Why do we need International Women’s Day?

 

So what’s the deal with International Women’s Day? Isn’t it just angry women ranting about not getting a pay rise or whatever? A bunch of feminist bloggers?

Hmm, the F word.

Feminism is such a tricky term; one that is often treated with as much contempt as the other F word.

The Huffington Post’s Poorna Bell claims that:

“We have moved beyond the procrastination of 2013, when women were deciding whether or not they were feminists,” to this year where “the voice of women grew from a murmur to a roar.”

Well that maybe true in certain sections of the press, and perhaps on Twitter. But in real life, do people really care about inequality and gender issues? Do you?

 

What was it that broke the internet?

According to one editor of a prominent women’s magazine, the articles that get the most click-throughs on their site are chicken recipes and Mary Berry’s cupcake recipe. It seems we care more about fluffy lifestyle topics such as baking or how to contour our cheekbones to cut glass than we do about FGM, the gender pay gap or domestic violence.

Think about it. It wasn’t the picture of Malala receiving her Nobel Prize that broke the internet was it?

It’s great to celebrate some of the steps forward that we have taken as a society. Like the changes to paternity leave that mean the responsibility of childcare no longer falls solely on women. Or the growing openness around breastfeeding.

But let’s not overstate the case. What about the issues that don’t gain a hashtag or social media attention? What about marginalised women who don’t have a voice at all?

If you need further convincing on this, then consider the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day, #PledgeForParity. Not #LetsCelebrateHowFarWe’veCome. According to the official website, “progress towards gender equality has slowed in many places.”

#PledgeforParity is about the continued fight to see women gain equal status all over the world. Not just here in the West. It’s the fight to see women in India have access to indoor toilets. It’s the fight to end FGM, the practice that is said to maintain a woman’s sexual purity. It’s the fight to stop girls being married off as young as 12. And so much more….

But I fear that before we take on that fight, we have to move past our own apathy.

Because let’s face it, most people would rather watch the video of the baby panda sneezing or anything to do with cats before they engage with gender issues.

 

Some unlikely home truths

So how do we get people to care? It seems that once a year, the stats and figures on the plight of women across the world get rolled out; only to be put away again until March 8th the following year. Instead of shocking people once a year with “what’s happening out there”, how do we really bring it home?

Well how about asking a few home truths that may seem unlikely. Like:

Do you have a vagina?

Do you have children?

Do you have a non- English name?

Do you have coloured skin?

Are you gay?

Are you on the minimum wage?

Are you an immigrant or the child of one?

Are you disabled or suffer from a long term illness?

Answering yes to any one of these questions means you WILL face discrimination at one point in your life. Simply because there are power structures in place which mean that most of us will experience discrimination and disadvantage.

That’s why we should all care about International Women’s Day. Because its a day for the disadvantaged, and yes that includes women. Because, as Hilary Clinton so famously said in her iconic 1995 speech to the UN, “because women’s rights are human rights.”

And one more thing. Why should it be me, you, us that roll up our sleeves and do this? Because:

“I am resourced. I am educated, I have the right to vote, I have access to medical healthcare. WE must open doors for others who don’t have the rights that we take for granted.”

Annie Lennox, speaking at Women of the World 2015, London.

 

 

 

If you want to read more on this topic, you might like these posts:

A letter to my daughter on International Women’s Day

Can Twitter really change the lives of women?

Why we don’t care about other women

What is Desi Feminism?

What is Desi Feminism?

If the word ‘feminism’ conjures up images of angry women burning their bras think again. If you think feminism has nothing to do with you- regardless of whether you are a woman or a man, think again.

Did it upset you when, in December 2012 a woman in Delhi was gang-raped and attacked on a bus later dying of her injuries; her biggest crime being that she was a woman? Or the fact that in this day and age of political correctness, topless models still appear in the tabloid newspapers; like they are nothing more than a pair of tits? Or that in some countries is it considered acceptable for a man to beat his wife as long as he doesn’t leave a mark? If any of these issues made you stop and cry out “that’s not fair” I would say you’re on your way to becoming a feminist, because feminism is the fight for fair treatment of women.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what feminism means to today’s British Asian woman. Not those who sadly have been forced into a loveless marriage, or had the horror of female genital mutilation happen to them, or those facing domestic violence sanctioned by her religion (it does exist). I’m thinking of the average, so-called ‘normal’ British Asian woman.

I don’t know who coined the term ‘desi feminism’ but it seems appropriate, partly because the word ‘desi’ not only refers to people of the South Asian origin but also as it’s often used in everyday language to mean traditional. It’s precisely some traditional aspects of Asian culture that I think deals us a rough hand sometimes.

You see, I believe Asian women face a kind of triple jeopardy:  we are discriminated against because we are women and because we are a people of colour; but we are also oppressed by our culture. The first two are probably concepts you’re familiar with, but the culture thing? Well think about it. Our culture dictates the choices we make every day. From who to marry to how long to wear your hair; finding a ‘suitable’ career or not working at all; the pressure to live with in-laws, pressure to have sons, pressure not to go back to work after starting a family….it’s almost as if our life choices are not our own to make. If we go against the grain of our culture and ‘disobey’ our community, we are ostracised. They’ll fight you for the rest of your life because how dare you try to fight against them. You’ll face isolation, rejection and shame for bringing shame on the family.

