Tag Archives: gender

Gender fluidity is the new black

Jens Dresling
BY WINNING THIS year’s Eurovision Song Contest Conchita Wurst did not only put gender at the top of the agenda. The triumph of the 25-year-old Austrian drag act makes way for a – for some – new concept; gender fluidity.

Social anthropologists along with sociologists and other scholars doing research on gender have for years argued that gender should be perceived as a spectrum rather than a static category.

According to the Executive Director of Gender Spectrum, Stephanie Hill, it is necessary to distinguish between sex and gender. While sex is biological and includes physical attributions, gender is the complex interrelationship between one’s physical traits and one’s internal sense of self as male, female, both or neither as well as one’s outward presentations and behavior related to that perception. In short, gender is a social spectrum and thus way more complicated than the category of the biological sex.

Wurst’s real name is Tom Neuwirth. When Tom puts on eyelashes and wick he becomes his female persona and is referred to as “she”. In other words, Wurst is a clue to what gender fluidity might look like in practice.

While Putin and his administration continue to express homophobic views and put forward anti-gay policies, it seems like Europe is moving in a more liberal direction, making way for a broader understanding of gender and identity. 

Collecting the trophy on stage Wurst said: “This night is dedicated to everyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom. You know who you are — we are unity and we are unstoppable.”

After her victory Wurst told reporters that she felt Europe had taken a stand by voting her the winner. No doubt her triumph shows progress in liberal attitudes among Europeans. Wurst added that she hopes gay, lesbian, bi and transgender people around the world are getting stronger in their fight for human rights.

While Putin and his administration continue to express homophobic views and put forward anti-gay policies, it seems like Europe is moving in a more liberal direction, making way for a broader understanding of gender and identity.

Now, let us celebrate the triumph of Wurst. A triumph of tolerance.


By Sofie Ejdrup Larsen
Photo Credit Jens Dresling

Equality or discrimination?

Flickr: HBarrison

The University of Copenhagen wants to attract more female applicants to research positions. A gender action plan has been set in motion, and is to be implemented by the end of 2014. Tinuke Maria Iyore investigates what Danish student media are writing about the plan.  

COPENHAGEN UNIVERSITY HAS presented a new action plan for gender balance. One of the proposals is that both genders have to be represented in the applicants for research positions.

The proposal has received a lot of attention in Danish media and was recently up for debate at a Copenhagen University board meeting, where several board members expressed their concern about this requirement. Certain members of the Danish Parliament have even called the proposal discriminating.

However a close look at the pile of applications shows that the university might be facing an even bigger problem. The pile is simply too small.

Gender vs. Qualifications

According to the rector of Copenhagen University’s Ralf Hemmingsen, the proposal is not gender-discriminating. “We’re testing the proposal, because we find that there are too few female professors. I don’t think it is discriminating to make sure that we have at least one female and one male applicant.

“I would like to emphasize that qualifications remain the determining factor,” he says to the Danish newspaper Berlingske.

At the most recent board meeting, members agreed that the main goal of the action plan should be to attract more qualified applicants. Some board members believed emphasis should be put solely on qualifications, while others thought that the main focus should be attracting more qualified female applicants, due to the notion that this minority within academia holds a great deal of talent.

Danish Equality Laws

The minister for gender equality, Manu Sareen of the Social Liberal Party, welcomes the proposal. “I think it is important that the universities work towards a more equal gender composition. It’s about making the most of all talents”, he says to Berlingske.

He also states that it is equally important that the university stays within the Danish equality laws. The University of Copenhagen has previously obtained a waiver from this law with their 2008 action plan; ‘Diversity – more women in management’.

Jens Henrik Thulesen Dahl, who is Research Spokesman for the Danish People’s Party, is sceptical of the proposal. He calls it  “very discriminating” and thinks it diverts attention from simply hiring the most qualified applicant.

The Bigger Problem

The lack of applicants seems to be a problem that goes beyond gender. The board of Copenhagen University is concerned that every third research position receives only one application – thus granting no certainty that the most qualified researcher is actually the one who gets the job.

