Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Are you a feminist?

For our first class of the semester, our professor requested that we come equipped with answers for the following two questions: “are you a feminist?” and “what does feminism mean to you?” I recall mulling over my answers in the days leading up to first period. I knew I was going to answer "yes" to the first question but was unsure as to what my reasoning would be. Now, some fourteen weeks on, after our many discussions, readings and documentaries, I feel confident in answering these questions with clarity and force.

I have become acutely aware of the gender issues permeating our society. I find myself critiquing the media more harshly, particularly when women’s physiques are addressed. The materials discussed in class e.g. the documentary “Missrepresentation”, have prompted this shift of mindset.

I used to not think twice when looking at women’s magazine covers, almost all of which advertise some ‘diet-tips’ or ‘exercise regime’ article. I now see through the transparency of these journalists and recognize that their sole desire is to target vulnerable women in the hope of boosting magazine sales. I have also gained insights in to my classmates’ similar mindsets through their well-articulated blogposts on these issues.

I particularly took offense to the “locker room talk” scandal which surfaced in the media towards the end of Trump’s presidential campaign. Had I been reading the reports back in my home country, Ireland, I most-likely wouldn’t have felt such intense outrage.  I would have deemed myself to be far-removed from the matter and thought it not to have warranted much contemplation. However, considering my knowledge gained throughout this class and hearing what my peers had to say on the matter, I felt more personally involved in the harm perpetuated by Mr. Trumps comments.

I decided to ask a few of my friends (other international exchange students here in Davis) the same two questions I grappled with in the beginning of this class. I was curious to see if their views reflected mine. The answers are given from three females and one male, all of whom have never taken a gender-studies class. (I have given my friends pseudonyms to protect their anonymity.)

Q1. Are you a feminist?
Q2. What does feminism mean to you?

1. Sort of, depending on how you define feminism.  
2. To me it should be the equality of men and women, particularly in terms of career opportunities and expectations. However, I do not support some radical feminism that goes against men to the point that it becomes sexist. Also, when it comes down to it, men and women are biologically different and feminism needs to understand this. Men will always be better at some things and vice versa.

1. I believe I am a feminist but I hesitate to classify myself as such because of the stigma attached to it
2. Feminism means equality for everyone. It strives for equal opportunities for men and women in all aspects of life.

1. I believe I am a feminist in a way but I am not a radical feminist
2. Feminism represents the belief that men are not superior to women, that everybody is equal and women are not stereotyped into one specific role/category in life.

1. I am a feminist because equality is the right thing to do
2. Right now feminism is associated with man-hating which is not something I’m on board with so sometimes I prefer to distance myself from the term ‘feminist’.

The above answers are not wholly dissimilar to the ones I gave. Much like my friends, I was only able to address feminism in vague terms. I shied away from discussing the topic in depth to avoid appearing frigid or being labelled a ‘man hater’. I can now take pride in announcing that I am feminist and can articulate my views with confidence. I believe that a large part of being a feminist is giving other women the freedom to make choices which I may not necessarily make myself.

These past fourteen weeks have benefited my legal education and enhanced my personal development. I now feel the obligation to pass on this enlightenment to my friends and family, encouraging them to push the boundaries which they may have sub-consciously set in their own minds surrounding the feminist movement.

Navigating Donald Trump's Election as a Nepali American Woman (Part I)

Looking back on my life, there have been many moments where my identity of being a mixed-race woman with an immigrant family has come to the forefront of my consciousness. From the frequent question of "what are you?" that I have learned to brush off over the years to the more shaking, like when a truck of men yelled at my family and I to "go home!" in the wake of 9/11. Most recently it has been the election of Donald Trump and the conversations that society and my peers are having in the election's wake. 

Back in August I traveled back to Seattle to visit my family, and the moment I got off of the plane and was in the car with my father he started talking about the impending election. Khizr Khan had just given his moving DNC speech, and my father could not stop talking about it. My father finally had someone speaking up in politics that shared his reality - a brown immigrant who loved the United States and the inclusive democracy it was supposed to stand for. However, even with the happiness of seeing Khizr Khan speak my father expressed how concerned he was over the election and his place in the country. I tried to reassure him that Trump had no chance of winning but he told me wearily "Joanie, the people that hate guys like me are the guys that will vote for Trump". 

