What the Word Feminism Means To Me

At one point last year, I felt in serious doubt of my feminism.

Maybe it was because I hated that the #MeToo movement seemed to mean nothing in South Africa, a country where rape is a serious epidemic. My brother also asked me what feminism meant. He told me that he believes men and women should be equal but does not identify as feminist. What he said at that particular moment had me wondering. Now I am wondering again, what does feminism mean to me?

I knew I was a feminist ever since I was a child, I just didn’t know the word or definition. I would take on any boy who treated me inadequately. Most of them would usually call me stuck up.

Just like my brother, I did not know what value the word feminism carries. The first time I heard it was in the song ***Flawless by Beyonce. I immediately thought, “Oh, I’m a feminist.”

In high school, my newly obtained feminist title inspired me to do speeches for assessment marks on the topic. After the second speech I made on gender issues, my Afrikaans teacher said she hoped that one day I was going to do something about it. Her words stuck with me.

The 2018 death of the mother of our nation, Winnie Mandela, revived my feminism. She kept the ideas of her husband alive while he and many other anti-Apartheid leaders were imprisoned and exiled. While our country was transitioning to democracy, she was painted as the unfaithful wife of Nelson Mandela, and as a murderer. White oppressors, along with black patriarchy, tried their best to keep her down. Her legacy is now told by us, the people.

I think we need history lessons on feminism. There are still too many untold stories, especially those of women of colour.

Violence against women and children is terrifyingly high in South Africa.
Since I was 13, I have always wondered, “Is it safe for me to walk around the corner alone?” I also wonder about the prospects of me being physically assaulted or abused by a partner. I’m not a woman who conforms to patriarchal standards. It is therefore not an impossible prospect in this country that I might be assaulted.

Police and government must do more to address the horrors women and girls in South Africa face on a daily basis.

To me, feminism means not allowing a man to have any kind of power over you. I still consider myself an unlearned feminist. I’ve learned about feminists like Angela Davis, Gloria Steinem and Kimberlé Crenshaw and I’m making it a priority to read more. I just wish I knew about more African feminist idols.

I also still consider myself an impractical feminist. At the moment I talk, write, post and like about it. Is it enough in this digital age? Is there more I could do?

Like this post? Read more on Girls’ Globe…

Women’s March 2019: Same Photos, Different Story

On Saturday 9th March, 15,000 people attended the Women’s March in Amsterdam. They braved icy bullets of rain and gusts of furious winds to take to the streets. Despite the grim weather, the atmosphere was electric.

Women, men and children from all walks of life joined in the songs of solidarity. Their voices echoed off the facades of old Amsterdam houses. The inclusivity of the march was bolstered by slogans such as ‘2019 is not just about women’ and  ‘all oppression is connected’.

Messages ranged from #BlackLivesMatter to #TransLivesMatter, and from welcoming refugees to questioning the ethics of male circumcision at birth. There were signs about closing both the wage gap and the orgasm gap. People called out the need to change perspectives on gender and to tackle climate change.

It was a beautiful blur of colour, intersectionality and communal cheer.

And yet, when I Google ‘Women’s March 2019’, hits from popular websites portray the march in a very specific way. Much can be said about the language used in the most negative articles. I am particularly interested, however, in the merit of using sensationalized images in coverage of events like the Women’s March.

It becomes immediately apparent when browsing through articles that the diversity of photographs is not extensive. In many cases, the same handful of images are being used. The Dutch photo service ANP appears to be the source of these continually reused images.

The photos carry important messages for the feminist movement. They share a common focus on the female body and, possibly, on criticism of the Madonna-whore Complex. Three of the most-used pictures show women with barely concealed or totally exposed breasts. In one, a woman refers to herself as a ‘slut’. Another warns Rutte, the current Prime Minister of the Netherlands, not to ‘f*ck with these c*nts’.

The messages put forth by these women are important. They are about our right to agency over our bodies – to do what we want, wear what we want, and own our sexuality. They’re also about our right not to be constantly sexualised simply because we exist in female bodies.

The repeated use of a few specific images have caused them to become sensationalized as the collective face of the 2019 Women’s March.

What does this collective face portray? It could lead many to conclude that the march was attended primarily by ‘free the nipple’ type feminists. But this is only one of the many components of the feminist movement as a whole, and of this event in particular. It’s a far cry from the intersectional ideology of the march.

Diverse use of images in the media is important.

Falling into the trap of using the same mass-circulated pictures is easily done. It’s often the easiest, quickest option. But in the spirit of the 2019 Women’s March, and of intersectionality and diversity, here are some photos from the march which I think are more representative:

One of the organizers of the Netherlands Women’s March 2019.
A young man challenges the now infamous phrase ‘boys will be boys’.
A woman holds a sign showing balled fists of all colours – a visual indication of intersectional feminism.
The rainbow flag, a symbol for the LGBTQ community, was donned by many attendees.
‘I am a sick feminist’. Many people with illnesses and disabilities were in attendance too.

