Equality is an illusion until the violence stops…..

As part of International Women’s Day last month I was asked to take part in a mini film produced by Oxfam called ‘Are We Equal’. A camera was put in front of me and I was asked to respond to the question ‘we will be equal when?’ in one sentence. My answer…

‘WHEN THE VIOLENCE STOPS.’

As a positive, glass is half full person it is tough focusing on the negative when women have so much to be proud of and celebrate, but as a modern day feminist I am appalled and ashamed at the unacceptably high levels of violence and exploitation targeted against women and young girls happening all over the globe, every minute of the day and night. I refuse to ignore this and neither should you.

We are living in dangerous times, particularly if you are female. We make up 70% of the world’s poorest citizens, we are starving through choice and lack of choice, we are subject to violence, pain, mutilation and death at the hands of those who profess to love us and we are cutting, slicing, sucking and scarring ourselves to achieve a deluded version of perfection, that is quite simply insane and unattainable.

In Africa being born a girl means you are more likely to get raped than learn to read
In China being born a girl increases your chances of being trafficked as boys are prized in a nation where a single child policy is favoured
If you are a girl conceived in India you are lucky to even be born as an illegal dowry system makes you unaffordable and dispensable and you are just as likely to end up a discarded foetus at the bottom of a disused well.

Here are some facts to get you thinking about what is really going on… It is not easy reading and I would ask you to consider the how and why of the facts.

Do we really have equality and respect?
Does the sex industry exploit us or empower us?
What does liberation mean to our young girls?
Where does the need to inflict pain and disfigure ourselves come from?
Could there be a link between the normalisation of pornography and the increase in domestic violence?
Why are rape convictions so low? You decide…

Take a deep breath……
There are now more Lap Dancing clubs (over 300) in the UK than rape crisis centres (only 38). In 2009 the Equality and Human Rights Commission threatened over 100 councils in the UK with legal action because they were failing to provide domestic violence support services or rape crisis centres, despite a growth in incidents reported.

Half of all female murder victims, worldwide are killed by a current or former partner. One in four women in the UK will experience domestic violence at some point in her life with two women murdered every week as a direct result.

25% of all daily search engine requests are for pornography. 96% of the people doing the searching are male. Every thirty nine minutes a new pornography video is created in the USA to support this demand. The industry is worth over $97 billion worldwide, more than the combined revenue of Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Yahoo!, Ebay, Apple, Netflix and Earthlink.

Global prostitution is growing fast. During the 90s the number of men paying for sex acts in the UK doubled. In 2008 there were at least 921 brothels in London alone.

Between 600,000 and 800,000 people, 90% of them women and girls are trafficked across national borders every year. Women and girls are trafficked primarily to service the multi billion dollar commercial sex industry and modest estimates put the income generated by this relatively easy crime at $19 billion a year. Police will tell you this is an invisible, almost impossible crime to detect and is happening on your doorstep everyday.

Between 1992 and 2002 the number of people (over 90% female) undergoing elective cosmetic surgery in USA increased by 1600%. The UK is following the same trend. The most popular procedure in both countries is breast implants. The latest addition to the menu is ‘ Designer Vagina’ where women elect to have invasive procedures not dissimilar in nature and risk to that which we are outraged about, Female Genital Mutilation. Options include vaginal tightening, liposuction and lifting of lips, clipping of elongated inner lips and ‘repair’ of the hymen. By this we are saying once the hymen is broken ie. When we lose our virginity, we are somehow damaged goods??

Up to seventy million people (mostly women) globally suffer from an eating disorder. 1.5 million of these are in the UK. These disorders are among the top four causes of premature death, illness and disability amongst women aged between 15-24 years old. 10% of women with anorexia die from it. 94% of all women’s magazines have a picture of a model or celebrity on their front cover that would be considered thin, if not clinically underweight. The average model is now thinner than 98% of the female population. The average dress size in the UK is 16, yet a size 12 model is considered plus size. Not surprisingly women are more than ten times more likely to have issues with their weight than men. In the UK we spend over £11 billion a year on books, magazines, special foods, classes and other aids to weight loss. 95% of all dieters regain their weight loss.

A survey in the UK in 2009 by Youngpoll.com found that a quarter of the 3000 teenage girls questioned believed it was more important to be beautiful than clever.

The Lab surveyed 1000 15-19 year old girls in 2005 about their ambitions, 63% said they would rather be a nude or semi-nude glamour model than a nurse, a doctor or a teacher.

Uncomfortable reading eh? We need to keep asking questions and we need to keep pioneering for a better deal for our daughters. The cause is just beginning. And let me finish with what is happening in Haiti at the moment, a scenario that is now becoming pretty typical throughout the world in poor and politically unstable regions. Since the earthquake disaster over a year ago 72% of all the girls have been raped and 90% of all the women have experienced violence.

To get involved in action and find out more about the plight of women and young girls globally have a look at www.vday.org. This is the site of Eve Ensler’s global charity tackling these issues and more.

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