This might actually pose a larger problem than the lack of female applicants. “The universities should concentrate on attracting highly skilled employees. Not by making special proposals for women, but by creating a more attractive work environment, so more qualified applicants – both men and women – apply for the university’s research positions,” says Merete Riisager, spokeswoman on gender equality for the Liberal Alliance party, to Berlingske.

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Do you think the University of Copenhagen is engaging in positive discrimination?  Is this an appropriate response to uneven employment figures?  Where should the university’s priorities lie regarding top reseach jobs?  Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Photo credit: HBarrison [Flickr]

Based on the following articles from Universitetsavisen:





Gender issues in Europe’s latest unemployment rates

Credit: JIP

The headquarters of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, Germany

Sean Gibson visualises the latest unemployment rates coming out of Europe, illustrating the gender bias for each nation’s figures and what this could mean going forward for a still-fragile European economy.

With tentative talk of economic recovery in certain corners of Europe, now is a natural break-point to consider the unemployment rates throughout the continent – specifically, how the figures line up along gender lines.  In an uncertain environment these national biases could become more pronounced if we hit any hiccups.

The worst of the financial crisis may well be behind us, as we are told, but there are several threats to a stable recovery that could cause serious pain for many millions of EU residents.

Quantitative easing – the means by which the US Federal Reserve has been promoting investment and growth through asset purchases – is being scaled back.  Simultaneously, China is curtailing its spending as it looks to reform its financial systems, and make them more dependent on world markets than the Chinese state.  That means the world’s two biggest spenders are ducking out at the same time. Who’s going to keep Europe’s recovery cycle going if nobody’s buying anything it’s got?

All the while, the European Central Bank has been struggling to get consensus throughout Europe on the legality of its own breed of quantitative easing.  The option of debt mutualisation – where member countries would pool the debts they have built up through the crisis years – has been punted well off the table.

Heat map – gender bias

With this significant gloom hanging over the ongoing ‘recovery’, here are the differences in employment rates and gender biases in terms of percentage points – see the table below for full statistics.

The more solid colour blocks show the more pronounced differences between men and women, with red shades showing lesser unemployment for women and blue shades showing lesser unemployment for men.


In line with the map up top, the table below shows the three countries that most favour men in blue, while the three countries where women have the biggest advantage are to be found in red (data from Eurostat – no Switzerland, sorry).

Unemployment rates Male (%) Female (%)
Belgium 8.8 8.2
Bulgaria 13.4 12.7
Czech Republic 5.7 8.2
Denmark 6.8 7.3
Germany 5.2 4.8
Estonia 9.8* 8.9*
Ireland 13.3 10.3
Greece 24.9* 32.2*
Spain 25 26.8
France 10.9 10.8
Croatia 20.5 16.6
Italy 12.2 13.8
Cyprus 17.4 16.1
Latvia 11.9** 11.1**
Lithuania 12.5 10.2
Luxembourg 5.4 7
Hungary 8.5** 9.2**
Malta 7.1 6.7
Netherlands 7.4 6.8
Austria 4.8 5.1
Poland 9.2 10.7
Portugal 15 15.7
Romania 7.8 6.5
Slovenia 8.8 11.8
Slovakia 13.8 13.4
Finland 8.8 7.7
Sweden 8.4 7.9
United Kingdom 7.6* 6.8*
Iceland 5.4 5.2
Norway 3.8** 3.5**
Figures for Jan 2014    
* denotes Nov 2013 figures    
** denotes Dec 2013 figures

Nineteen out of those 30 countries have unemployment rates more favourable to women – can we take a moment to congratulate ourselves on advancing gender equality?

Alas, no.  If this were some kind of sport scored by percentage points, even with their near two-thirds nation advantage (19/30) the females would still lose out to the males in a 21.5-19.6 defeat.  The figures demonstrate that where women have the advantage it is smaller, whereas the countries in which the men enjoy a smaller unemployment rate, they do so by a significant margin.  Just look  at that whopping 7.3 percentage-points difference in Greece one more time.

