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International Women’s Day 2014

Although incomplete, this gender pay gap map is interesting – and reveals some unexpected findings.  One is used to seeing Russia perform poorly according to pretty much any indicator, but it seemed surprising that the gender pay gap was narrower in Spain than in Sweden, and considerably worse in South Korea than in India.


The lives of many women in India have been improved by a project initiated by an enterprising young man, Arunachalam Muruganantham, who has devised a way in which women can manufacture cheap sanitary products, greatly improving both their health and their access to work and education.

Women who do use cloths are often too embarrassed to dry them in the sun, which means they don’t get disinfected. Approximately 70% of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by poor menstrual hygiene – it can also affect maternal mortality.

Muruganantham also works with schools – 23% of girls drop out of education once they start menstruating. Now school girls make their own pads. “Why wait till they are women? Why not empower girls?”


It’s positive to see more notice being taken of one of the most horrific problems facing some women and girls today – FGM.  Fahma Mohamed is one of a group of Bristol schoolgirls who have been campaigning to end this practice, and now the Guardian has taken up her cause.  More than 200,000 people have signed her petition.

I know of people who have been cut – anyone who knows girls from FGM affected communities will know girls who have been cut. We were told Ofsted would be asking schools what they are doing to protect these girls from FGM, but it never happened.

Me and my classmates campaigned for our school to do more on FGM. Now all the girls at school know the risks of FGM and feel able to talk about it. But this is one school. We need this to happen at every school in the country – so that no girl is missed.


This article in Spiked by Joanna Williams criticises the way the concerns of some feminists have led to censorship on campus:

According to campaigners, banning topless models in newspapers will give women the confidence to speak out and enable them to exercise their free speech. This reveals the fundamental confusion that exists about what free speech actually means. Censoring particular ideas can’t possibly promote more free speech for others; it simply restricts the terrain of discussion for everyone.

I agree that universities should be a place where ideas are discussed freely.  However Spiked’s drive for freedom on campus seems to take things too far – I’m not sure this

qualifies as an ‘idea’.

So I disagree with Katherine Hughes – writing in another piece for Spiked –  it doesn’t seem unreasonable that Leeds University Union wanted to exclude it from the campus shop.

Spiked rightly complains (implicitly) about the LSE Jesus and Mo incident. However some materials might reasonably be considered inappropriate on campus. Universities should certainly be a place where one can vigorously criticise the niqab or burka from a feminist perspective, but Muslim students (including those who shared that perspective on the face veil) might be justified in finding this kind of image offensive if displayed (like the sexist picture above) on a greetings card sold in the SU shop.

I disagree with Joanna Williams’ premise – that it’s unacceptable for universities to impose some restrictions (restrictions which one would not want to impose more widely) in order to create an environment where people from different groups feel safe and welcome.  Also, although removing the Sun from university shops may not make much difference to the student experience, the growing unacceptability of casual racism, sexism or homophobia in society more generally seems a thoroughly good thing.


Elle Hardy had an annoying piece in the Sydney Telegraph a couple of days ago.  Although some of her concerns about (elements within) modern feminism may be reasonable, she seems more interested in rubbishing feminism as a whole than in getting it to focus on more worthy concerns:

The current third wave of feminism has become a by-word for the persnickety and the banal; a banner under which to air boutique grievances.

… A group of feminists protested against London Mayor Boris Johnson in Melbourne last August, due to one flippant remark he made about women finding husbands at university.

But where were the column inches and the street protests when Iran reintroduced stoning as a punishment for female adultery?

They eschew the opportunity to use their platform for meaningful activism in favour of the social or political outrage du jour.

Just because women (and men) face so many more pressing problems in the world seems no reason why women shouldn’t continue to draw attention to subtle inequalities, any more than the existence of extremely restrictive censorship and blasphemy laws in many countries should stop us making a fuss about small infringements on our freedom of speech in the UK.


So I’ll end with a link to a report on the housework gender gap.

Norwegian men are particularly helpful, while Japanese and Turkish men are most reluctant to do their share. It’s interesting to map those findings onto the pay gap figures.  Spain’s comparatively narrow gap widens quite a bit once you factor unpaid housework into the equation.