Post-election my father's words now hold a sense of foreboding that I did not grasp at the time. My father's belief then, that if Trump were elected it would be because of animus and distrust of minority and immigrant communities, has been a topic highly discussed in media outlets in the aftermath of Trump's election. The media has also focused on something else which my father could not predict: that a majority of white women voted for Trump

Many different authors and articles have tackled the question of why so many white women chose to vote for Trump, a candidate who had been accused of sexual misconduct and had been recorded making comments saying he engaged in actions that would constitute sexual assault under the law. The Pew Research Center found that 62% of rural white women voted for Trump. This high percentage may be attributed to the appeal of Trump's populist message that hit home with a rural population, which the Center's previous study showed were concerned with a lack of jobs and financial anxieties prior to voting in the November election. What about the women who lived in large cities who did not feel the same financial pressures that the women in rural America did? The Atlantic looked at this question, and found the answer may lie in a multitude of explanations from party loyalty to a desire for change. But there is an explanation for a Trump vote that would cover all white female voters, "and that, of course, is a racist view of the world that privileges white supremacy over every other issue". 

Every white woman who voted for Trump had their own set of daily realities, problems, and ideas that motivated their choice. Some, maybe many, may not have done so because they actively hated immigrants. However, I am left with a pang of sadness in my heart. While animus may not have motivated a Trump vote, rhetoric that disparaged minorities and policies that threatened immigrants were not enough to stop them from voting. This has left me feeling disconnected from the country, realizing the majority of the United States does not fathom the issues I face as a mixed woman with an immigrant family. Or maybe they do realize it, and they just don't care. Soon I would face the harsh understanding that many of my peers and those at my educational institution were no different from the country at large that I now feel so removed from.

*Please stay tuned for Part II of this blog post where I will go into the conversations I encountered in the wake of the election at law school, and why I think intersectional feminism can be a helpful and guiding force in the future! 

Teaching's 2%: part 1

Think back through all of the teachers that you’ve had in your life.  For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume that you had one main teacher for every year of schooling from kindergarten to 12th grade; that’s 13 different people.  How many of them were women? How many were white? If you are like most American school children, those numbers would be 10 and 11 respectively. 

In undergrad, I was friends with a handful of future teachers, and one night one of them invited me to a movie screening that the Black Students Association was hosting about systemic racism in public education.  I had a casual understanding of most of the information that the movie presented, but one statistic jumped out at me, and I haven’t been able to shake it in the years since.  Only 2% of America’s teachers are black men. 

Seventy-five percent of America’s teachers are women, and 83% are white.  Along with nursing, teaching is one of the only professions to be dominated by women.  When women first broke into the work force, these fields were basically their only options for work.  As such, it came to be seen as women’s work.  This seems like a victory for feminism, but is it?

In the last few weeks of class, we’ve been focusing on some of the outlier effects of a patriarchal society.  The Mask You Live In documentary reminded me of that other documentary I saw back in undergrad.  Specifically the teacher, Ashanti Branch, talking about being there for his students and helping them learn a different type of masculinity than the one presented in popular culture. 

Black boys are in the center of a tension between that view of masculinity that the film explained to us and the way that students are expected to act by their white educators.  Black students are 3 times more likely to be suspended or expelled than their white counterpartsBoys are more likely than girls to be suspended in low performing schools.  Putting black men in teaching roles would likely help to close these gaps.  These men offer understanding and grace to students who remind them of what their own schooling was like.  There is evidence that children do better academically when they have ateacher who is their same race.  

While I still believe all children should be taught how to learn from people who are not like them, I don’t think that value should disproportionately affect minority students.  And if there’s a chance to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline, shouldn’t we give it all we’ve got? (

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Got any bruises from your last beating? Here’s how to hide them with makeup!

On November 23rd, 2M TV aired a makeup tutorial segment featured on their morning TV show Sabahyate. It is safe to say that usually, makeup tutorials do not get a lot of attention in the mainstream media or create any uproar. Although, this time, the tutorial went viral on the Internet and numerous newspapers published articles about it.

In the video, the makeup artist explains how to hide traces of domestic violence and demonstrates how to effectively apply concealer and foundation on bruises. While the artist is applying cosmetics on a woman’s fake bruises and marks, she and the host casually make the following statements, among other advice:
Make sure to use loose powder to fix the makeup, so if you have to work throughout the day, the bruises don’t show.
After the beating, this part is still sensitive, so don’t press.
We hope that these beauty tips help you carry on with your normal life. (The Washington Post)
2M is Morocco’s national TV channel owned by the Government of Morocco. According to 2M TV's website, they wish to promote gender equality and the deconstruction of gender stereotypes in their programs and policies. 2M even has publicly available guidelines in which they acknowledge the  national channel’s impact on Moroccan society and commit to value and present women’s image in a way that advocates for gender equality.

