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Made in Dagenham on point: Rights. Not privileges.

16 Aug

– Laura Ouseley, Campaigns Coordinator, One World Action

On Saturday night I finally sat down and watched Made in Dagenham. The film tells the story of the 187 women machinists from Ford’s Dagenham plant who, in 1968, bravely stood up and went onto the picket line to demand equal pay. At the time, it was the last thing anyone expected them to do. There aren’t enough feminist films around and this is a great one. At the end of the film I was struck by how this success story for women’s rights so closely reflects One World Action’s work over the last 22 years.

As the film shows, strong women’s leadership is essential for generating positive change for women. Celebrating and supporting women’s leadership in all its forms is something that One World Action has been doing for years, and getting to know so many inspirational women has led to our latest campaign to find One Hundred Unseen Powerful Women who Change the World. In the film, the role of the unseen powerful woman falls to Rita O’Grady (Sally Hawkins), who is stirred into action to lead the other women workers.

The film was interesting in it showed how the women’s striking had an impact on their relationships with men and the challenge it made to traditional gender roles.. Breaking a gender stereotype was – and continues to be – one of the biggest obstacles to women’s political participation in every country of the world. Whilst women stood by their husbands when they were on strike, women going on strike was seen as somehow laughable and outside what was within the accepted boundaries of behaviour, particularly if men’s jobs were affected. Perhaps my favourite part of the film is when Rita is arguing with her husband Eddie about going out on strike. As Rita put is ‘you’re right actually. You don’t knock us about, you don’t drink, you don’t gamble, you do join in with the family. That’s-as-it-should-be! Try and understand that. Please. What you’re talkin’ about now, what I’ve been fightin’ for, the last few weeks. Same thing. Rights. Not privileges’.

One World Action has always been a proudly political organisation. It has supported low-paid garment workers and trade unions across the world for many years. Women home workers in India are now better represented and better paid since joining SEWA – a trade union movement of informal women workers supported by One World Action. SEWA believe that women’s human rights will not be achieved without economic empowerment and self reliance. The movement began in 1971 when a handful of women came together to protest against their unfair treatment by local merchants and it currently has over one million members.

But sometimes strong women’s leadership or trade union membership is not enough. Women still need men and women in positions of power who support women’s rights. Getting more women into positions of power was what One World Action’s last campaign was all about: the More Women More Power campaign called for more women in parliament – and asked women already in power to use their voices to amplify the voices of women who are fighting to be heard. In the late 1960s it was Secretary of State Barbara Castle’s (Miranda Richardson) support for the women’s demands for equal pay that secured their success.

Seeing women stand up for their rights in this film was inspirational, but let’s not forget that in the UK the full-time gender wage gap is still 15.5%. What’s more, women are paid less but they often have to work harder as well. There is no doubt that more men are doing their share of childcare and housework, but it can safely be said that these tasks remain firmly in the area of ‘women’s work’.

Despite the Equal Pay Act being passed in 1970, 41 years later women are still fighting for equal pay. In fact, there are currently 45,000 women in the UK taking equal pay claims to court!

I am not convinced that women being politically active has been fully accepted in the UK, so it gives me hope when I hear that 200 people signed up in the first 24 hours to attend the Feminist Summer Camp that took place last weekend. What’s more, UK Feminista is setting up a new activist group so that even more people can stand up and demand a more equal world – just like the 187 machinists from Dagenham.

 

 

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Invisible

5 Jul

‘We know that for most of the time
We are invisible to you

But we will no longer be the unseen
We are taking shape
We are gaining colour
We are standing straight in front of you
We are slowly becoming un-missable
We are holding hands
You can join us
But you must begin to see
That we are no longer invisible.’

Extract from a poem on ‘invisible’ women in the South African trade union movement.

At a crucial juncture for women’s rights, here is our agenda for change

4 Jul

– Emily Esplen, Women’s Rights Coordinator, One World Action

Now is a moment ripe with possibility for making strides forwards on women’s rights. Just last week, the Executive Director of the first ever United Nations women’s agency, Michelle Bachelet, announced UN Women’s strategic plan. For One World Action, it felt like a huge milestone to see women’s leadership and participation as UN Women’s first priority – an issue we have been campaigning on for several decades. This year, the power of women’s participation was most vividly demonstrated to me by the pivotal role women have played in protesting for democracy and freedom in the Middle East and North Africa. Throughout the region, women have stood alongside men and demanded change. Another particularly poignant example of the key role of women leaders in mobilising social change came last year with the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s courageous pro-democracy leader.

Yet alongside these inspiring examples, I sense an aching disappointment among many feminists – particularly those of us engaged with or situated within the development industry – at the gap between aspirations for social transformation and the limited and fragile gains that women have made towards equality and freedom. We have seen the transformation that comes when women know their rights and entitlements and are able to make demands and put pressure on the state to deliver these. Yet, increasingly, narrow and instrumental economic and security agendas seem to be trumping more positive agendas based on human rights and well-being. We know that in order to transform the unequal position of women we must build collective power, particularly at the grassroots, so that women themselves define and drive their own change. Yet we have watched as donor resources have shifted away from supporting women’s organising towards interventions which show more readily “measurable” returns in the short-term.

The future is perhaps more precarious still, with the fascinating rise of new emerging donors – China, India, Brazil, Russia, South Africa – whose aid is focused primarily on south-south economic cooperation rather than poverty reduction or human rights. What will the consequences be for advancing a positive women’s rights-based development agenda in the longer-term? Another group of new donors – the New Member States of the European Union – are also channelling their aid in support not of rights or even poverty reduction, but political interests and regional stability. At this time of shifting global dynamics, the presence of strong feminist movements surely becomes all the more critical to pressure governments in emerging donor countries to invest in the kinds of interventions that can truly transform the lives of women and girls.

