January 13th, 2010

A Feminist at Fifteen

Like many other 15 year olds, Iris Jin juggles school-work with her hobbies like reading, drawing and chess. Iris, however, is also making time to volunteer at AWARE. She is doing so because she’s concerned that society is still so steeped in patriarchal beliefs and gender stereotypes. She wants to do her part to promote awareness of the need for gender equality. Here is an essay Iris wrote about the ongoing fight for women’s rights.

feminist iconMen and women used to have very distinct roles in life.  The man was the head of the household whereas the woman was supposed to be submissive and nurturing.

However, in the 19th century, feminists began to challenge these views, and women gradually gained rights such as the right to vote. Women’s rights have come a long way since, but close inspection shows that women are still in a less preferable position.

The world is still, to a very large extent, ingrained in patriarchal beliefs and practices. Discrimination against and abuse of women   are, frighteningly, still rife in the developing world. The majority of the millions of poor and illiterate people around the world are female.

Enforced prostitution, female genital mutilation (FGM) and honour killing, which completely strip women and girls of any rights or self-respect, are still rampant in many parts of Africa and Asia.

Amnesty International estimates that over 130 million women worldwide have undergone some form of FGM, whereas another over 2 million are at risk every year.  Poorly educated, or totally uneducated, these women have no way to defend themselves and to break the vicious cycle.

In the developed world, the situation is strikingly better.  But bigotry, albeit less overt, is still a problem.  In Singapore, for example, we have had a number of cases of women being fired or encouraged to leave their jobs because they got pregnant.

In Europe, a fierce controversy raged when German chancellor Angela Merkel was pictured in a political poster in a low-cut gown.  People seemed more concerned about her cleavage than her capabilities as their leader.

There is still a long way to gender equality in society, and all the more so in the developing world. Concrete action is needed to bridge the disparity between the world we have now and the world we desire.

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