Even if women were faring better in terms of unemployment rates throughout Europe, these figures say nothing for the state of the inequality in wages that still prevails.  Nor do we have any knowledge from this data of the working conditions or terms of employment (sick pay, maternity leave, etc.).

This article cannot do justice to the myriad cultural and social factors at play in each country’s unique situation.  There are several factors to be explored much further but this data should arm us to go forward and find those important narratives.

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What is the gender bias like in your country’s employment figures?  Are you surprised by this data?  What do you think can be done to tackle real imbalances in the gender balance of the unemployment rate?  Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section below.

All data from Eurostat.

Photo credit: JIP

Violence against Women is a hidden EU problem

European Parliament

European Parliament

A shocking report from the EU has laid out the scale of the problem of violence against women in its member countries. As Zuzana Brezinova examines, the numbers reported are only half of the story. 

“About one third of women in the EU have experienced physical or sexual abuse since the age of 15, which corresponds to 62 million women in total” says the latest report released by the European Union´s Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) on Wednesday 5 March.

The FRA report, the first of its kind at the EU level, could become a turning point in European legislation wherein legally binding directives addressing violence against women, either physical or sexual, are practically absent. The results of the survey, however striking as they are, reveal the real extent and severity of the problem within the EU-28 and overthrow the stereotypical mindsets of Europeans influenced by the media coverage of the issue who have long considered violence against women as confined to the Middle Eastern or developing societies.

“Violence against women, and specifically gender-based violence that disproportionately affects women, is an extensive human rights abuse that the EU cannot afford to overlook. What emerges is a picture of extensive abuse that affects many women’s lives, but is systematically under-reported to the authorities,” explained Morten Kjaerum director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights.

“This report presents the first results from the most comprehensive survey to date at the level of the EU on women’s diverse experiences of violence. It is hoped that the report’s findings are taken up by those women and men who can advocate and initiate change to address violence against women,” added Kjaerum in his foreword to the survey.

From the 42,000 women aged 18-74 years interviewed in the 28 EU countries (1,500 women per member state on average) an estimated 13 million have experienced physical violence in the course of the 12 months before the survey interviews, which corresponds to 7 % of all women within the indicated age group. Approximately 2 % of EU women, which is about 3.7 million in real figures, have been victims of sexual assault. One in twenty has been raped since the age of 15 and at least 18 % of all women have experience stalking. About 21 million women reported an experience of some sort of sexual abuse or incident by an adult since the age of 15. Last, but not least, over a half of all women indicated that they avoid certain situations or places for fear of being physically or sexually assaulted compared to far fewer men according to existing surveys on crime victimisation and fear of crime.

The highest number of cases was reported in Denmark (52 %), Finland (47 %) and Sweden (46 %), followed by France and the UK. The lowest incidence of violence against women was registered in Poland (19 %), which is surprising especially in relation to the first triad of Scandinavian countries. All of them are liberal welfare states with strong social democratic parties, praised for their gender equality and emphasis on family values.

Worryingly, all the reported figures are in fact believed to be even higher. According to FRA approximately 67 % of women didn´t report the most serious incidents of domestic violence to the police or a support organisation, within the last 12 months.  Reasons for this silent suffering are varied. In some countries, as the Agency for Fundamental Rights indicates, it is culturally unacceptable to talk about experiences of violence, in others gender equality plays an important role. The abuse of women is more likely to be addressed in countries that promote gender equality, than in more patriarchal societies. Often the women are faced with a difficult choice to either hold their tongues or be expelled from the community.

Existence of legally binding directive is yet another important factor that has to be accounted for in relation to the real extent of the problem. Here the EU could be seen as at the same level as countries like Russia, Lebanon or Saudi Arabia. It was not until 2011 when the Council of Europe proposed what would become the first legally binding document to combat violence against women. The Istanbul Convention, the document´s official title, addresses women’s abuse as a gender-based violence and classifies it as a form of structural violence, which is “even more obvious if we look at the patchy attempts of the police, courts and social services to help women victims,” says the text. The only imperfection it has, is that it has not yet been enacted as the ratification of at least ten member states is needed. Meanwhile in the EU there is a gap in laws which needs to be filled.

