Instability of Latvian men hinders high-achieving women

December 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

The BBC report on women in Latvia

An interesting snapshot into post-Soviet Latvia here from the BBC. The country, which has 8% more women than men and more than ten years difference in life-expectancy, is struggling with the gender imbalance. The men are facing high levels of alcoholism and depression; the women have fewer choices of partners – leading to increased competition in a sense, with fewer men to go around.

As one Latvian woman puts it: “Here we have a war of beauty – the most beautiful wins” and certainly the BBC delights in showing a wave of trendy and well styled young women enjoying their work and social lives, rightly hailed as the country’s success stories.

The men, although referred to as the root of several of the country’s social problems, are sadly absent from the film.

What is filmed as basically a light-hearted piece (“Look how well these women are doing – although they’re all so beautiful and yet can’t find a boyfriend!”), it fails to address the real social issues at work. The transition to capitalism threw up many opportunities for women, but also placed a lot of pressure on men to succeed financially. The country has maintained its “macho” based culture  that puts pressure on men to drink, smoke, gamble, earn lots of money – to live fast. Consequently, the country has the highest rate of single-mothers in the EU, more than 80% of suicides are committed by men, and highly-educated and intelligent women are often left choosing to be alone or to leave the country rather than settle with a man they see as inferior. And there is a sadly inevitable issue with the underground sex trade and human trafficking, not to mention cases of domestic violence and women stuck in abusive relationships where they feel are unlikely to find another partner if they leave this one.

More focus on education would have a positive impact on future generations of both men and women, and help to maintain the country’s emerging economic successes.


This book changed my life

December 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

Half the Sky: How to Change the World

I’ve never written a book review before – and I don’t intend to do one now. All I will say is simply that if you are interested in politics, international development and any issues relating to women’s rights should read the book Half The Sky: How to Change the World by two American journalists, Nicholas D. Kristoff and Sheryl Wudunn. I’ve just finished it, and I genuinely think it’s fair to say it changed the way I think about issues relating to women forever.

To quote from the opening chapter: “We hope to recruit you to join an incipient movement to emancipate women and fight global poverty by unlocking women’s power as economic catalysts. That is the process under way – not a drama of victimization but of empowerment, the kind that transforms bubbly teenage girls from brothel slaves into successful businesswomen.”

The phrase “half the sky” is from a quote from Mao Zedong, who for all his (massive) faults did mange to bring in some measures which benefitted women enormously. In fact the organisation Half the Sky  targets Chinese orphans in reference to this famous quote. This book looks at issues relating to the sex trade, war, maternal mortality, women’s involvement in politics, education – in short, all the things this blog writes about. It details real examples and individual cases, but counters it with how they fit into the worldwide scheme of poverty and development. The main thrust of the book is that if only half of the population of any country are being educated, working and contributing to the economy, then the country can only ever reach half of it’s potential. Some parts of this book are easier to swallow than others, inevitably, and some parts will make you cry and stay with you indefinitely. But what is so brilliant about it is the way that it takes a real hands-on, grass roots approach. The final chapter is entitled Four Steps you can take in the next ten minutes and the back is a full index of charities, NGOs and women’s groups worldwide that you can get involved with, and how to contact them. It is the bible of women’s rights and I know I will be referring to it again and again. Let me know what you think.

“Sensationally interesting – I think this is one of the most important books I have ever reviewed” – Washington Post

Ethiopian video wins UNICEF prize for exploring gender issues

November 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

In Tokyo, a short Ethiopian film has won the UNICEF Prize at an international film contest in Japan for a film challenging exploitation and early marriage.

The film, called Involve Me – Yemeserach follows the story of 14-year-old Yemeserach who fled her village to escape an arranged marriage.

She says: “In my village, by age 12 girls will be engaged and by 14 they will be married. Young girls who marry like that, they have children but themselves are children, so you see them looking very despondent.”

Indian women’s bill continues on controversial road

November 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

India is making noises about increasing the role of women in society – and it’s good it’s having this debate because it has a low base to start from. The two main political parties in the state are struggling to get more women involved in an overwhelmingly male parliament.

The Bharatiya Janata Party of 259 members has only 45 women on its list. And only with more women in parliament can there be a fair addressing of gender issues. According to UNICEF,  47% of India’s women aged 20–24 were married before the legal age of 18, with 56% in rural areas. Property laws prevent most women owning or inheriting land, and harassment in the work place remains a major issue.

Having said that, India has in many ways an impressive record in gender relations, largely due to women’s role in the struggle for independence. Political forces are working to gather support for the passing in Parliament of the Women’s Reservation Bill, which would give 33% representation to women in government.  Meira Kumar, the speaker for Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian Congress,  has called this week for all parties to come forward and support the bill.  She said that the role of women in society should be increased in all spheres.

How much impact her comments this week will have is as yet unclear, but the campaign for the bill is certainly gathering support. Although, the issue is not a new one. Press reports back in March state that the government was hoping to push through the women’s bill in the next three weeks. The bill was passed in the upper house, but has to face The House of the People and then gain presidential consent before it becomes law .

The photo below, courtesy of The Times of India , who have covered the issue in some detail, shows a woman protesting in favour of the Bill surrounded by policewomen. A bold, brave move.

The Speaker is a woman, and that is a good start after all on the road to empowerment. And of course, President Pratibha Devisingh Patil is the first woman to hold that position, and that sends a very clear message to the country and the international community.

It’s worth remembering that although this bill has proved highly contentious, it still only secures a third of female representation in government. Imagine the controversy if it was proposing a 50% representation across the whole of government.

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