Michelle Bachelet at the House of Commons

The President of Chile, Verónica Michelle Bachelet JeriaI attended the UN Women: The Opportunity of a Generation parliamentary event at the House of Commons today. Given the speakers; UN Under Secretary General (UN Women), Michelle Bachelet, Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, and Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, Harriet Harman, my expectation was to leave with a plethora of new insights about the role of UN Women.

The truth is that I took little from the event. Bachelet made no particular impression on me. That said, I trust her with the not so small task of expanding women’s leadership; enhancing women’s economic empowerment; ending violence against women and girls; bringing women to the centre of the peace and security agenda and focusing national plans and budgets on gender equality. Her achievements prove that she is results-driven and focused on the big picture. My guess is that it’s also therefore that we didn’t witness today that side of the woman who is seen as a superhero. After all what is a quick 1.15hr talk in comparison to the real issues at hand.

As an African, I personally feel it’s of special importance that the inaugural year of UN Women pays attention to uneven relationships between women activists. This is crucial because to do work together women campaigners need to be aware of the different backgrounds and ‘herstories’ that they come from as well as the implications of those trajectories. As Bachelet said in relation to another topic, it is necessary to go to the root of the disease. I think it needs highlighting that the aforementioned UN Women goals are not only relevant to women outside of the west. If you look at this video clip, which kicked off today’s event and at the UN Women site of the event host, VSO,  it could seem that UN Women is a charity set up to save non-western women from the effects of patriarchy.

For UN Women to truly work, I think the message needs to be that we all suffer from patriarchy, that women everywhere are far from equality.

Don’t you think?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Alex E. Proimos

  • http://uprootingthepumpkin.blogspot.com/ Mwanabibi

    Well said. I often think that women in Africa would do well to be accorded similar rights and opportunities to those in the west. My mantra is to ask for equality between women even before equality with men!

  • Dele

    No two men are equal neither are any two women. Paradoxically, the ideal society is also the real society. One that is overwhelmingly characterized by inequality, diversity and crucialy, competition. Competition means superior individuals and groups will dominate…they ‘should’ dominate. Fotunately, among the criteria for superiority is nobility which includes care and compassion for the lesser. Appointed, or not, the truly superior group are leaders. And they propel our community forward in all endeavours from art to wealth to spirituality.

    The problem is not with inequality (racial, gender or any other). The problem is with miscreant ignoble (inferior) individuals or groups who use their energies and what mediocre gumption they have to subvert other hapless inferiors, offering fake superiority, through oppression of others.

    At best, all these (western) constructs of racial, gender, religous etc inequality and their associated *isms are themselves euphemisms for what is, in fact, lecherous self-interested pettyness perpertrated by opressors (of all genders, races, religions etc).

    At worst, the framework of *isms and equality struggles are a web of tangled well-meaning tenets tieing down many bright minds and strong hands who work tirelessly and grow in numbers with each generation. But whose efforts to untangle truth, provides more fuel and motivation for the web spinners who are only too happy to oblige with even more progressive ideology and action-plans.

    The real solution is to “take our ball and go home”. Forget reasoning with the playground miscreants. Their power only comes from our participation anyway. Sure, the entrenched opressors determine who gets to ride what swing (and this may affect our immediate livelihoods) but at a macro level, if we decided not to fight for deeper/better participation in the same structures we are being excluded from, and if we focused on developing our own sustainable socio-economic structures, who would really win/loose?

    • Tee-la

      With all due respect Dele much of your argument appears to be in the abstract.
      Inequality is a reality. Women’s rights are of real concern…at the very least to women but also to society as a whole. When we have equality – access to the same jobs for the same salary, when the girl child has the right to an education, the wife has the right to own property and to not be the property of her husband, then we can can decide whether it is necessary or not. Until then speaking as an African woman I think your notion of racial or gender inequality being ‘western contructs’ is at best misguided.
      Africa was not some kind of utopia pre-slavery or pre-colonialism where women were happy to be dominated by men, I agree that everyone has their role in society but no I do not agree that some people need to dominate others, I certainly do not agree that domination should occur along gender lines and should be facilitated by a society that affords men more opportunities than women. Your argument is tantamount to saying that women are where they are today because they don’t want these positions of power, they prefer not to be Company CEOs and Directors and World Leaders …..oh but we do, make no mistake, we too want the opportunity to lead and that is not because we are being oppressed by ‘the lecherous and self-interested’ but because we believe in the basic principle that All Men (as in human beings) are created Equal…Equal being the operative word!!!

    • Sel

      I completely agree with you Tee-la. Perhaps if equality presents ambiguity in the minds of some, then the word equity might clear some of the cobwebs. The premise is the same however, all men were created with inalienable rights. It is NOT the right of some to laud over others on the basis of race, gender, ‘smarts'(as defined by whom?), etc.

      Competition like all other human inclinations should be tempered to ultimately serve the greater good. The problem permeates every level of society be it amoung inferior individuals (as Dele terms them- which I must add is in itself an offensive and tasteless assertion) or superior ones (who exeactly these are, I leave to ‘him’ to define).

      Finally, it is both unrealistic and short-sighted to assume that we can thrive to any large extent as an island-with no interaction with the rest of the world. This solution is another of those ‘no-solution’ dead ends.

      What would yield results is when we learn to walk up and sit at the table, exert our prescence and “play ball” with the rest of the world. The first step in the process is realizing that we do in fact have a hand to play – something valuable to bring to the table. And our best chance at doing that, I believe, is by carrying along everyone.