Who’s afraid of vaginas?


Gender Equality and Women’s Rights were top of the agenda last week. Aarhus, Denmark was just one of the cities on the map in the #1billionrising campaign. Pandeia curates an article from before the event, by Zoe Robertson, for Jutland Station.

On February 14th, the Women’s Museum in Aarhus, Kvindemuseet, will host its first V-Day event, part of a global initiative to end violence against women and girls. The event, coordinated by an international group of journalism students from Aarhus University, is one of many taking place internationally in an effort to fundraise and increase awareness for women’s rights and gender equality.

V-Day, a worldwide activist movement that aims to end violence against women and girls, was created by Eve Ensler, who was inspired by the reaction to her 1994 play The Vagina Monologues. The organization has steadily amassed a global following and now holds upward of 5000 events across the world annually, most organized by local grassroots leaders and college students in conjunction with their campuses. Last year, V-Day launched the One Billion Rising for Justice campaign, a call for communities to gather on Valentine’s Day to participate in events that raise awareness and challenge violence against women.

Friday’s V-Day event program features an interactive afternoon followed up by evening performances. Hosted in the Women’s Museum café area, the day will open with photography exhibits, and interactive and multimedia displays including, for the daring, a photo booth specially designed for participants to privately photograph (and instantly print) their body parts for display in the museum. The evening program will feature a documentary screening and discussion, followed by poetry and book-excerpt readings, drama, and a musical performance. All program events are centered on raising awareness and increasing dialogue about womens’ and girls’ rights.

“People kind of assume that everyone’s on the same page in terms of what we think about gender equality and violence against women, but…there’s a lot of differences in how people feel.”

Ellie Sellwood, a student from the U.K., is coordinating performances for V-Day in Aarhus. It’s all centered around the idea of home and being comfortable and how violence is like a violation of your home. It doesn’t matter what sort of violence it is, it damages your property and how you feel.” Pascale Müller, another of the event organizers, from Germany, describes how, in many of the performances, “people are talking about their personal experience. We want people to engage with the topics.”

The event, backed by the V-Day organization but arranged individually by local communities, is intrinsically collaborative by nature. While most V-Day events will traditionally see at least some performance, either of The Vagina Monologues or other scripts that focus on women, community organizers are encouraged to create inclusive, interactive programs that incorporate additional forms of activism.

This collaborative spirit translates to nearly all facets of the event’s organization and production. Lotte Kamphuis, from the Netherlands, and Sofia Lotto Persio, from Italy, are also part of the team of coordinators of Friday’s event. “Everybody is doing so much,” says Kamphuis. “There’s this feeling of community, of people having the same goals and wishes,” agrees Lotto Persio.

Sellwood stresses the advantage of a multinational organizational and performance team, and the benefit it has for the event. “Actually performing this event in a different country has been really interesting, gathering perspectives from Danes and fellow international students who all have a different take on it.” Kamphuis agrees, noting the diversity of material that results from a global group. “It’s really nice that it’s such an international group. It’s content from all over the world.”

Perhaps the most fitting collaboration taking place during V-Day is that of the organization and the venue. The Women’s Museum in Aarhus, touted as one of the only of its kind, will host V-Day for the first time. Julie Rokkjær Birch, who is responsible for audience engagement at the museum, considered it an appropriate partnership. “It was very easy to say yes,” she said of being approached to host the event at the museum. “I think it’s important that this museum is always up-to-date about what is happening when you discuss gender and women.”