When covering actions for equality in the media, whether in major publications or on personal blogs, it’s important to use the diversity and choice available to us. Sensationalised images are tempting to re-use because of their recognisable quality and virality. However, every face in the crowd on 9 March mattered, and so did every photograph taken.

We have to ask ourselves: what is the story we want to tell?

Photos by Scarlett Bohemian photography

Like this post? Try these…

Best of 2018 on girlsglobe.org!

As 2018 draws to a close, we’ve compiled a list of Top 20 posts published on girlsglobe.org. We hope you’ll enjoy re-reading old favourites, or catching up with articles you missed!

“The short guidebook was written in response to the fact that 87% of women in Afghanistan have faced verbal, physical and/or sexual violence at home. Yet too often, women feel alone.”

“There are many people who have been trailblazing the fight against FGM for years, and each have important messages about how we can end this violation of human rights.”

“I feel the plight of these girls in my bones. The girls who can’t leave their homes without being harassed and groped by men in plain daylight. Girls who are married to adult men.”

“She fought for human rights and spoke out about police violence in Rio’s slums. She was 38 years-old. She was Marielle Franco. And on March 14 2018, she was murdered.”

“We have to agree that online communities with tens of thousands of members coming up with strategies to rape as many women as possible are more than just gangs of weird losers who can’t get a date.”

“The ease with which perpetrators can commit these crimes is the result of a culture of normalization that includes victim blaming and telling women to fear public space because we are not safe there.”

“The effects of Chhaupadi are extremely dehumanizing and psychologically stressful, with young girls being told that they will bring bad luck on their families if they enter their own homes during menstruation.”

“Nyaradzai’s story could be the story of many women living with fistula in Zimbabwe and other developing countries. Fistula is a silent condition, and as a result many women are suffering in silence.”

“At a time like this, when people are losing their faith in democracy and their representatives, I think it was good for the public to see that they can make their voices heard and actually influence a government’s decision.”

“How is it that so many women are experiencing the same problem, yet so much of the world is completely oblivious to our pain? Instead of being supported, we’re being made to feel like we’re ‘crazy’.”

“After a year and a half of getting nowhere with the police, Shiori decided to go public with her case. A decision like this wouldn’t be taken lightly within the Western world, but in Japan, it is almost unheard of.”

“Many young people enter this field due to their empathy, compassion and sense of justice. This makes it hard to clock out at the end of the working day and take enough time to rest and recuperate.”

“By 2030, more than 60% of the world’s population will live in urban areas. With women representing more than half the population, cities need to improve urban infrastructure to discourage harassment and abuse.”

“We can be angry about the outcome of this election, and I’m absolutely certain there are many people who walk the streets of my home country scared. It is more than time to change the conversation.”

“Our SRHR policies do not support or uplift disabled women and this is worrisome. Not enough research is done to understand and recognise the sexual desires and needs of disabled women.”

“These thoughts craved your delight and safety always, but not today.
For today, my mind has learnt to paint my thoughts in happier shades.”

“Although half of female garment workers report being sexually active, less than a third of them use modern contraceptives.”

“It is critical that we provide young people with information on their rights so that they can know when to say no, how to say it and how to defend themselves against manipulation and abuse.”

“With social anxiety, some of the most banal things in the word feel terrifying — such as, in my case, standing in line at the grocery store, answering the doorbell or opening a text message.”

“Yesterday, a judge dismissed all charges against Imelda and she was allowed to return to her family. This is an amazing victory in a country widely considered to have the most extreme abortion ban in the world.”

Women in Glasgow are Striking for Equal Pay

Thousands of people marched through Glasgow, Scotland this week in the largest equal pay strike the UK has seen since the seventies.

Around 8,000 city council workers – most of them women – walked out of jobs and picked up placards to demand equal pay for carers, cleaners, caterers and support workers.

The strike marked a culmination of a dispute that began more than a decade ago, in 2006, after a newly introduced pay scheme enforced existing inequalities within the system. Female–dominated roles within the council, such as cleaning and caring, were penalized through complicated methods of measuring a job’s value in ways that male-dominated roles, like gardening and refuse collection, were not. 

The Politics

Back in 2006, Glasgow City Council was run by the Labour Party. Over the ten years that followed, Labour reportedly spent £2.5 million on legal fees and staff costs so that they could challenge women who were claiming wage discrimination.

In 2017, The Scottish National Party (SNP) took control of the council, with a promise to “end Glasgow’s years of pay injustice”. However, in the months since, workers became increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress and voted to take strike action, despite the council’s claims that industrial action was unnecessary as progress had not stalled.

Photo by Public Services International

How We Value Women’s Work

Amanda Green, a care worker, explained that the women taking part in the strike carry out some of the city’s “toughest and most valuable jobs.” “The value of these jobs,” she continued, “is just not recognised – that’s the problem Glasgow has.”

But it’s not just Glasgow. The view that work carried out by women holds lower economic value than work carried out by men is a global problem. Our perception of jobs that have traditionally been more female-dominated – cleaning, cooking, looking after children and the elderly – is tightly interwoven with cultural norms of a woman’s ‘natural’ role in families, communities and wider society.