  • http://www.waikisays.com Waiki

    As you know I attended the launch of UN Women which was held the day before at the RSA. I actually got a lot of out the event and I thought Bachelet was convincing and determined. Like you, I trust that she will accomplish the things she promised, provided that UN Women receive all the funding and support they need. You’ve made a good point though – This should be about tackling issues that affect women around the world and not just in the developing world. She did mention briefly (and gave statistics, as she loves doing) about inequality in the UK but it wasn’t stressed enough, if you ask me. So yes I totally agree with that.

  • Dele

    Well said friends (and thanks Minna for this awesome forum). First, I’m extremely sorry for any offensive or tasteless assertions already made and others I may yet blunder into.

    I feel strongly that all men and women deserve %100 equity and equal opportunity (thank you Sel for hinting at the nuance between equity and equality)

    However, friends and esteemed readers, I’ll make one more stand for you to at least consider the concept that individual men and women are considerably different and generally unequal. And by the same token neither group is, as a whole, superior to the other. But that some individuals (men or women) are superior to others. This is nothing personal or disrespectful. If I tried to name individuals, men and women, that are superior to me, I would go on forever. Those individuals (men or women) who inspire and lead, and take bigger risks doing so, naturally and correctly, command proportional sway in our social order. As for the definition, of superior or inferior that is not for me to define. Society has culturally-weighted scales for that.

    Tee-la, with regard to my point about “inequality” and *isms beings western constructs what I mean is that these “labels” are western constructs. Constructs which dress-up fundamentaly inhumane individual and social traits. For example, people are acused of “racist remarks” and “sexist behaviour” when their real actions involve “insulting”, “abusing”, “cheating” or worse infractions against fellow human beings. The latter descriptions of their actions are more universaly offensive and repulsive to the human in all of us while the group-specific terms are not. To illustrate: many people, esteemed readers of this blog not included, will hear “sexist behaviour” and only register the word “behaviour”. The labels and language used purpotedly to better describe infractions against certain groups but which, instead, serve to blunt the universal human impact of the offence is a phenomenon which I observe in my western culturalization. I never wrote nor did I mean to suggest that non-western cultures past or present are utopias of equality or any such thing. All that said, it is true, Sel, that these are all abstract considerations.

    Turning to the practical consequences: in refering to “taking our ball and going home”, what I was hinting at was not that we should deny ourselves our rightful seat at the table of within the dominant social order. I was suggesting that we focus on building our own table based on our own inclusionary and equitable social values. It may sound abstract but it is a very real and practical strategy. And one with compelling precedents. Globally, there are powerful female political and corporate circles that are self-made wellsprings of power from which even the most powerful of men only hope to share. There are other examples of marginalized Jewish, Asian, Latin, and African communities of various proportions that thrive by investing in their own value chain rather than clamoring for equity and inclusion in the prevailing status quo.

    In conclusion, fighting for inclusion and equity within existing imbalanced social orders is great (and those, such as Michelle Bachelet, who may be successfully doing this are examples of people who are superior to me). As for me, I’m personally focused on building socio-economic structures which are not mutually exlusive from the existing status quo but which are based on my beliefs in positive and inclusionary values.

  • MsAfropolitan

    There is truth to what you say, Dele, we are engaging with ideologies that contribute to a structural development that’s not ours to start with, and that more importantly doesn’t necessarily benefit us, both women and men.
    However, showing up with our contributions with awareness and direction seems nevertheless the better option than ‘we take our ball and go home’. Reason being, particularly as African women, that there is no ‘we’ when one is marginalized. Whether due to our own historic patriarchs, our radical import of western style patriarchy or a combination of both. These are the practical imports of reality.

    Truth cannot help but wander off into the abstract and as we try to relate it back concretely it leaves us with theories, that lead to ideologies, that often lead to narrowly boxed falsities. That is unless one approaches any -ism with an outside-in awareness of how these are born and where they often die, in a bureaucratic heap of ‘the superior’ or in jail! As Sel pointed out, we cannot afford to not ‘play ball’, we just need to be entirely aware why we do so. Furthermore, we should not imagine that we are pariahs. The field is more horizontal than what appears, even when marked by false notions of ‘superiority’. And yet that horizontality also is in the conceptual.

    The word superior is a good example of how the relationship between history and language is problematic. To my knowledge in much of Africa till this day, certain individuals due to age, esoteric ancestral knowledge etc. assume the role of propelling society forward, but are they ‘superior’ in the oxford english sense?

    My point that UN Women ought to engage with how platforms for cross-cultural activism and campaigning are structured is a strategy which I think could slowly peel layers away from the very ideological roots that created it. Paradoxically what fuels such a platform is political orientation

  • Dele

    Awesome Blog. Thanks MsAfropolitan and your great readers !!!

  • http://www.mwanabaafrika.blogspot.com MBA

    Amen. We all need to be educated men and women, we all need to acknowledge that patriarchy still rule the world and most importantly women need to be at the forefront of the change because if we don’t take charge, who do we think will?!

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks for the succinct comment!

  • http://www.soul-n-heart.blogspot.com bhargav

    For UN Women to truly work, I think the message needs to be that we all suffer from patriarchy, that women everywhere are far from equality.

    I truely agree to ur last sentence… the west needs to understand it very clearly the needs of third world countries also.. its a high time that not only women on the globe but even the men supports this very cause and do the due deligence to convert this wierd globe for womens in safe and sound and very livable place.

    wish all the very best