It is likewise appealing for the event organizers. “For me it was rather exciting to host V-Day in one of the few women’s Museums in the world,” says Müller. “I think they should step out a little bit more and be a little bit vocal about what they want to do, also towards the audience here in Aarhus, and I think V-Day is a great event to do so.” In addition to the ideological linkage, she explains that the venue is physically accommodating too. “It’s a very unique place, not only the Women’s Museum as an institution but also the place itself. It has a really intimate atmosphere, so I think it will transport the performance very well.”

The movement behind V-Day also speaks to the initiatives of the Women’s Museum. As Rokkjær Birch put it “We’re not just a museum. We are also taking responsibility for women in need. We have a guidance centre here, where women who have been abused can go talk to a counsellor. We have a bigger perspective than just being a museum.”

Promoting V-Day has already involved breaking taboos. Kamphuis and Lotto Persio, who worked together to create a video for display at the event, recorded men answering two simple questions: What do you think of when you hear the word Vagina? and What does the word vagina mean to you? While the teaser for their video is, at face value, humorous (many of their subjects cringe and shift awkwardly when put on-the-spot), there is an underlying intent, and Kamphuis emphasizes, that the video “is not there to make fun of them. It’s funny, because it’s a word that they don’t use that much, and they have to think about it there and it’s very spontaneous.” Lotto Persio describes their intention of using humour as a way to navigate or break taboos surrounding female sexuality. “I think this helps going a little bit underneath the surface of the usual sexual jokes you would have. This is much more straight-on, you’re not using euphemism, you’re not using different words, you’re going straight to the point, and I think that’s a good way.”

Ultimately, the organisers hope to create an accessible and inviting environment for participants to engage in community activism and develop awareness of the cause. “For me, it’s about raising awareness and switching something in people’s heads,” says Lotto Persio. And even for first-time participants, the event is easily appealing. Says Müller, “I feel V-Day has an easy entrance into the topic of feminism. You can do a lot of dance or poetry, things that are really accessible to the audience. So I think this is why there is a great diversity in the people who come and attend it because they feel they can do something and relate to it.”

Sellwood agrees that “it’s a great conversation starter, and it’s opening up the conversation about equality. A lot of people kind of assume that everyone’s on the same page in terms of what we think about gender equality and violence against women, but I think actually there’s a lot of differences in how people feel.”

And, for those who plan to spend the day with a significant other, the organizers encourage a visit to the Women’s Museum. “I think it might be a very unique opportunity for a nice Valentine’s Day,” says Kamphuis. But, adds Lotto Persio, “It would be really nice if you just looked at this day, not really as Valentine’s Day, but just as another Friday and a Friday on which you can learn something more about female rights and gender rights and equality.” The event is designed, above all, to be fun, concludes Lotto Persio. “You can have fun with vaginas, but that, I think is something that everyone knows.”

Entry is a 20 DKK donation to Kvindemuseet. The event begins at 1pm, with the evening program and performances starting at 5pm. Visit https://www.facebook.com/events/286670538152322/ or kvindemuseet.dk for more information.

An Uprising of 1 Billion – Were You With Them?

On Friday the 14th, One billion people across the world rose up against gender inequality. Svanlaug Arnadottir took a look at what went on in Europe for Pandeia.

 Vagina Monologues: London

To promote V-Day’s ONE BILLION RISING FOR JUSTICE campaign, a special one-off performance of the Vagina Monologues 107474587_d00cbdcfa5_oby its creator Eve Ensler  took place last Friday. The play hailed by critics as “funny, poignant and a theatrical tour de force” has been running on and off for more than 16 years. Ensler’s work gives much thought to the mystery, humor, pain, power, wisdom, outrage and excitement buried in women’s experiences, through her interviews with over 200 women.

What is seen as her liberation of one word has become a movement of empowerment for women. V-Day’s campaign was a global call for women survivors of violence and their loved ones to gather safely in in places where they are entitled to justice. They create works of art that unshackle their stories and promote tolerance and diversity. V-Day in London was, as promised, a powerful experience.

Rise, Release and Dance in Reykjavík

Last year in Reykjavík over 2100 people came together in Harpa Music Hall in Reykjavik to rise up against violence against women, demanded justice and danced in unity for a better world. This year, the Icelandic Committee of UN Women raised the bar even further and gathered over 3000 people together to dance for justice. In cooperation with Lunch Beat Reykjavík and Sonar Music Festival the event took place in Harpa Music Hall at 12 pm –  Dj Margeir  made sure you could rise, release and dance with your heart and joy against violence against women.

Martial Arts in Oslo                                            

In Oslo, Norway citizens gathered and rose together at the Norsk Taiji Senter for a session of Tai Chi and afterwards moved to the streets of Kvadraturen.








V-Day: Sounds of Silence

Congo, Crime and Discrimination: Norwegian Fast News

The Olympic Comittee

The Olympic Comittee

Ingunn Dorholt gives a brief overview of last week’s dominating news.

Last week Norwegian media were anticipating the second sentence of the British/Norwegian ex- soldier Joshua French, who has been imprisoned in the Democratic Republic of Congo for almost five years. The final sentence has been postponed several times, most recently due to a report about his current mental health.

The case started in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2009, when the two Norwegians, Joshua French and Tjostolv Moland, were convicted for a number of charges, including the murder of their private driver, keeping weapons illegally, performing armed robbery and for attempting to start a private criminal association. The two Norwegians were sentenced to capital punishment on three court levels, however The Congo no longer performs actual executions. Neither of the men has admitted to committing the murder. Instead they claim that their car was attacked by a local group, who killed the driver.

The Norwegian foreign department sent an enquiry to Congolese authorities to have the two Norwegians  sent back home, but so far nothing has happened.

On 18 August 2013, Tjostolv Moland was found dead in his cell. Joshua French is now awaiting the sentence for the murder of his friend, as Congolese governments claim that he drugged Moland, and strangled him to death. The Norwegian police department Kripos, went to Congo to investigate the case, but did not find any reason to believe there was anything criminal behind the death. There were no traces of drugs in Moland’s blood.

Moland and French were running a private security company in Uganda. Their original plans in Congo are disputed, but anonymous sources within the military claim they were recruiting other soldiers to private armed missions around Africa.

Norwegian arrogance

Norwegian media are of course also busy following the Olympic Games in Sochi. Norway received two warnings from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) during the first weekend of the winter games, and the Norwegian representative in IOC, Gerhard Heiberg, has warned Norwegian contestants about their behaviour. He claims that “Norway is already known for being arrogant, and this is not exactly helping the image”. The first warning came after bronze-medal winner, Martin Johnsrud, decided to change skiing tracks just before the finish line. The other one was because the women’s skiing team were wearing black armbands as a symbol of grief, after one of the Norwegian skiers lost her brother on the night of the opening ceremony in Sochi. According to the IOC, the “Olympic competition is not an arena to show grief”.

Norwegian representative in IOC, Gerhard Heiberg.

Norwegian representative in IOC, Gerhard Heiberg

Inequality in insurances

Pandeia’s theme this week is Inequality, and equality has been a much debated topic in Norwegian media lately. It has been revealed that disability insurances are twice as expensive for women as for men. While Norwegian equality laws prohibit differentiating the genders in relation to car insurances, there is so far no law that prevents the insurance companies from making the distinction on other insurances. In 2011 the EU established a law that made such discrimination illegal. However Norway is not a part of the EU, and can choose whether or not to implement the law.


Photos: Martin Hafsahl and Sjur Stølen

Freedom behind the steering wheel

The Saudi movement ‘Woman2Drive’ has recently taken to social media as intensely as they will hit the roads on the 28th of December. The upcoming protest against the Saudi authority’s female driving ban, protests for women’s rights to drive. Ana Escaso Moreno translates Andreyna Valera’s article assessing the movement’s achievements alongside other struggles of Saudi Arabian women.