Ensuring everyone else is fed, watered, warm, safe, educated and comfortable – these are things we continue to expect women to bear responsibility for, and do for free, in their personal lives. It’s therefore not hugely surprising that we don’t take it seriously when women carry out similar roles in a professional capacity.

And yet, despite being undervalued, under-acknowledged and underpaid, society would grind to a halt if women stopped doing this work professionally. “We’re the ones that make this city come alive in the morning: we get children fed, we get elderly vulnerable people up and out of their beds so that other people can go to work. We go into schools at 5AM to clean them so that children can get an education,” says Shona Thompson, an at-home carer.

This week, after years of being dismissed and diminished, women across Glasgow withdrew their labour for 48 hours and suddenly, as if by magic, there was a newfound mass-recognition of their worth. “Schools and home care disrupted by Glasgow equal pay strike,” said BBC News. “Thousands of women bring city ‘to standstill’,” announced the Independent. Women spoke of the immense guilt they were being made to feel, as though “because of the job we do…we don’t really have the right to strike.”

Photo by Public Services International

Gender, Class & Equal Pay

Equal pay is rarely far from UK headlines at the moment. The BBC came under intense scrutiny over pay inequalities at the end of 2017, and over the summer the pay gap among professional tennis players received widespread media attention. We learnt that female actors earn thousands and sometimes millions of dollars less than their male co-stars, and Ryanair’s pay gap report led to intensely infuriating debates about whether men are perhaps just naturally more suited to being pilots than women are.

The salaries in the stories at the forefront of the equal pay conversation have tended to share two common threads – a disparity linked to gender, yes, but also a multi-figured nature. The equal pay debate seems to interest us a little less, and make fewer headlines, when discrimination affects women whose annual salary falls below the national average.

And so Glasgow’s working women haven’t, up until now, received the coverage or the solidarity I think they deserve. As one Scottish journalist commented: “Compared with the rightfully extensive coverage of Birmingham’s refuse strikers or Hollywood’s abuse scandal, is it that they are too female to be a proper workers’ rights story, and too working class to be a proper feminist one?”

If this week’s strike has proven anything, it’s that the jobs most of us want neither to do nor to talk about are the ones holding our communities and cities together. It’s that equality and fairness are for everyone, regardless of hourly wage. It’s that equal pay is a very present issue facing women in Scotland today. It’s that if a job is so essential that a city will cease to function without it, we should pay the person doing it fairly.

The Women Marched. Now What?

London. Miami. Nairobi. New York. Tokyo.

All over the world, women (and men!) took over the streets of their cities to join in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington, which took place on the day after Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States.

21 January 2017

It was a day when history was made. My social media and news feeds were flooded with articles, pictures, videos and comments about the women’s marches around the world. It’s impressive the reach that these marches had – literally on every continent – and I truly believe this fact cannot be belittled or ignored. The marches brought together people from different age groups and backgrounds, although the fact remains that some indigenous, women of color and other minorities felt left out and divided from the white majority that attended the marches. Important issues of the intersection between gender, race, class and religion were brought up during the marches, which amplifies their significance and relevance.

However, for the goals of the marches to become reality and for women’s rights to be truly respected and enjoyed, action needs to happen now that the marches are over. The message and the desire to fight for women’s rights must go beyond the streets and into our daily lives and routines for history to be made.

I didn’t attend a march, which gave me a unique opportunity to observe the marches from an outside perspective and to think about ways I can stand up and fight for women’s rights every day of my life, right here where I live.

In the aftermath of these marches the tendency is for the euphoria and excitement to wind down as our “real lives” kick in: as we get back to our routines of cleaning up after children, going to work, studying, having to deal with men catcalling us as we walk through the very same streets we marched on before. And although this is OK, I truly believe it must not mean that we became complacent again. We must not forget the cause of the marches, and most importantly we must not, ever, think that we cannot fight for women’s rights unless we are doing something big like marching, volunteering abroad or donating thousands of dollars.

We stand up for women’s rights when we take care of our children. When we encourage our daughters, sisters, nieces or granddaughters to keep playing soccer or getting a degree in science – even if they’re the only woman in the class. When we don’t judge or criticize other women for the choices they make about their lives and bodies – to be single, married, have children, or not have them.

These are the moments when the marches became reality. Yes, we must hold our governments accountable for respecting human and women’s rights. But we must set our own example as well. The quote “be the change you wish to see in the world” is a cliché, but I believe it is so because it’s true.

Donate some money, whatever amount you can afford, to an organization that supports women’s rights. Join a women’s rights organization in some capacity. Look for opportunities to mentor and encourage younger women at your work. Be kind towards other women. Do not judge and respect the choices they make regarding their career, relationships, etc. Speak up against sexist comments and attitudes in your daily life – an offensive joke or comment made by a co-worker or relative (my father has heard me many times say, “That’s sexist, Dad!”). These are just a few examples of small ways with big impacts that we can all stand up for women’s rights in our daily lives.

The marches have ended. What happens now? This next chapter is up to each one of us to write for women’s rights.

Featured image: CNN