones are still soft and malleable. Female circumcision continuing in 28 countries in Africa, parts of the Middle East and even within immigrant communities in Europe, North America and Australasia. Denying girls even basic literacy education. What do these things have in common? Is it religion? Culture or tradition?
In China men like small feet. FGM ensures pre-marital virginity and denying girls education ensures they are obedient wives. The common factor here is not religion, culture or even the women. It is what men want. And particularly what men want in their wives.
This is why women all over the world continue to enforce these tortures – and let us not kid ourselves, denying intelligent, creative and active minds an education is no less a torture than physical violence – upon their daughters. Despite evidence of the clear health and economic consequences these practices cause and which organisations such as UNICEF regularly lay before the governments and religious leaders of country after country which allows, even encourages, these practices to continue. Because that is what women who are not allowed to provide for themselves have to do: they have to get married.
Yet, despite it now being generally accepted that the only way to tackle global problems is to educate women and to get them working, girls continue to be denied basic primary education and continue to be prepared for marriage and child-bearing alone.
“An extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10% to 20%. An extra year of secondary school adds 15% to 25%. Girls who stay in school for seven or more years typically marry four years later and have two fewer children than girls who drop out. Fewer dependents per worker allows for greater economic growth. And the World Food Programme has found that when girls and women earn income, they reinvest 90% of it in their families. They buy books, medicine, bed nets. For men, that figure is more like 30% to 40%. “Investment in girls’ education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world,” Larry Summers wrote when he was chief economist at the World Bank.” Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2046045,00.html#ixzz2P2KElfY5
There is currently huge debate in ‘Christian’ societies about gay marriage. As a result the validity and values of Christianity itself is being called into question by many non-religious groups and individuals. And this is a shame. Because it is masking the one most important message of a man called Jesus – be he god or otherwise: the equality and value of every individual member of humanity.
Too many people in Christian-based societies forget that their laws and customs have been innately influenced by the teaching – although not always the practices – of this message. When slavery was opposed it was opposed on the basis of all creeds being human, first petitioned against by the Quakers in 1783. When the conditions in prisons were reformed it was instigated by a Christian woman, Elizabeth Fry. And when women were eventually given the vote for the first time it was because the Christian values of those societies eventually prevailed.
Other religions have given us much: Islamic scientists gave us many of the principles our modern learning is based upon, the Chinese have given us some of the greatest inventions from paper to the waterwheel, instrumental in the great Industrial Revolution and the Jewish tradition has given us some of the greatest minds and performers in history. But it was a book about a seemingly insignificant carpenter that has given mankind its most important lesson – love one another. And although many other religions and political systems may claim that in their own way they too advocate and encourage this, it seems to me that only Christianity has produced whole societies which actually legislate for it.
When we are outraged by images and reports of how animals are treated in other countries, we are made all the more aware of how people are also treated in these places: when human life is cheap, when children are enslaved and women are mutilated, stoned to death for adultery or arrested for having lunch in public with a man she is not married to, one can begin to grasp the mentality of people torturing animals to perform for entertainment and skinning dogs alive for the fashion industry.
Christianity is not perfect: it has committed many outrageous and immoral acts of war, torture and prejudice. Some could produce much evidence to show it still does. But women in Christian societies no longer have to put their daughters through physical or emotional torture to prepare them for marriage. Women in Christian societies have access to the same education as men. Women in Christian societies have the vote. Whether they wish to take advantage of this or not is up the them. There are many disadvantaged girls in this country. There is still not the equal pay the 1971 Act promised. But at least it is not legalised sexism. And, most importantly, it is not considered acceptable, let alone necessary.
This was first published on March 29th 2013