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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

That Woman, My Sister

Today I attended an International Women’s Day luncheon where the guest speaker was Virginia Haussegger, an award winning journalist, author and commentator. The message this International Women’s Day is about the empowerment of women. Haussegger’s speech was powerful and made more so with the images she showed us. She spoke of the women in Afghanistan and Pakistan and Africa and many other countries, including those we think of as “developed”. She spoke of forced marriages where the brides can be as young as 9, female genital mutilation, the lack of education and the lack of financial security that comes with being born a female. She spoke of the distinct lack of females in upper management positions and on boards in Australia and the games men play to keep women “in their place”.

I know about these games. I’ve lived with them. I come from a European family where, although I was never physically mistreated, I was looked upon as a second class citizen. I was given an education but never encouraged to do more than marry well. Growing up I was smiled on in a condescending sort of way whenever I expressed an opinion, but if a male peer expressed the same opinion he was held in high regard. My ex-husband, who had only met my parents once, was immediately allowed to drive their car. I was never given that privilege.

But the worst thing is my father’s constant reminders that he is the last of his line and the end of his family. Being an only child and a daughter I do not have the right to continue the family, nor does the heritage pass on to my sons. And he is proud of this. To him and many others, I have no rights to my own family; I might as well not exist. The older I get the more important my family and my heritage is to me and I have tried to teach my sons about its history. The fact that my sons can be swept off one of the branches of the family tree, simply because of my gender, is appalling. That my father is pleased with this outcome is atrocious.

I married a man who also didn’t think highly of the equality of women. After staying at home with my boys until the youngest went to kindergarten, their father couldn’t understand my need to go back to work and, once I found a job, made it difficult for me to give it 100%. In an industry that demands both overtime and after hours work, I was continually under stress trying to work, study, run the household and look after the children. He also worked but apparently had the option to either socialise or relax when not at the office.

I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I haven’t been physically abused, sold into marriage or thrown out on the streets. But those girls, those women who have to live in appalling conditions are my sisters. I can chose to ignore them or I can chose to do the best I can to bring attention to their plight in the best way I know how – by writing about them.

The recent social media campaign “Get Kony” proved how quickly word of mouth / social media can spread through the world. We should all be spreading the word about the mistreatment of our sisters. I might not have enough readers to my blog, but my readers are read by others and they are read by more and if all of us highlighted even one issue, maybe we could change the world…

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