I came across a post from Jemima Kirk as I was mindlessly scrolling through her Instagram. Kirk has always been very vocal about her support for female issues, but this one particular post struck me as quite aggressive.
The post reads:
“This equalization of oppression among women is deranged and toxic. So, while Colorful charity blankets and hairy arm pits are exciting and fun ways to stick it to the legislators (lol) please remember this: a white woman’s fight for her reproductive rights does not touch a black woman’s fight for her human rights. It is no coincidence that these heinous abortion laws are being passed in states with the highest population of black people. Do the math. As my friend @shishi.roseeloquently states: “I’m honestly done hearing about your abortion Karen. Black people are and will continue to be the biggest victims in any attack on human rights.”
One of the comments under the post reads, “Yay! Ladies fighting amongst themselves. Another reason feminism is bullshit. Women oppress each other more than men ever did.”
I’m starting to think humans will never be able to exist without conflict. Why must we, as women, compare one woman’s fight against another? Why is it a competition?
I started to think about the feminist cause and whether it was still relevant today. Or if the media I was consuming was right in saying that feminism is no longer needed and the current feminist movements are merely desperate cries for attention, run by a mob of bitchy, man hating, over privileged, white women.
Malina, a 34-year old Latina living in America tells Refinery29, “As a woman of colour I deal with racism way more than any gender discrimination issues. Feminsim today focuses on nitpicking over the tinest politically incorrect commentary.”
Leah, 22 and also living in America, disagrees with “the aggressive push for abortion”. As she explains to refinery29, “feminism has been largely taken over by far-left-wing activists”, who make it impossible for her to identify with the movement.
Another republican, 25 year old Stephanie, echoed such views, stating that she doesn’t see a need for feminism at all “Women are doing just fine. I think modern feminists try to create a boogeyman out of what they call the patriarchy and hunt it down”.
All this negative portrayal of the feminist movement made me think, why is feminism still so prevalent then, what are they ‘bitching about’?
So I decided to dig deeper and go outside of my digital bubble and took a look at what it really means to be feminist across the globe.
I don’t want to rank feminist issues against each other, as my issue with Jemima’s post was doing exactly that. I do, however, want to outline the feminist issues that each country is facing so we can get a better understanding of what the feminist cause is actually fighting for.
I myself have found Ireland to be an exceptional place for women, as in my own line of work, I earn equal pay and get the same, if not more, opportunities as my male counterparts. Compared to my Mother and Grandmother, I have much more rights and for me, the last biggest battle was our right to have an abortion, which we won in 2018.
However, according to the European Commission, men still dominate certain workforces (law, technology, finance, trades and politics) and are the main-decision makers in business and politics.
Sexual harassment in the workplace, and the pay gap between white employees and employees of colour, were two of the biggest issues I could find. Another one was period poverty. I do find it ridiculous that we’re taxed on tampons and tragic that some families can’t afford them. However, I personally find tampons to be extremely toxic and prefer using the moon cup, which is also much better for the environment.
In comparison to other countries, I think Ireland and England are doing pretty sweet. Please correct me if I’m wrong.
The current faith of American women lies in the hands of a president who “brags about sexual assult, undermines LGBT issues and tells educational institutes to disregard anti-discimination policies like Title IX”. The Trump administration threatens centuries of feminist work and undermines all women’s rights, abortion and beyond. (DW, 2019)
As stated in the American Progress report, there are much higher barriers facing women of colour in today’s society. Along with everyday racism, the WOC community also face financial insecurity, as the gender pay gap shows no signs of change.
While white women earn 77cents for every dollar a male earns, Black and Hispanic women only earn 61 or 70 cents, respectively. Along with the pay gap they also face punishingly higher rates of unemployment, making up only 33% of the female workforce and twice as likely to be employed in lower-wage sectors as their female counterparts.
Poland has absolutely shocked me; I’m dumbfounded this type of abuse against women goes on today. Thanks to the right wing conservative government, women’s rights activists are under attack in Poland. (Human Rights Watch, 2018) Although legal, abortions are rarely carried out as many doctors have the power to invoke the religious “conscience clause”. The morning after pill is unavailable and regular contraceptives are almost impossible to obtain.
“Polish women have long faced highly restrictive abortion laws, limited access to sexual and reproductive health information and care, inadequate services and support in the face of violence, and perpetuation of traditional and prescribed gender roles.”
The government doesn’t recognise domestic violence against women, stating “it does not happen in “normal”, loving families.” NGO’s assisting victims had their financing cut and their offices raided by the police. Government agencies have also “dragged state employees who support women’s rights protests or collaborate with women’s rights groups before disciplinary hearings and threatened their jobs.”
Guatemala has the highest rate of Femicide in the world, according to DW, “the violent murders of women is a huge problem”. Teenage pregnancy is also one of the highest in the world. In 2017 there were close to 91,000 pregnancies among 10-19 year olds. Considering the age, it is clear a lot of these pregnancies are a result of sexual abuse. There is no sex education in schools and abortion is prohibited, due to the intense Catholic Church influence.
In Guinea, 97% of women are genitally mutilated and 52% of girls are married off as minors, as reported by DW. “Many women still die in childbirth, and domestic violence is also widespread.”
According to the U.S news report, Indonesia faces hundreds of discriminatory laws – “from a ban on dancing, to mandatory head scarf use — are written into local code in this decentralized archipelagic state”. A ban on dancing is my actual nightmare.
