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Features

Feminism Rebooted

Kathy Galloway

KATHY GALLOWAY on the way ahead for women

Fwomen.jpgWhen I was a teenager, it was legal to pay women less than men for doing exactly the same job. Women could, quite legally, be dis­­criminated against in employment, vocational training, educa­tion and  the provision of goods and services. We could be ex­cluded from a wide range of premises and activities just for being women. In mar­riage too, women were far from being part of an equal part­nership. We could be forced to resign from our jobs on mar­ry­­ing, and needed our husbands' written consent to open a bank account or take out a mortgage. Marital rape was still legal and it was illegal for a woman to have an abortion on any grounds whatsoever.

A few decades later, all of these things have changed, in Britain at least. I am proud to have been part of the movement that brought about these changes. I am, and always will be, proud to call myself a feminist.  

People often tell me that there is no need for feminism now. This fails to take account of the global pandemic that is violence against women. This takes many forms: domestic abuse, sexual harassment and rape, unrealistic and degrading representation in the media, trafficking in women, institutional gender violence- and this is by no means an exhaustive list. But there are other forms of violence of which women are disproportionately victims:

• 70% of the world's 1.2 billion poor are women
• Two-thirds of those living on less than $1 a day are women
• 66% of the world's illiterate people are women (70% in Asia and Africa)
• 80% of the world's refugees and uprooted peoples are women
• the majority of people now testing HIV positive are women

The most obvious, compre­hens­ive and pervasive global inequality is that based on gender. According to the World Bank: 'In no region of the world are women and men equal in legal, social or economic rights'. Women are hugely disempowered and the more powerless you are, the easier it is to wield power against you. That is why I am still a feminist.

So what of the future? Two of the eight Millennium Develop­ment Goals address these huge challenges: to promote gender equality and empower women; and to mprove ma­ter­nal health. Almost every indicator of human and community wellbeing depends on them being achieved. There has been some progress on the elimination of gen­der disparity in education and that is to be welcomed. But the only other indi­cators for this goal, increasing women's share in waged non-agricultural employment and increasing the pro­portion of women hold­ing seats in national parliaments, show little sign of im­provement (less than 20% of women worldwide are parlia­mentarians) and less sign of any actual coherent stra­tegies for women's empowerment. The sta­tistics for maternal health are disgraceful. The targets on reduced maternal mortality rates and universal access to reproductive health are the furthest behind of all the MDG outcomes. However, awareness of this may be starting to shame more governments into action. I hope so.

One move that has the potential over the next decade to galvanise the world into action for women is the establishment of UN Women. This will combine the mandates and work - and hopefully the vital authority - of four UN offices and funds in order to give one streamlined, powerful voice to UN efforts to advance the status and lives of women globally. It would be something to be proud of if the UK government committed to being one of the top four funders of UN Women.

Because I am a religious feminist, I have also critiqued the moral inferiority and practical inequality that much theology and practice has imposed on women, and of the aspects of it which have legitimised violence against women. The most pernicious forms of disempowerment are those which are based on people's identity, since they question the very value of that person. This applies to gender inequality at every level from the global to the household, and it particularly applies to the church. I would love to be proud of the church's commitment, not just in theory but in practice, to gender equality and the empowerment of women. Imagine if, in ten years time, it did not just follow behind, kicking and screaming, but actually led the way. Most of all, in the next ten years, I'd like it if maternal mortality fell substantially, many fewer women lived on less than a dollar a day and violence against women became a shameful thing everywhere.

Kathy Galloway