Happy International Women’s Week!

March 7, 2014 in Blog by Ellen MacAskill

This week Glasgow University has put on a full schedule of events to promote discussion, awareness and celebration in the run-up to International Women’s Day on the 8th of March. The ever-increasing consciousness of gender issues on our campus deserves such recognition, and the array of things going on has been testament to that. (I only wish I’d had Hermione Granger’s time-keeper to allow me to be at three seminars at once.) A big ‘thank you’ goes to Domi and Rob whose organisational efforts have been fantastic.

On Tuesday our meeting was attended by ex-GUAI member and qualified Amnesty speaker Elena Soper, who gave a presentation about women’s rights in Afghanistan. This is currently Amnesty UK’s specific women’s rights campaign. It was eye-opening to learn about how gender equality in the country went from an upwards trajectory, with equal suffrage being granted in 1919, to a complete backwards landslide following the Russian invasion in 1979. When the extremist Taliban regime commenced in 1996, female oppression was worse than ever before. Women were banned from working, studying, and even going out unchaperoned by a man.

When the UK and US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, many political figures justified the move on the grounds of supporting women. This is a highly contentious issue but, either way, women’s suffering is ongoing. Three years ago the country was called the ‘Most Dangerous Place to be a Woman’ by the Thomson-Reuters Foundation. Elena detailed some shocking case-study stories about activists who have dared to challenge discrimination by practising education and abortion, and faced consequences such as fatal violence against their family members.

Amnesty UK’s website has a lot more information about their activists and campaign actions: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/issues/Women’s-rights-in-Afghanistan

Our president Ruth then ran a workshop about socialisation and the media. We had a flick through a variety of magazines for different demographics and discussed how they represent (or do not represent) women. After being an avid reader of such boy-obsessed teen rags in my younger years, it was odd to revisit what I once took for granted. The lack of intelligent content in magazines for women and young girls is amazing. Just last week I was dismayed to open Q magazine, one of the biggest and most well-respected music publications, and see an advert encouraging readers to vote for ‘FHM’s sexiest woman’. No, thank you.

Lads mags and tabloids were another matter altogether. Ruth handed out sheets of misogynistic quotes. Once we all felt sufficiently nauseated by what we had read, she revealed that these were a combination of snippets from lads mags and quotes from convicted rapists. In a study*, men who did not know where the quotes came from said they identified more with the rapists’ sentiments. Due to the rapid growing-up process expected of teenagers today, ever younger boys are picking up magazines like Nuts and Zoo to educate themselves about sex, and this is what they are exposed to. Quotes that perpetuate and out-do rape culture.

*Links to the study: Reported in Jezebel; original research by University of Surrey

Our debate then turned to censorship and what we would like to be done about this harmful material. (A fortnight ago, after some of us were disappointed by what we heard at Cheesy Pop, ‘Blurred Lines’ was finally banned from being played at the QMU. The song has been known to trigger damaging responses in victims of sexual assault, and as such should not be played in a space which is supposed to be safe for students.)

On Thursday we were visited by the wonderful Eileen Maitland, Information Worker at Rape Crisis Scotland. She screened a film called ‘Consent’, about how our prejudices affect rape cases in court. It was part drama presented by actors, part documentary-style court case with real-life officials and jury. The most shocking aspect was the opinions expressed by the jury, who eventually voted to acquit the rapist. There was a lack of compassion and understanding, and constant diversions from the question at hand: whether or not the woman consented to the act. At one point before the trial, the (real) police officer said: “Just because it’s ‘not guilty’, doesn’t mean to say it didn’t happen.” This seemed to sum up the message of the film; that just because so few rape cases end in convictions, this is not because false allegations are disproportionately high for this specific crime. A change of public attitude would make a huge difference to the experiences of victims who are brave enough to report rape.

Rape Crisis Scotland are currently campaigning for women to be represented by a lawyer in court, as currently the prosecutor is only representing justice. They are also distributing information and statistics to promote the fact that false allegations of rape are no common than they are for any other crime.

To find out more visit: www.rapecrisisscotland.org.uk

If you are free tonight and would like to kick off your weekend with some all-girl theatre with ‘vagina’ in the title (who wouldn’t?) then join us in Qudos at the QMU for The Vagina Monologues. This cult show is being staged by students for the second year running. Proceeds go to Rape Crisis Scotland, plus our Publicity Officer Nikola is starring. Afterwards, GU FemSoc are hosting a feminist themed Cheesy Pop, complete with Lady Gaga and Katy Perry tribute acts. Suffragette and/or riot grrrl costumes optional.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the brilliant Ursula Le Guin:

“We are volcanoes. When we, women, offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.”

P.S. Congratulations to Domi our Ordinary Board Member who has been elected the SRC’s new Charities, Clubs and Societies Officer! We know you will be wonderful if you put even half as much passion into the role as you have done into Amnesty this year.