The number of reported incidents surrounding violence against women tripled between 2010 and 2014. There is a huge gender wage gap, as women receive 30% lower wages than that of their male counterparts.
Sadly, domestic violence is a huge issue for women in Germany at the moment. DW reports, “every second day a woman is murdered by her partner in Germany. While in Spain or South America millions have already taken to the streets because of such murders, the collective anger is still missing here”.
Now, here is where I might be obliged to agree with Jemima Kirk on her comparison of feminist rights. The issues facing women of Islamic law are truly horrific, and make all of Karen’s abortion issues look pretty pathetic.
The Center for Inquiry writes, “Veiling (hijab), divorce laws, a very young legal age of marriage, custody of children, polygamy, honour killing, the absence of women’s rights in matters of employment, travelling and choosing the place of residence, are all aspects of Islamic Shari’a based on the Koran and Islam’s doctrine. Together with these, in countries under the Islamic states, women are stoned to death for engaging in voluntary sexual relations”.
These rigid laws see women of Islam stripped of their basic human rights. They are forced to accept that male supremacy is the will of Allah “and it has been predestined for women to live as submissive, obedient wives”.
Women are considered minors and are not permitted to leave home without their male guardians, known as ‘mahrams’. Although a 2015 election granted women the right to vote, they are still permitted to drive and most public spaces are segregated. (Center for Inquiry, 2018)
“War, sectarian violence, culture and debates on Islamic law” are the issues facing women in Iraq. Violence against women is common, and women have limited representation in significant fields.
Women do not have equal economic opportunity. 20% of women are unemployed, which is more than double that of men, according to the World Bank. Women are legally guaranteed 15 of parliament’s 130 seats, according to European Forum.
Egyptian women are subject to an alarming rate of rape and sexual assault. In 2014, a reformed constitution explicitly guarantees gender equality, but the government has failed to protect women and in some cases punishes them for speaking out.
Human Rights Watch shares the story of Amal Fathy:
“On May 9, activist Amal Fathy posted a video on her Facebook page in which she spoke about the prevalence of sexual harassment in Egypt and criticized the government’s failure to protect women. The next day, pro-government and state-owned media outlets initiated a smear campaign against Fathy and then on May 11, authorities arrested her. On September 29, a criminal court sentenced Fathy to two years’ imprisonment for “publishing false news,” as well as a fine of 10,000 Egyptian pounds (US$560) for making “public insults.” She continues to face charges in a separate case on trumped-up allegations of belonging to a terrorist organization.”
Egypt is also home to the largest number of women and girls who have undergone female genital mutilation, according to the world health organization.
United Arab Emirates
The world economic forum reports that female workers in Unit Arab Emirates compare poorly to women in other countries. The country has been criticised for its weak efforts to protect women against domestic violence and “not including gender as a basis for the definition of discrimination”.
Syria and Afghanistan
Syria and Afghanistan have tied as the two worst countries for women in the world, according to the 2018 Women, Peace and Security index put together by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and the Peace Research Institute of Oslo.
In Afghanistan gender-based violence is rampant, more than 80% of women are illiterate, and many die in childbirth.
Violence against women and girls remains a serious concern in Pakistan, with offenses like child marriage, rape, murder, honour killings, acid attacks and domestic violence being some of the most prevalent reports. (Human Rights Watch, 2019)
I think it’s hard for people to identify with feminism today. For one, it has been twisted, repackaged and redefined by the media so many times I don’t think anyone has a clear picture of what it really means anymore. Feminism is not an easy concept to digest.
However, many people still attempt to form an opinion on the popular topic, even if they are completely uneducated about the facts. The danger lies in their ability to share these incorrect opinions. Feminism is not a ‘one size fits all’ group that you can easily rally behind. It’s separated into various different subgroups and individual cultural issues.
The more I think about it, the less aggressive I find Kirks point. It is true, and in a way, very annoying, that some of the more important feminist issues are being overshadowed by the loudest (and probably most entitled) feminists whose battles aren’t really as important.
However, I still don’t think ranking women’s issues against one other is something anyone should be doing, or promoting. We need to be conscious of the comments we make. We need to be better.
Calling out Karen for fighting for abortion rights isn’t helping the situation. If you’re mad she’s getting more media attention then Women of Colour, then put your efforts into increasing media attention for Women of Colour.
I learned nothing from that post, other than people find Karen annoying for moaning about abortion. If anything it made me scared to ever talk about abortion and that’s not something any woman should feel.
All issues are real. Instead of rating which issues are worse, lets educate people on how we can make a change.
Pain is not a competition and just because one woman in one country might be experiencing significantly more abuse than a woman in another country, it doesn’t erase the abuse experienced.
In saying that, not every woman is a victim either and some women have been known to falsely play the victim card. Don’t be that woman. There’s too many issues in our world at the moment, don’t steal the light from another woman who desperately needs it, and don’t assume your pain is worse than a man’s either, just because you’re a woman. Women need to stop playing the victim card just to get ahead in society. Your gender is not a political statement.
It’s situations like these that undermine real, relevant and heart breaking feminist issues that still exist and desperately need our attention.
Unfortunately, war and fighting is always going to be part of our human fabric. But what we can do is bring love and consciousness to our fighting war – uniting and educating instead of moaning and dividing.
By Features Editor; Ciara Glover
Human Rights Watch
Center for Inquiry:
World Health Organisation:
World Economic Forum: United Arab Emirates:
Georgetown Institute for Women: