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Imagining a better 2013 for women the world over

by Tristan Stewart-Robertson  Dec 29, 2012 14:16 IST

#2013   #Delhi gangrape   #Employment   #InMyOpinion   #Rape   #Rights   #Women  

There have been plenty of shameful years for women over the centuries - 2012 is not unique. But since it is the time for reflection, we need to be honest about how pathetic another year has been.

Even were it not for the horrible treatment of women by men raping in gangs or attacking a schoolgirl for promoting education access, violence against women is still too common, inequality pervasive, and attitudes unchanging in India and across the planet.

We seek out glimmers of hope, like in New Hampshire where all the representatives of the state to the House and Senate of the US are women. Small victories, sure, but limited in scope. We must do better in 2013.

Seriously, this is the 21st century - there is no excuse for avoiding equal-pay-for-equal-work, irrespective of gender. Governments stall on bringing it in, private firms, including some in the media, continue to hire men on higher salaries than women who have worked there for longer.

Women protesting at India Gate seeking tougher laws against sexual assault. AP

Female leaders, in politics and business, are required to act and dress like men, while somehow being different. Hillary Clinton discovered that trap when she ran for president in 2008 - expected to be strong like a man as a commander in chief, but only appealing to women when she almost shed a tear. And this was all while every outfit was being analysed, every hair judged.

That sort of nitpicking, applied to celebrities of all stripes and done even more regularly by other women than men, merely adds to the expectation of perfection in virtue and appearance of women simultaneous to demands to be independent and unique. They are impossible and contradictory demands and are quite apart from the serious problem of how men too often view women.

Whether it's enduring religious farces such as the Catholic Church's position on women and control of their own bodies, or false equalities written into the constitutions of emerging Middle Eastern democracies after the so-called "Arab Spring", women are declared unequal. Those
official positions add to the little voice in the back of male minds where women are somehow lesser, inferior, unworthy. In those minds - not a majority, but too many - paying a woman less, targeting her with violence and/or rape and/or verbal/emotional abuse, are all somehow
justifiable.

It may be we need a discussion of whether some men feel so disenfranchised by society through unemployment and other factors that they feel a need or excuse to lash out. But that doesn't deny the need to prevent the end result of the attitudes and actions.

You can appreciate a beautiful woman on the street without demeaning her with whistling or groping hands, or worse. You can maintain a bottom line for your firm without paying women less or limiting their chances of advancement. You can offer a rape victim compassion, support and an
attempt at justice, not blame her or force her to hide in the very shadows where she was attacked. The shame isn't on her - it is on those who perpetrate, justify and ignore.

There is no limit to India in this regard. Rape allegations rarely lead to convictions anywhere. And even if there were more convictions, it would be unlikely to prevent the crimes - we need to change minds and the choices they make.

The US Congress earlier this year could easily have chosen to take testimony from women in regard to contraception and the right to choose in abortion cases. They instead chose only men. Just think of the absurdity that men should have any unilateral voice above women. Even if you believe in some church doctrines, surely elected representatives recognise they must win the votes of two genders at the ballot box. No?

There is a time and a place for religious tolerance, but it is disappearing with the more pressing need to respect and recognise women as equals. We have to do better in the real world of 2013, no matter what dogma teaches or instructs.

Even if you refuse to see the humanity of women, recognise this: if women can be attacked or abused for being less than you, what is to stop you from being attacked or abused for being less than someone else? If men expect to be treated equally, then some will have to learn that
equality isn't something to choose to bestow on whomever you like. The equality already exists in the world - you just have to recognise, honour and respect it. 2013 is the time for that recognition.