Monday 8 June 2015

Week Seven: Women as Agents of Change

What would men be without women? Scarce, sir, mighty scarce.

—Mark Twain

Women might just have something to contribute to civilization other than their vaginas.

—Christopher Buckley, Florence of Arabia

The mechanism of violence is what destroys women, controls women, diminishes women and keeps women in their so-called place.

—Eve Ensler, A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer

A World Apart was written by a woman who grew up in South Africa in the 1960s, while her parents were involved in the anti-apartheid movement, and it is very much a daughter’s story. Even though her parents were brave and dedicated, their child still nurses a sense of resentment because she did not get all of the attention she felt she deserved. A World Apart is both political and personal - a view of a revolutionary as the middle-class mother of a normal 13-year-old girl.
The girl’s name is Molly, and the film opens with episodes from her typical childhood in an affluent white South African community. She takes ballet lessons, she is picked up after class in a big American convertible piloted by her friend’s mother, she attends the usual birthday parties and splashes in a neighbor’s swimming pool.
The only thing unusual about her life is that some of her parents’ friends are black, and in white South Africa in 1963, that is very unusual indeed...."
—Roger Ebert

Against a backdrop of sex, politics and race, Academy Award winning filmmaker Freida
Mock's Anita reveals the intimate story of Anita Hill, a woman who dared to speak the truth. This powerful documentary traces Ms. Hill's life from her early years through her legacy today, offering fascinating insight into her experiences testifying before the Senate just over 22 years ago in the weekend of shocking television that made her a household name and smashed the door open on the issues of sexual harassment and gender equality.

Three young women face seven years in a Russian prison for a satirical performance in a Moscow cathedral. But who is really on trial in a case that has gripped the nation and the world beyond, three young artists or the society they live in?

Half the Sky is a passionate call-to-arms, urging us not only to bear witness to the plight of
the world's women, but to help to transform their oppression into opportunity. Our future is in the hands of women everywhere.

"Ask social scientists how to end global poverty, and they will tell you: Educate girls. Capture them in that fleeting window between the ages of 10 and 14, give them an education, and watch a community change: Per capita income goes up, infant mortality goes down, the rate of economic growth increases, the rate of HIV/AIDS infection falls. Child marriage becomes less common, as does child labor. Educated mothers tend to educate their children. They tend to be more frugal with family money. Last year, the World Bank reckoned that Kenya’s illiterate girls, if educated, could boost that country’s economy by $27 billion in the course of a lifetime.
Whether an emerging nation likes it or not, its girls are its greatest resource. Educating them, as economist Lawrence Summers once said, “may be the single highest-return investment available in the developing world.”
Nowhere is that lesson more evident than in the story of Malala Yousafzai, a Pashtun girl from Pakistan’s Swat Valley who was born of an illiterate mother, grew up in her father’s school, read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time by age 11 and has a gift for stirring oratory. And nowhere did that lesson go more rebuffed than in the verdant Swat Valley, where hard-line jihadists swept out of the mountains, terrorized villages and radicalized boys, and where—one muggy day last October—a Taliban fighter leapt onto a school bus, shouted, “Who is Malala?” and shot her point-blank in the head for speaking out about her God-given right to attend school.

Malala tells of that life-shattering moment in a riveting memoir, I Am Malala...a book that should be read not only for its vivid drama but for its urgent message about the untapped power of girls.
The story begins with Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, the son of an imam (a preacher of Islam), who was instilled from boyhood with a deep love of learning, an unwavering sense of justice and a commitment to speak out in defense of both. Like Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, Ziauddin was convinced that aside from the sword and the pen, there is an even greater power—that of women — and so, when his firstborn turned out to be a bright, inquisitive daughter, he raised her with all the attention he lavished on his sons...."
 —Marie Arana in The Washington Post

The following is an editorial presented by Michael Enright on "The Sunday Edition" June 14, 2015

Why do we always seem to be shocked, then outraged, when we read about the sexual harassment of women in our armed forces and national police service? The evidence, anecdotal and actual, would fill a dozen filing cabinets in a fair-sized room. We know it goes on. And we know it has gone on  for decades. A familiar pattern has developed over the years. Public outrage is followed by promises by the military and the RCMP to do better. Public outrage then cools.
To the military leadership of the armed forces and the officer corps of the RCMP, sexual abuse, including sexual assault, seems to constitute a public relations problem to be managed rather than a culture and practice to be expunged. If the years of allegations had been taken seriously, senior serving officers would have been degraded in rank or discharged from the armed forces altogether. Responsible Mounties who engineered cover-ups, and attacked the character of complainants would have been kicked off the force. In the armed forces, denial has become standard operating procedure. As late as last May, the now retiring Chief of the Defence staff said he did not accept the "notion" that sexual violence was part of the military culture. 
Former Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps put paid to that idea in her sweeping report. There is indeed a sexualized culture in the military, she wrote, which intimidates female victims and discourages them from reporting the harassment. It's the same in the RCMP. Female members are fearful of speaking out because of reprisals against  their career advancement. Seeking protection in numbers, some 350 female RCMP members are waiting to see if a judge will certify their class action against the forces. To repeat: that's more than 350 women. Canada's military leadership is twitchy about one of Madame Deschamps' recommendations; an independent body, outside the chain of command, to examine complaints of sexual harassment.
Thanks to some smart enterprise reporting by CBC correspondent James Cudmore, we know that the CDS wasn't in favour of such a thing; after the report was released and the Cudmore disclosures, he quickly changed his mind. Other armed forces, including the United States, have such an independent body.
The culture of the armed forces and quasi-military forces like the Mounties promotes hyper-macho behaviour in its young men in the name of unit loyalty and absolute conformity to the chain of command structures. In a grimly ironic side issue, a young woman hired by the prestigious Royal Military College in Kingston to run a workshop on  sexual assault and consent said she was greeted by greater hostility by the cadets than she had ever experienced. One officer cadet joked that nobody reports sexual harassment, "Because it happens all the time."

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