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Issue #1676      March 11, 2015

Proud to call myself a feminist – You should be too

Shami Chakrabarti argues that backing feminism is indivisible from supporting human rights

He quickly responded, cross and full of indignation, that men could be feminists too. I’m not too big to be corrected – even by my own son – so I quickly agreed, but asked him whether he was a feminist.

Entertainment at Sunday’s Communist Women’s Collective public meeting, Sydney. (Photo: Donna McLaren)

He thought for a few moments. “Yes,” he finally replied, “but not diehard.” I’m going to spend the next few years working on developing the “diehard.” More seriously, I struggle to understand why so many in this generation have such a problem with the “F word.”

I passionately, profoundly believe in gender equality and my feminism is indivisible from my belief in human rights. Global in reach and millennial in duration, gender injustice is the greatest, oldest and most entrenched injustice on the planet – an apartheid that crosses continents and cultures.

We should, and must, be impatient for change. As we look forward to the centenary of the Representation of the People Act in 2018 I worry that Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters wouldn’t be very impressed by the progress of the Chakrabartis in the past 100 years. We’ve come far – but not far enough.

One of my favourite books of last year was Rachel Holmes’s wonderful biography of Eleanor Marx, the great feminist, internationalist and trade union founder who was so much more than her father’s youngest daughter.

This tireless campaigner, who was committed to collective rights, believed that feminism was for all women, not just the privileged or the property owners She died over 100 years ago, 20 years before women won the vote, and her attitude appears more progressive than many today.

My rights are your rights and if yours are diminished, so are mine. In Britain there are some who want to move away from human rights standards.

The Conservative Party’s plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a so-called “British Bill of Rights” are clearly intended to diminish the rights of everyone in Britain – and the hardest hit will be the most vulnerable. As history has shown, the most vulnerable are often women, disadvantaged by a lack of wealth, power or agency.

This remains true today, where modern slavery, domestic and sexual violence, trafficking, pay inequality and lack of public representation exist within a climate of “everyday sexism” which reaches every woman in the country.

Here at Liberty, we have seen a woman who was repeatedly gang-raped and tortured in the Democratic Republic of Congo locked up like a criminal in an immigration detention centre for almost two months.

We intervened in the case of Joanna Michael, who was brutally murdered after her desperate calls to the police about her violent partner were mishandled.

We represented the sisters of Anne Marie Ellement, a Royal Military Police Officer who killed herself after she alleged she was raped by two colleagues.

We have helped a trafficked woman who was forced to work without pay or rest and was physically and sexually abused by her “employer.”

Extreme examples maybe, but these cases highlight the many human rights issues which still disproportionately affect women across the world.

Gender injustice is so embedded in our society that sometimes we stop seeing it. We accept the rows of men sitting in Parliament or the latest gender pay gap figures with a shrug and a sigh. It’s time to wake up, give ourselves a shake and confront those content with the status quo.

But despite this I believe that the feminist movement is alive and kicking and that it helps all of us, women and men alike, as my son identified. A healthy awareness of feminism can return the glare of injustice to these common and not-so-common inequalities.

Awareness is just a first step but it is vital if we’re to achieve any sort of meaningful change.

We must keep our eyes open and our hands on the tiller, promote supportive networks and rejuvenate our collective energy. Because change must come – we can no longer afford to be complacent.

The five speakers at Sunday’s Communist Women’s Collective public meeting – left to right sitting, Jane Brock, Kat Armstrong, Dr Thalia Anthony, left to right standing Mich-Elle Myers,Veronica Cartaya & Maria Hillario. Exerts from their speeches will appear in next week’s Guardian.

Women are already extraordinary, powerful campaigners and agents of change. It’s just that so often they change things on others’ behalf.

You only need to look at Doreen Lawrence or Janis Sharp, mother of extradition-threatened hacker Gary McKinnon, to see that we already own the drive, passion and skills to transform our world.

On this International Women’s Day I am proud to be a “diehard feminist” and I believe that saving the Human Rights Act is essential to women’s protection in Britain.

This year will be a challenging one for all of us but, as a feminist, I can tell you that I’m up for the fight.

Morning Star

Next article – Poem – Flor

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