Worldwide, activists are supporting them; they are presented on social networks and internet in many different ways; they are even the reason Bob Marley’s song No woman no cry became No woman no drive – a viral video by a group of students seen more than 11 million times. The movement ‘Women2Drive’ went out sitting behind the steering wheel around the streets of Riyadh last October, violating unique Saudi law of female driving ban in the world. Saudi women filmed themselves while they were driving and posted their videos on Youtube afterwards. Those who were stopped by the police were kept in their cars until some male familiar arrived to ‘rescue’ them.


This is the on-going struggle that Saudi women face bravely. In 1990,  A precedent event saw forty-seven businesswomen and professors taking over Riyadh with their cars. Last year, ‘Women2Drive’ first came to prominence in the Saudi political sphere by uploading numerous videos of women driving.

The movement proved to be controversial. Religious adviser Majlis Al Ifta Al Aala responded to the campaign with claims that if women would be allowed to drive, there will be ‘no virgin women’ any more –  encouraging prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce. Furthermore, it was acknowledged that driving might cause ovary damages and infertility.

Achievements from the Saudi female fight

In the last few years, Saudi women have gained some progress. There is now women’s suffrage and the possibility of being elected in the municipal elections. Women will also now take part in the Majlis a-Shoura, an institution where the new laws of the kingdom are approved. Other achievements are that women are allowed to sell female lingerie – a job exercised by men until now, and the participation of two women in the Olympic Games of 2012. As the director of global initiatives at Human Right Watch, Minky Worden, said “the race for gender equality in Saudi Arabia cannot be won until the millions of women and girls who are now deprived of athletic opportunities can also exercise their right to practice sports.”

However, the restrictions placed on gender which remain are stark and, in some cases, tragic. In 2002, a fire destroyed a female school in Mecca, killing 50 girls. Mutawa, the religious police of Saudi Arabia, prohibited the rescue service’s entry into the school to save the girls, due to the fact that the children were not wearing the proper clothes- making it potentially ‘sinful’ to interact with them. This scandalous event generated changes in the educational system that women have been claiming for a long time.

The nightmare of new technologies

The life of Saudi women within the 21st century is quite similar to the world described by George Orwell in 1984. The richer and more powerful the country is, the bigger the step-back of Saudi women in terms of their human rights. Proof of this is in the latest initiatives proposed by the Saudi kingdom: when a woman is going to leave the country an SMS can be sent to any ‘representative’ of a woman to notify them of her departure. Before they travel the woman must have a document signed by their ‘supervisor’ –husband, father, brother or sons, in this order- to travel by themselves. The government’s argument is that authorising the new system is going to ‘accelerate’ the process in the airports.

This, of course, is related to the broader ethical debate of who has the right to track another human like a pet with a chip in its neck? The geopolitical hegemonic argument is also brought into question: namely, why the United States is so vehemently in support of similar demonstrations in the Ukraine and yet so silent on the tracking of women in the country with the largest oil reserves in the world? Obviously, economic interests come first and ethical ones come later. Questions have been raised as to why the US — the supposed world leader on human rights — is not able to stand up and speak out about the precarious situation of the Saudi women and the ‘golden cage’ that confines them.


Traditions reinforced: Italian media’s problem with the role of women

Protest against repression and oppression frizzetta_Flickr

Sofia Lotto Persio analyses how the Italian media has fortified gender inequality through decades-old stereotypes, and assesses the nature of the challenge facing female journalists today.

One woman dies every three days in Italy at the hand of either her partner or her former partner. This shocking statistic reveals a deep problem regarding gender inequalities in Italy.

Italy is still a patriarchal country in many respects. It is below the European average for gender equality. Women occupy only 30.8 per cent of the parliament’s seats and the number of working women is significantly inferior to that of men, despite women representing more than 50 per cent of the graduated population for the past 20 years.

There are significant cultural reasons for the underdevelopment of women in Italian society. The representation of women in media is perhaps one of the most powerful, yet disconcerting, examples of why Italian women are not as emancipated as those in other European countries, and why they so often die at the hands of their men.

Italian media – through advertisements, entertainment, information programmes and print material – portrays two stereotypical images of women: the good family woman, and the sexy mistress. Though different in many respects, both female stereotypes have in common a submissive character.

