In Western societies, many young women are taking to social media to declare that they don’t need feminism. That F word, in the minds of certain ill-informed members of a new generation, has come to stand for the denigration of men rather than the empowerment of women.
They also believe feminism has painted all women as victims, and since they don’t feel victimised they pose with placards on Facebook and Instagram to declare that they appreciate being told they are sexy and enjoy cooking meals for their boyfriends.
It is encouraging that a new generation of women feels equal and empowered, but there are two gaping holes in the movement’s logic (along with many smaller ones). The first is that it is thanks to women’s rights advocates of the past that this generation has the opportunity to express themselves so freely. The second is that of all the women on Earth, they remain firmly in the minority.
Last week, there were several heart-rending examples of the mistreatment of women around the world. Of them, one of the worst was a claim from the United Nations that the militant group Isis, currently in control of large swathes of Iraq and Syria, issued a decree that would force all women in Mosul to undergo genital mutilation. Hopefully this does not come to fruition. An estimated 130 million women worldwide have endured the barbaric and cruel practice, and in many cases their health suffers as a result.
In Asia, Unicef expressed concern last week over the rate of girls being forced into marriage. While some progress had been made, 25% of all girls married before the age of 18 live in East Asia and the Pacific region. An even higher percentage live in South Asia, Unicef’s figures reveal.
Unicef executive director Anthony Lake even felt compelled to make this obvious point: “Girls are not property; they have the right to determine their destiny. When they do so, everyone benefits.” It is disappointing that such fundamental truths still have to be spelled out in this day and age, but clearly the world has a long way to go before all women can expect to be treated with basic respect.
Thailand, where rape occurs on average every 15 minutes, also has much work ahead in terms of respect for women. The latest crime to make headlines was the abduction of five Cambodian women and one girl, allegedly committed by three armed members of a Thai human trafficking network in the border province of Sa Kaeo. Four of them, ranging in age from 15 to 23 years, were raped during the ordeal.
They were part of a group of 20 Cambodians who had resorted to using human traffickers to cross the border into Thailand. There have been reports that the victims and witnesses have been sent back to Cambodia, and even though rape charges were laid quickly it remains to be seen whether the human trafficking allegations will be investigated.
It is to be hoped that neither the Thai military regime nor the government of Cambodia will turn the issue into a political football, as some observers fear given the history of animosity across the border. For now it seems cooler heads are prevailing.
The case serves as an example of how the ruling military council’s one-stop processing centres are not a one-stop solution to the region’s insidious human trafficking problem, which touches the lives of men as well as women and children. The problems are so complex and corrupt networks so intractable that a multi-pronged, long-term strategy will be required.
This is also true of violent crimes against women and children. A respectful culture should be fostered, one in which women have equal opportunities to improve society and are valued for their skills and ideas. They should also feel and be safe everywhere.
The reintroduction of segregated train carriages, set to be introduced on three main routes from Friday, will make women and children feel safer in the short term, but is a backwards step for building a culture of equality in the longer term. Not only is it yet another example of knee-jerk policy without a plan, it reinforces the antiquated notions that women are inherently different, exist to be preyed upon and are in need of protection.
By banning men from select carriages, the policy also implies they cannot be trusted around women and children — surely an insult to the majority of men who are decent.
The empowerment of half the population, and their right to safety and equal opportunity, should be a priority even in a time when men in uniforms have a tight grip on the country.
Feminism is not a dirty word: Thailand needs it more than ever.