Women’s rights must become a global priority

Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani activist for female education and youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate

Women make up about half of the world’s population.

Women are soldiers, intellectuals, scientists, business leaders, sporting heroes and … mothers.

Women are also second-class citizens in vast numbers across the world, and their status is under constant attack and derogation, even in the progressive liberal democracies of the world.

Admittedly, complex cultural, religious, political and societal issues are responsible for this utterly incomprehensible and intolerable situation, but if humanity is to achieve its full potential, the degradation of women must end.

Equal protections and rights for half of the world’s population should not be an aspiration, but a given. ‘Feminism’ shouldn’t be a dirty word. Until equal protections and rights are achieved for women, feminism is a human rights and social justice imperative. The fight must be embraced by all, including men, whether straight or gay. As a gay man I feel particular affinity with women fighting for equality.

(Malala Yousafzai interviewed by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, 8 October 2013)

If you feel ’emasculated’ by the mere empowerment and cultural, legal and political equality of women, your ‘masculinity’ is but a mere mirage.

If your masculinity is built on the subjugation of women, your ‘masculinity’ is worthless.

If your masculinity is threatened by women, your ‘masculinity’ is a threat to human progress.

If allowing women to enjoy the same protections and rights men have is offensive to your culture, your culture does not deserve respect and it offends the most basic principles of humanity.

Any argument that attempts to rely on the concepts of cultural tradition or religious freedom to explain, or justify, the subjugation of women is intellectually and morally bankrupt. ‘Cultural tradition’ and ‘freedom of religion’ end where human dignity begins.

Religions and women

Trying to argue ‘cultural relativism’ in a fundamental human rights context, to avoid ‘offence’ to cultural and religious beliefs, in relation to the protections and rights of women, children or the LGBTI community, is cowardice. Holding different races to different standards of behaviour under the guise of ‘cultural relativism’ is racist capitulation to unacceptable and inhumane cultural and religious practices.

Fundamental human protections and rights under the law are never internal affairs. Human rights know no nationality, gender, race or sexuality; bow to no sovereignty, culture or religion; they’re constant, universal and inalienable.

Sadly, the oppression of women starts early in many cultures:

  • young girls are denied education – currently an estimated 65 million girls are out of school worldwide;
  • young girls are subjected to criminal female genital mutilation – over a 125 million girls and women alive today are estimated to have been so mutilated and the practice continues unabated; and
  • young girls are often forced into marriages with much older man – an estimated 15 million girls under the age of 18 are married off without a say in the matter, and some child brides are as young as eight or nine.

Unimaginable, inhumane horrors before many girls reach puberty. Humanity simply cannot ignore such evils being perpetrated on young girls, and consider itself a species worthy of survival. But the horrors don’t end there for many women:

To end domestic and sexual violence against girls and women, societies must undergo a complete cultural transformation. Women must be seen as equals, and religions must end their millenniums of demonisation of women, and portraying them as nothing more than sexual temptation to avert, segregate or subjugate.

Societies must put an end to a toxic global culture that reduces women to the mere sum of their reproductive organs and sexuality.

Golda MeirGirls and women, or how they behave or dress, are not the problem. The problem is how we raise our boys and the culture that surrounds our men. Our global culture, permeated by ancient beliefs and social traditions hostile to girls and women, reduces them to mere sexual objects and strips away their humanity.

Sobering global statistics support the argument our current culture, poisoned with male centric misogyny, must be ‘destroyed’ and rebuilt from the ground up, with respect and equality for all at its core.

Unfortunately, it is very easy to find odious, verging on the ridiculous, and at other times deadly, examples of girls and women being mistreated and harmed. Be warned, the stories selected below are infuriating without exception:

These awful stories are just the tiniest sample of the hate, misogyny and violence directed at girls and women worldwide.

However, even progressive, liberal democracies, that pride themselves on being beacons of liberty and the protectors of human rights, fall short in cultural attitudes, and in affording women unequivocal equality and protections: GOP on women

(Julia Gillard’s, now legendary, speech on misogyny in Australia’s Parliament, 8 October 2012)

If you are inclined to blame ‘modern’ times, progress, ‘liberal’ attitudes and feminism for men’s negative attitudes towards girls and women, history begs to differ …


Australia’s own Hannah Gadsby had her own unique take on rape and society’s appalling response to the subject, at the 2013 Melbourne International Comedy Festival Gala:

Finally, if you think I come across angry in this piece, you are wrong. I’m not angry. I’m mad as hell!

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