Women are expected to fit in either category. “Many studies show that woman are still discriminated in their family and at work,” says Olga, the pen-name of a journalist who started writing about her own experiences of mobbing in her blog The Pig at Work. “Women are victims of different kinds of violence, and yet there is a lack of adequate legislative and welfare measures.”

While this is not a phenomenon exclusively pertaining to Italy, it is a particularly severe problem in Italy. What else can you expect from a country governed for almost 20 years by Berlusconi, a man who is defending himself against accusations of consorting with underage prostitutes and organising sex parties in his mansion. This same man once replied to a young woman’s concern of never being able to find a job: “Marry a millionaire – with a smile like yours, I’m sure it won’t be too difficult.”

While the Catholic Church’s millennial representation of women as temptresses made the soil fertile for gender inequality, a further damage was done by more than 25 years of Berlusconi’s media empire. Berlusconi’s three television channels were pioneers in the exploitation and sexualisation of female bodies, from the 1980s to the present day.

There is a consolidated belief that in order to write about ‘women issues’ being a woman is enough!”

– Stefania Prandi, freelance journalist

Most Italian families dine while watching television. The channels at that time will feature either news programmes or entertainment quizzes. On the news programmes, the family will hear about violence against women. On the entertainment programme, the family can witness for themselves the objectification and sexualisation of the female bodies.

Dressed in often no more than a bra and underwear, girls participate in the programme by doing short, ever-sexier dances to please the audience and the presenter, invariably a man who is past his forties, and is fully-dressed.

But how does the step from objectification to violence happen? The author Jean Kilbourne stated that objectification is a way to dehumanise the other. If, in a relation, one party is dehumanised, there is a shift in power and the “dehumaniser” will count violence as one of the means to exercise its power and dominance over the other.

Sexual assault and rape is, in fact, an issue of power. The Italian media’s perception of it, however, is different. There is a widespread understanding and representation of sexual assault, rape, and female’s murder as “crimes of passion”. This is a standard phrasing used in almost every account of such crimes, used in both television and print, by female and male journalists alike.

Remembering victims of gender violee- Names, age, who killed her, date and place of death_ FlaVia_FlickrThis phrasing achieves two misconceptions: first, that the male perpetrator is the victim of forces beyond his will: he is never in control of his action. He is “depressed”, “jealous”, moved by a “rapture of insanity”; secondly, that the woman is somehow responsible in “inflaming” the passion, by either being too beautiful, or too mischievous, or simply too annoying.

“The media are mostly run by men,” says Stefania Prandi, a freelance journalist who is studying for a Masters in Gender Studies in Sweden. “They are an organic part of the sexist, patriarchal, misogynist, discriminatory, backward system.”

The images accompanying the articles reiterate this message. There are often stock images representing young girls wearing short skirts, passive victims needing protection. To illustrate the story of a 14-year-old girl who was brutally raped by 10 men, the HuffingtonPost.it initially used this picture, which was later changed after readers expressed outrage in the comment section. Another, minor, online newspaper ran the story of the rape along with this stock image, the caption crudely reading: “raped girl”.

“Very few female journalists – and no male journalists – have the sensitivity and understanding necessary to describe the seriousness and complexity of gender violence,” says Stefania, adding: “It seems only a few really study the issue. There is a consolidated belief that in order to write about ‘women issues’ being a woman is enough!”

Both Stefania and Olga agree that it is difficult for women to be working journalists in Italy. Olga has described these situations in detail in her blog: “It is extremely difficult for a woman, without any powerful connections to sustain herself with journalism, let alone have a career.” Stefania concurs: “There is widespread sexism and discrimination.” She continues: “This can be easily seen from the kinds of contracts stipulated and their compensations. We get penalised because we suffer sexual harassment, because we get pregnant and get fired, and because, ultimately, we are considered less worthy than men.”

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Photo credit (top): frizzetta [Flickr]

Photo credit (inset): flaVia [Flickr]