Emma Watson’s Speech to the UN #heforshe

I am feeling emotional and inspired after this fantastic speech. I was expecting the excellent delivery, but was unprepared for the content. I would have been standing up shouting “YES, OMG yes, WHAT SHE SAID, that is what I think too!!!!”… except that I was watching it on headphones on my phone at my desk at work, because that is the closest thing I have to free time!

Here is why this speech had such impact for me (sorry about the quality and clarity of writing… time constraints again):

I am an engineer, I grew up in the UK and I had rarely noticed gender inequality until the last few years. Only when dealing with one or two clients, from very different cultural backgrounds have I been restricted in my life and work in the UK, but overseas is a different ball game. Yet looking back, I can see it, even in the UK. I know, that we are lucky and have it so much better than the overwhelming majority of people around the world.   As an adult, and as a parent in particular, I have found my gender to be much more of a challenge than I ever expected.

The bare truth is that we are not equal.

Aside from the justified or unjustified stereotypes that women are better at multitasking and more compassionate while men are better at map reading and furniture assembly (my husband is more compassionate than I am while I am much better at navigation) there is one crucial fact that nobody can ignore:

Most women can perform the miracle of growing a new person, bringing them into the world and feeding them until they are old enough to eat solid food (and often long after).

That is amazing, and it is not easy. And crucially, we do not usually do it alone. We (society) are doing fathers a huge disservice if we do not give adequate appreciation for a fathers love and support, I know, because I have to manage on my own for weeks at a time, as many mothers do. But we are also doing mothers a huge disservice if we do not acknowledge the physical, emotional and societal scale of this miracle and the impact it will have on their life, forever.

Men and women ARE different, but we should have equal RIGHTS and OPPORTUNITIES. We do not.

Case 1: Being a parent to children under 3 in the UK you are treated as a burden on society.

UK Statutory minimum maternity pay is 6 weeks at 90% of your normal salary then about £135 per week thereafter until 9 months after the birth of the child. It is better than the USA but worse than the majority of developed countries. Add to this that “in order to help get women back into work” the government provides 15 hours a week of free childcare to children over 3 years of age. Leaving a huge gap between a child being 6 weeks old (assuming zero leave take before the birth!) and 3 years old. Among the many weaknesses of this system are:

  • Assumes that the cost of living is the same anywhere in the UK
  • Assumes that the mother’s income is not the main income of the household

It also assumes that it is possible to reduce the household outgoings substantially for the 3 years before mother returns to work OR that the mother’s salary is so high that she can pay for private childcare and return to work earlier. For many the cost of childcare plus the cost of commuting means that the household is better off if mum remains at home, and if there are multiple children, then this becomes even more obvious. Thus if the household is dependent on the mothers income…you’re fucked (to a greater or lesser degree depending on other household incomes). I went back to work as soon as my daughter was old enough for private childcare (3 months), and we were still fucked.

The SMP system presumably depends on the goodwill of employers to provide greater than the required minimum, but the fact that a) it is usually impossible to find out if the employer offers a better deal before taking up a job and b) it is not enforced, creates a huge hole.

On the plus side, fathers can take SMP in the UK, but only if the mother goes back to work “early” – once the child is 6 months old, then the father can claim SMP for the remaining 3 months (last time I looked at it, apologies if this is wrong now).

We do not adequately appreciate the effort it takes to bring forth new humans into our society. Parents are often treated as a burden on society. They are not, they are making a huge personal sacrifice, ensuring there is a future for society and contributing 90% or the unconditional love in this world. We need to support parents and children better and we need to stop assuming women are more able to afford to take 3 years out of their careers than men.

http://womenandtech.com/infographic-paid-maternity-leave/

Case 2 – Prostitution and Servitude, why don’t we hear about this?

I’ve not seen anyone talk about this as a gender issue. “The oldest profession” and “it always happens, everywhere”, it is a fact of life right? It is illegal in many places, which makes statistics hard to find. I am not very aware of the situation in the UK, but I understand there some spas (I hear there is a good one on Oxford Road in Reading) where you can have “a happy ending” added to the massage, otherwise it is not exactly in your face, at least, if you are female. Dominican Republic, Thailand and numerous other places, it is very much in your face. When I was assigned to Kuala Lumpur for 5 months in 2006 quite a few of my older male colleagues either had a “paid, live-in girlfriend” or a second wife who was usually not known about by wife number one and had to move out when wife number one came over for visits (I kid you not). The ex-pat lifestyle is not quite the same if you are a girl, to say the least. There were also bars where guys could pick up male prostitutes, and of course the infamous lady-boys. I never saw any hint of such a service for women, WHY? (Yes I was single, and no I was not looking.)