At this crucial juncture for women’s rights, it seems time to ask some difficult questions. How can we close the yawning gap between abstract legal rights and frameworks and women’s access to a justice system that treats them fairly and equally? In a world marked by the resurgence of fundamentalisms and persistent attacks on sexual and reproductive rights, what will it take to realise one of the most basic yet contested of rights – women’s right to control what happens to their own bodies? How can we make women’s work safe, fairly paid and valued when the race-to-the-bottom in labour standards and wages continues unabated and when un- and under- employment grows in the aftermath of the financial crisis? With decision-making still dominated by men the world over, what will it take to get women’s voices heard and taken seriously?

Our agenda for changeConstruction workers and members of the Self Employed Women's Assocation, India

It is in this context – marked by huge opportunity but also a darkening political environment for women’s rights – that One World Action believes a feminist approach to development is more important than ever. This is why we work in partnership with women’s rights organisations around the world to empower women so that their voices are heard, their rights are observed and their choices respected. In Zambia, for example, we are supporting the national Women’s Lobby to run Girls’ Leadership Clubs in schools to build girls’ confidence and leadership skills. Our groundbreaking project in India is linking high street companies such as Next, Monsoon and Gap to buy directly from women embroiderers who work at home – as a result 1,000 women are now being paid on time and have seen their wages double. In Malawi, we are supporting the first ever platform for women living with HIV to challenge cultural norms, sensitise communities, and make women aware of their human rights and confident in claiming them. And in Tanzania, we are working with the Women’s Legal Aid Centre to strengthen women’s legal literacy through an innovative radio programme.

Strengthening women’s voice, agency, leadership and decision-making power – none of these are quick or easy to achieve. Yet we focus on these changes because we believe they are fundamental cornerstones of achieving gender equality and catalysing positive social change. Only when women are supported to act as agents of change – as leaders and decision-makers rather than as victims in need of rescuing by development agencies – is it possible to truly transform the position of women in their societies and create a fairer world.

One World Action has launched a new campaign to find One Hundred Unseen Powerful Women who change the worldFor more information and to nominate your unseen powerful women please go to: https://oneworldaction.wordpress.com/100-unseen-powerful-women/  

We will be awarding prizes to the top ten women within several categories. To donate to the campaign fund, which will also support One World Action’s work to empower women leaders around the world, please visit the following page: http://www.justgiving.com/OneHundredWomen  

Or text POWA00 followed by £2, £5 or £10 to 70070

Sexism in the media

28 Mar

Rosamund Urwin, Evening Standard Journalist

KIRSTY Wark, Martha Kearney, Mariella Frostrup: there are many brilliant female broadcasters and writers working in Britain today. An advantage of the media industry is that complete male domination – at least in the public-facing roles – is easy to spot. If there are no female voices on the radio, female faces on TV or female names above articles, somebody notices.

But tally up those names, count the voices, add up the faces and you see something: how under-represented women are in high profile roles. And in the best gigs, you might find evidence of “tokenism”: a one-woman-but-no-more policy. Take the Today programme, the Radio 4 show which acts as an alarm clock to a large part of the nation: there is just one female presenter (the wonderful Sarah Montague) to four men.

Last year, at an event celebrating women in the arts, a well-known critic complained that she was tired of being the only woman on discussion panels. On a weekly arts show, which had four guests, another woman kept her seat warm when she wasn’t there, but they were the only females ever allowed on the sofa.

When a second does slip through, there is often an assumption that the two women must be feuding – the more established one taking against this invader. So when Emily Maitlis joined Newsnight, the thinking went that Kirsty Wark must be fuming. A view which Wark dismissed as “hilarious”. As she told an interviewer: “You could have Jeremy [Paxman] and Gavin [Esler] existing side by side, but somehow not two women? That was a very sexist attitude, and it was absolute nonsense.”

Older women suffer discrimination in the media most, of couse. This week, Miriam O’Reilly won her case for ageism against the BBC – proving that even an organisation obsessed with “diversity” is guilty of booting women out, Logan’s Run style, when they approach the big 5-0. O’Reilly was not only subject to ageism though, but sexism too. For while their female contemporaries are kicked off our screens as their hair turns grey, men are elevated to the status of “national treasures”. Think Radio 4’s John Humphrys, Strictly Come Dancing’s Bruce Forsyth, John Simpson and Jon Snow.

I suspect a few, very pretty young women get an easier ride than the boys at the start of their careers, especially in television. Though none would ever get there without talent, they are promoted to be the attractive face next to the more “serious” older men: Cheryl Cole and Dannii Minogue on the X Factor and the way Alesha Dixon replaced the far more knowledgeable Arlene Phillips (then 66) as the lone woman on Strictly Come Dancing.

A seasoned (male) journalist recently joked that I – at 26 – had only four years left in which to make a name in television. So far, in three years of journalism, I have encountered sexism in only one way – and that was from people commenting on articles, not from anyone working in the industry. But, as one of my worldly-wise female colleagues recently warned: “That may only be a matter of time.”

Rosamund Urwin is a More Women More Power Women’s Rights Champion. Rosamund has been billed as a woman to watch and was listed by Red magazine as one of 20 Red Hot Women under 30 and is leading the way with her weekly column where she stands up for women’s rights and feminist values.