Stop whining women! Power over vs. empower...

10 October 2005

When i heard Women's Hour and the discussion between Inge and Robert, I felt so much frustration... well done Inge for braving the airwaves! Robert's arguments were so patronising and ignorant, it makes you really wonder how far we've come. The fact that he countered Inge's 'democracy is the voice of the people and you cannot exclude half the population' with the usual spiel that well actually in the Greek democracy, women were not considered better than slaves, what was the point of that? Just a snide little remark to remind women of where we're coming from... 

As Cindy Weber so rightly pointed out, his apparently neutral starting point, being a child of the Enlightenment, is completely gendered. Rational, thinking man at the top of the gendered hierarchy 'powering over' irrational nature and the feminine- that's where he is coming from. No wonder then that universal human rights are to suffice for all 'mankind'. The point is that human rights are not enough- women have been marginalised by culture, tradition and politics for so long that  in order for them to even be on the same playing field and enjoy the same opportunities as men have had historically, they have to be empowered and their specific rights explicitly stated, especially since there are gender-specific human rights violations that the universal cloak silences. Why is this so threatening to enlightenment man? Because  it throws the whole gendered, hierarchicalised order of rational man into question- what's all the fuss- why make a point out of women's special rights, why be so irrational and demanding- stop whining...

Yes, the UN produces a lot of lovely sounding rhetoric but is that where 1325 come from? No, it came from the blood and toil of the women working in areas affected by violent conflict, silenced and unrecognised. As Rosemary points out, it is an example of civil society making policy- isn't that what democracy is meant to be about? Like CEDAW, 1325 is not a 'Western feminist' import but rather it reflects the voice of women from all over the world... to dismiss these international legal instruments is to say there is no point to international law, which is a view held by some... 

The fact that the US hasn't signed up to CEDAW is a disgrace and a shame, but surely not something laudable. 1325 made visible what has been made invisible for centuries because it's a piece of paper adopted unanimously by the SC, the only international body with diecision-making power on peace and security issues. 1325 is a piece of paper with so much life and reality behind it - it allows women to use it as a tool to advance and legitimise their struggles for recognition, for the peacebuilding and conflict resolution work that they have been doing but that is hardly ever reflected in peace negotiations as an instrument to educate, to empower other women, and to hold governments and policymaking bodies to account. And sure we have our Condis and extremist conservative women, who often get to power precisely by keeping other women down and not representing gender-sensitive views. Does that mean it's good for Iraq to have gone backward on women's rights? Or for the US to be going back? Women's rights are viewed as a Western import because foreign policy is gendered and because the rhetoric of women's rights continue to be used, abused and co-opted strategically to justify 'liberation' and war, as Cindy pointed out in a previous post, by the propaganda machines of certain governments - by the First Lady calling for women to be saved out in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and thus in effect creating a backlash for the local women's activists who are active on the ground, becuase they are then equated with the foreign occupiers and dismissed as being brainwashed or bought by the West...  


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