Loos, murder, rape – the status of women in our societies

May 31st, 2014

Listening to the news this morning I realised that the two young girls in India, aged 14 and 16, who had been gang raped  and murdered  died as they had gone into the fields looking for a discreet place to go to the loo. Somehow it made it even sadder. Sanitation is a pretty easy fix given money and will to provide latrines, sludge management and hygiene education. It’s truly do-able.

Girls from Bengo school, Gwanda, Zimbabwe helping to construct new toilets

Girls from Bengo school, Gwanda, Zimbabwe help construct new toilets

The girls remain nameless as it’s illegal under Indian law for the media to identify the victims. The fact that we don’t know their names seems somehow wrong – but that may just reflect our news norms in the UK – we want to sympathise personally and share in grief and support.  It also makes them  representative of the millions of young girls who each day risk attack just by looking for somewhere to go to the toilet,  walking to fetch water or firewood for their families, or carry maize to a mill for grinding.

Women are frequently at risk – you only have to look at some of the other stories from India.

But the stories from India are not alone.  Also on the Today Programme this morning were reports of a woman in Sudan convicted of changing her religion from Muslim to Christian, who has been sentenced to death (commuted for 2 years – and hopefully for life!). She was forced to give birth in a prison cell (rumoured to have been shackled throughout). And a third which told the story of a pregnant woman in Pakistan stoned to death in public by her own family for marrying the wrong man. The man she married had already murdered his first wife by strangling but was let off prison as his son forgave him.

The school girls kidnapped in Nigeria are no longer in the news.

What draws these stories together is a view of women and girls that somehow says we are lesser  – viewed as unimportant, as processions or to be controlled. We have no voice.

At Practical Action we work on the practical things in life – like loos. We also work with people trying to help them – women and men – gain voice. We call this material and relational well-being – material well-being is about having the things you need for a decent life, relational well-being is about having a say in your society and how things are shaped. Both are needed for sustainable development.

I was horrified by each of these stories.

But strange attitudes to women, women somehow invisible are not just something that happens in countries far away from those of us who live in the UK.

Not on the same scale but a story closer to home had me shouting at my Twitter feed the evening before.  It was an image of the UK Prime Minister David Cameron meeting Jimmy Carter to talk about how we remember those people who died in the holocaust – the meeting consisted of  lots of men in suits. Not one woman. 2 million women died.

(I do know there are women on the Holocaust Commission – my question s why when there are 7 people visible around the table are all of them men?)

And finally – on my catch up weekend – I came across the just released list of the 100 most powerful women in the world.  Angela Merkel is ranked number 1 – probably politically not completely aligned with me but even so as a woman taking centre stage she made me smile! And it felt very good to read a news story about women, women with power and  influence, that could make me smile.

Let’s remember the girls in India. Let’s work to make women more visible, let’s work to make women around the world less afraid, let’s aim for an equitable view of women and men.

I want to hear great stories of women doing brilliant things as I listen to my radio in the morning – not stories of oppression that just make me so sad. And I want those great stories to be because we have a world in which women are free to flourish.

6 responses to “Loos, murder, rape – the status of women in our societies”

  1. Jo Derrick Says:

    Great blog post, Marg. It’s important to raise awareness on these issues. I had no idea that such things went on in India. I guess we assume here in the West that most other cultures share the same material and relational well-being as we do.

  2. Veena Khaleque Says:

    Women are an easy target anywhere-at home, in offices, factories, industries you name it. Because they are afraid to speak out, thousands of cases of rape, killing and harassment are rampant. These silent crimes are happening every moment, every second and the sad thing about is women are afraid to speak out. Why because in the end she will come out with a bad name and suffer forever. We have to come out of this culture of silence so that our menfolk realize the crime they are committing. Men should realize every moment how they treat women-which is with respect and dignity.

    Thanks Margaret for your bringing these unfortunate issues out.

  3. Margaret Says:

    Veena you make really good points. Totally agree!

  4. Angela Elniff-Larsen Says:

    These are just a few examples – when you look wider at how women are treated in the Middle East as well as India and Pakistan and closer to home. Check out the Fawcett Society pages or the various equal opportunities /diversity sites.How many women are in the Cabinet, in UK Parliament in local councils. Numbers starting business here in Wales at an all time low The effects of the cuts are hitting women far more than men ; mainly because of caring responsibilities and the type of jobs being targeted
    We are an easy target as we are brought up that to have a voice is being pushy , not genteel. Many are labelled as bitches if the are assertive. Time we brought our young women up to expect equality and see that its their right to not be harassed and bullied and they do not have to put up with it.
    Being a woman with ambition and maybe not wanting children is not a crime. Neither is wanting to stay home and be making he family your main focus Sometimes its very hard to see how you turn this juggernaut around

  5. Margaret Says:

    I agree – when you start looking for examples there are so many.

    I am a great supporter of the Fawcett Society. We have things to change here in the UK too – violence in relationships, lack of women’s representation in business and government, the stereotyped role models presented to young girls. I spent 6 years on the board of the YWCA and it was brilliant to see those stereotypes challenged.

    How do you turn the juggernaut – one example I love are the Women’s Development Associations in Sudan. I met with the women on the WDA Committee in Darfur and then with other women out in the villages. Changes though sometimes small – had made a real difference in their lives (more food, water, irrigation, some access to midwives etc.), and more so in their standing in the community and with their husbands, there was also great mutual women only support. And it was working!

    I have no big ideas apart from women who are in situations where we can have power should find it in themselves to work to set an example – even if it is difficult. And we should be mutually supportive of women around the globe. We are all human with rights and so much potential!

  6. Margaret Says:

    Good news that Mariam – the Christian lady in Sudan – is now free and together with her family!

    Bad news that ISIS is rumoured to be insisting on FGM for all women and girls under 49 in the territory they control in Iraq and Syria – hoping it is just a rumour not true

    Yesterdays released Human Development Report identified bring a woman or a girl as a key vulnerability – not surprising but ………

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