Next Sunday, the 7th December, I’ll be contributing to the annual Celebration of Human Rights at the Unitarian Meeting House in Ipswich at 10.45. This year’s theme is Women’s Rights, but there is precious little to celebrate. Maybe that seems pessimistic of me, but I can’t help feeling that because the majority of women and girls in this country enjoy more freedom and independence than their great-grandmothers enjoyed, we’ve become complacent. For the majority of women in developing countries, as well as a huge number who live in the so-called ‘developed’ countries, women’s rights are still a dream. I get quite irritated by women who preface a remark about some relatively minor inequality with ‘I’m not a feminist, but…’ Feminism means equal rights for women, and who would argue with that?
I’ve been a feminist ever since I knew the meaning of the word and will die a feminist because we won’t have achieved universal women’s right by then, however hard we try. There is just far too much to do. I’m not talking about men opening doors for women, or bra-burning, nor am I anti-men – I love the men in my life, including my son.
I’m talking about the catalogue of abuses and unspeakable acts of cruelty perpetrated by men against women worldwide, which is too harrowing to relate now while you’re possibly eating your breakfast, but they are relentless, systematic, and widely tolerated, if not explicitly condoned. The news on TV is dominated by out of control men and boys – male terrorists, marauding gangs of young men creating mayhem – and male bullies, many of them politicians, while not enough is said about the victims of male violence, rape, sex trafficking and all the other crimes against womankind that are commonplace.
Next Sunday I’ll be reading from ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Women’ by Mary Wollstonecraft, who died in 1797 aged only 38. She wrote of women, ‘Make them free, and they will quickly become wise and virtuous, as men become more so, for the improvement must be mutual, or the injustice which one half of the human race are obliged to submit to resorting on their oppressors, the virtue of man will be worm-eaten by the insect which he keeps under his feet.’
Rights for women – if only more women enjoyed them.