On International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day was celebrated in an increasing number of countries with many events to focus attention upon some stark figures: there remains a 17.5% average pay gap between men and women in the UK; only 1 in 4 MPs are female; and women are still very much under-represented in the nation’s boardrooms. According to recent figures, a third of women will suffer some form of physical abuse during their lifetimes (Heather Saul, The Independent).

There has been much in the media recently regarding the staggering rate of violent rape committed in India (BBC News). We hear much about sex-trafficking in Eastern Europe, and the awful punishments metered out to so called female adulterers in the middle east.

It is hard for teachers to navigate such emotive, sensitive subjects, which by their nature touch upon difficult and taboo adult themes. Moreover, the term feminism is not straightforward to adequately define, and so often subject to caricature – it’s one of those words, like environmentalist, easily conjuring up a mental picture, and usually negative.

Traditionally, feminism was covered in history class – the suffragette movement. But how relevant is Emmeline Pankhurst to today’s young women? It could be argued that the answer must be a resounding VERY – we need to know where we’ve come from in order to make sense of the present, and to plot a sensible course for the future. But how does history relate to the cultural experiences of twenty-first century young women? How do we link Emily Davison and her martyrdom for a cause, to trend-setting and influential women like Jordan (real name Katie Price), who, on the face of it, seem to espouse some of feminism’s key objectives – successful, financially independent, confident, just the kind of woman we want our daughters to grow up to be …?

And what about men? What about our boys, who represent 50% of those we teach? How do we ensure that they don’t perpetuate sexism, or grow up to commit violence against women? A simple search of the internet reveals that there are far more women writing about such issues seriously than men. Why? Perhaps it’s that difficult word – feminism. Has maleness itself become a politically incorrect concept? Is being male somehow a new form of social disadvantage? (BBC News)

But, hope springs eternal. Afghanistan is not somewhere most of us would expect a group of men to be campaigning for women’s rights – but it seems they are, and in a rather novel manner (The Muslim Times).

C Turner for CHTA