In Dubai, where I am currently assigned, it is quite subtle (at least where I live and work) because extra-marital intercourse can carry a prison sentence. I simply get the occasional business card pushed under my door for “home service massage centre”, with a variably tasteful photograph of the “masseuse” in question, leaving little room for error in interpretation.

So why? Why does this happen literally everywhere? All around the world, young women and girls somehow find themselves in such need of money (or shelter) and without other options, that they use they chose (?) this dangerous profession. And is it very different from gold-digging, perhaps at different ends but of the same spectrum?

What is it that we are denying about our global society when we ignore prostitution when we talk about gender issues? Poverty and maldistribution of wealth is clearly a major cause, but we should also ask if access to equal opportunities for education, apprenticeships and more diverse careers are not as significant, or more so?

The paid live-in girlfriend in Malaysia I got to know was a 20-something Pilipino, living a relatively comfortable life, protected by her 60-something “benefactor” for a stable length of time. The money she earned was sent to her family back in the Philippines. They depended on it to survive. Prostitution is not about morals the morals of the prostitute, but about our society. Imagine living your life like that for the benefit of your family?

In the UK, servitude is nearly as taboo as prostitution, but here in Dubai it is completely normal. I have a live in maid. I work 48 hours a week and spend the rest of my time catching up with my children who are 18 months, and 3 years old. My husband works in the UK. Without her help, we could not manage. Well, we could, but I would never sleep, or laundry would never happen, the flat would never get cleaned, and when the children are ill, I would take unpaid leave to look after them (which was our life in the UK, prior to this assignment). (This is also why I will publish this without as much editing as I’d like.)

My angel is from also from the Philippines, she is 28 and is a qualified nurse, but wages here are so low for nurses that she makes better money as a maid. One of her sisters just took 2 months leave from painting nails here to go home, give birth and left her new-born son with his grandmother and came back. Such is the difference in wages and job availability between the UAE and the Philippines. At the weekend my maid choses to visit her sisters, where they share a single room which houses eight adults. Working for me is the best thing for her, her family, and for me and my family, so thank goodness my Dubai salary can cover it.

Aside: the international oil company paying for me is not only profiting from developing and rebuilding infrastructure in Iraq and supporting charities such as the Amar Foundation, it is also supporting me, my husband, my two small children, my maid, paying university fees for her sister to study IT AND supplements the income of her extended family. So please think twice before you accuse multinationals of being evil, there is a bigger picture you may not see.

 

In conclusion, I loved this speech because it opens the door to talk about the wider issues surrounding gender discrimination and unequal rights and opportunities. It empowers men to take part in the debate, which I have recently seen several male friends pioneering (and being shot down frequently) on social media. I have seen the likes of Patrick Stewart make nearly the same speech but specifically on the issue of domestic violence and I have seen the BBC report that peacekeepers are selling aid for sex.

This speech asks us ALL to get involved in the debate, but not just to talk, but to act:

  • When you see a girl be groped or masturbated at on the Tube, speak up (“dude, that’s not cool, what do you think you are doing?” is enough to change an attitude which would otherwise be cemented by your silence.)
  • If you see a girl being pushed around by a guy, intervene, you might be wrong, it might be nothing, BUT IT MIGHT NOT.

The only time I have had to used my martial arts training in a real situation was when two guys set on my two friends and I because we stopped them pushing around the girl they were with. She was yelling at them to “get us” for interfering, but I do not regret it, and I don’t think my friends do either, even though the rest of the evening was spent in A&E while my friends were stitched up.

I feel that equality is really about not jumping to conclusions, having compassion for ALL our fellows, because we do not know their story and because each one of them is as precious as we are. By denying anyone a fair chance to be the best that they can be in life is to detriment of us all.

So please think about what you could do today to help women and men aroundn you achieve their full potential and ask yourself “if not me, who?” and “if not now, when?”.

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