As Asian women we live our daily lives under this kind of three-fold discrimination, it’s the constant pressure to do the right thing, culturally speaking; even when it’s not right for us.

So what do we do about this, ladies? Well starting the conversation is the first thing. Last year saw the explosion of fourth wave feminism, that is to say, the resurgence of the feminist movement. Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” song, the “Keep Calm & Rape Them” t-shirts for sale on Amazon, Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism website and the campaign to end page 3 models in the British tabloid press have all been markers of this explosion. Crucially, the internet was the space that women used to speak out against sexism. It has got ugly at times but at least women are talking, speaking out.

We need to do the same in order to raise awareness- and the social networks could be a great place for us to start. I know it’s hard to fight against the years of tradition, but if they are traditions that oppress us and take away our freedom to be who we are, then it’s an important one.

 

Do you have any stories to share of Asian cultural oppression? Or perhaps you spoke out, fought back? I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment or email me at editor@britishasianwoman.com

Who is today’s British Asian Woman?

In honour of the launch of britishasianwoman.com, I’m publishing this post- usually to be found in the ‘About’ section. It’s kind of my thoughts on who this site is about and who it’s aimed  at. Whether you identify with it, or find it stereotyped and wholly disagree, please do leave a comment, start a rant, generally engage- I love a good discussion!

You can also email me editor@britishasianwoman.com

There’s so much diversity among the female Asian community in Britain today.

Despite that many of us were born here, our parents were not. And because of this, we grew up as sort of foreigners in a host nation. We ate rice and subji on a Sunday, not roast beef with Yorkshire pudding. We had ‘funny sounding’ names- often the only ones on the class register. Our mums wore lengha suits and saris to pick us up from school – she was the woman dressed in bright orange!

Today we speak two (maybe more) languages. Our parents and extended families are a part of our daily lives, and not just relatives to be tolerated on special occasions. We may watch Bollywood films, but Hollywood films far outnumber on our DVD shelves. We love to settle down with a pizza- but we cook a mean chicken bhiriyani!

Some of us have had arranged marriages and live with in-laws. We’re raising kids that’ll be the next generation of British Asians. Others among us chose to marry non-Asian men and are living in the suburbs (and elsewhere) raising mixed-race children, and are living out the experience of having access to two different cultures.

For those of us who are single, our search for love probably looks quite different to that of the previous generation. Dating sites, speed dating, even dating itself (albeit perhaps chaperoned for some communities) are a feature of that quest- we’re no longer just using the traditional route of introductions through family.

And no longer are Asian women just expected to get married and breed more Asians- certainly many have fought for this choice. Think of the many British Asian women in public life: in the media, in government just to name two arenas. We’re blazing a trail for the next generation- showing them that we can achieve so much more, and this is not to be underestimated.

Today our faces are part of the very fabric of this country- and how fantastic that is. We grew up here, are raising our families here, and call Britain our home. We are not just Pakistani, Indian or Sri Lankan women, we’re British Asian women.

 

At what age am I officially old?

This week MP Harriet Harmen spoke out against ageism and sexism in broadcast media. She argues that after a certain age female presenters and news broadcasters disappear from our TV screens. She also makes the point that these women are being eliminated at a time in their lives when they have the most to offer:

There is a new generation of active older women who have led very different lives from their mothers. Now in their 50s and 60s, they are the first generation of women to have been ‘doing it all’. They have worked, as well as bringing up children. They’ve got educational qualifications and then when their children leave home, these women regard themselves as being into their stride and in their prime.”

Is there a parallel generation of Asian women that have been ‘doing it all?’ What was your mum doing in the 1970’s and 80’s? Raising young children, going out to work, and still managing to have the roti and subji ready for everyone in the evening? Most likely you will answer yes to that and identify with that picture of British Asian life. Most of our mums came to Britain in the 1960’s and 70’s, and took fairly low-paid jobs in industries like catering and retail to support the family. Now, their grown-up daughters- the second generation Asian women that this blog is dedicated to, look somewhat different. We probably have a university degree. We’ve most likely built a career in professions like teaching, banking, medicine and law that we can go back to after the children don’t need us quite so much.

When I look at the culture of women that I am a part of, I’m proud to see how far we have come. But I’m less also optimistic about where we are going, when I think about Harriet Harman’s comments.

What happens to older Asian women? At what point do we cross the threshold into becoming auntyji’s ourselves? Certainly today’s older Asian woman looks different to that of previous generations. I’m sure that in our 50’s and 60’s, there will be less of us that sit around drinking chai and arranging marriage proposals. But if, as Harriet Harman points out, our white female counterparts are being excluded from holding prominent positions, what hope is there for us? Is it not just a glass ceiling that we have to break through, but a double-glazed one at that?!

If you think I am being dramatic, then the next time you watch TV, count on one hand the number of older Asian women you see- that are not actresses portraying the stereotyped Aunty in a sari with a rolling stomach fixing her nephew up with some kuri!

I don’t have a concrete answer to the question in the headline of this post; obviously I am not at the stage of life yet. But I would like to think once I am no longer needed quite so much in the home I will still be needed professionally- writing, editing and who knows what else. I do think it is our job as women- from whatever background, to not give up on ourselves, but to keep pushing, keep breaking boundaries and keep achieving. Yes society might try to stand in our way. Perhaps that is inevitable. But the biggest obstacle is usually ourselves.