The show aired two days prior to the UN’s international day for the elimination of violence against women. Apparently, Sabahyate’s decision makers thought it would be timely and appropriate to broadcast a tutorial about hiding traces of violence. However, as soon as the segment was posted on the Internet, social media responded rather virulently. Moroccan people, as well as others, wrote outraged Tweets and posts. More than 3,000 people signed the ‘Don’t cover domestic violence with makeup’ petition that was launched in reaction to the segment. The petitioners wrote:
As Moroccan women and as feminist activists in Morocco, and in the name of all Moroccan people, we denounce the message of normalization with violence against women.
Two days after the show aired, on the international day for the elimination of violence against women, 2M released a statement on their Facebook page. The channel thanked the citizens who showed their vigilance through social media and explained:
Management believes that this segment is completely inappropriate and displays a lack of editorial understanding due to the sensitivity and seriousness of the subject of violence against women.
This approach is in total contradiction with the editorial identity of the channel and […] the commitment of 2M for 27 years in favor of the defense of women’s rights.
Considering the media’s influence and role as a national TV channel, it is somehow comforting to see that 2M reacted quickly and issued this apology statement – or 'clarification' as they named it. It is also somehow uplifting to witness social media’s force as a positive tool to denounce this type of insidious message. Perhaps this internet buzz could lead to more awareness about the issue of normalized violence, in a similar way to the Salvation's Army's ad campaign in which they used the Dressgate buzz to condemn abuse against women (more on this in this blog post).

Violence against women and domestic violence are sadly common phenomena. In Morocco, a 2015 national report found that almost two out of three women have suffered from gender violence. Of these two-thirds, 55% reported conjugal violence. In the US, according to The Huffington Post’s statistics, one in four women will be victims of severe violence by an intimate partner in their lifetimes, and a woman is beaten every nine seconds. These shocking statistics highlight how critical it is to raise awareness, to reject violence in any form and to take action. The makeup tutorial made violence look like it was an acceptable part of a woman’s everyday life. The show’s promotion of concealing bruises contributed to victim-shaming instead of blaming the person responsible for the beating. The video made it seem normal to camouflage bruises as part of a beauty routine. It is absolutely not normal and should not be presented as such.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Gurls Talk

Gurls Talk is a movement that strives to create a platform for girls to openly share their experiences and feelings in a safe and trusting environment. Gurls Talk was set up by Adwoa Aboah, the beautiful, British freckle-faced model who has experienced the hardest and darkest times of her life over the past two years.  She struggled with depression and addiction which amounted to an attempted suicide at the end of 2014.

Now sober, Adwoa is using her battle as a stepping-stone for other young girls. She has created a safe space for others to talk about the issues which every girl faces growing up from losing your virginity to getting your first period. Gurls Talk is a forum where female creativity is used as a tool for change. 

She first launched @gurlstalk on Instagram and now has a growing fan base of over 58K followers. As the current face of Calvin Klein and the former face of Topshop, she has turned the perceived 'glamourous' supermodel stereotype on its head. Her inspirational Instagram account addresses important feminist talking points with the aim of giving girls a voice.  

Adwoa snowballed on top of the success of her Instagram account by setting up the Gurls Talk website earlier this year. The site is a private page and invites girls of all ages to submit their questions/concerns/comments via email. From there she issues a response and welcomes them to a chat group of other individuals who are sharing similar experiences. Anonymous submissions may also be given. 

Gurls Talk is like the best friend every girl wishes she had growing up. The forum documents Adwoa’s road to recovery and speaks out on a range of issues such as body image, feminism, self-perception and empowerment. She cites the likes of Lena Dunham and Meryl Streep as inspirational role models,while giving out a healthy dose of inspiration herself:  
"You can be a mother of five [and] a business woman...You can be anyone you want".
This March, Adwoa’s best friend, model and actress Cara Delevingne also opened up about her battle with depression on twitter. The tweet explaining her rough patch of “self-hatred” was shared over 10,000 times. This highlights the absence of mental-health discussion in the public eye today.

Adwoa explains that the most important message she would like girls to take away from “Gurlstalk” is to “be vulnerable, open and true to yourself.” She wishes to shift society’s focus from the academic to the emotional. She passionately believes in this emotional/academic equilibrium which so many young women have lost in modern day society,
"... there has to be a middle ground between dealing with emotions and educating on mental health, addiction and eating disorders as well as teaching kids how to balance their time tables". 
In these turbulent times, it is very refreshing to see a passionate and emotionally aware role model like Adwoa Aboah. Let’s use this platform to speak up, we can all get involved in the conversation with the hashtag #letsgetgurlstalking. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

How to Respond to this Election - Part I "Everyday Activism"

The results of the 2016 election of Donald Trump had been affecting me for over a week before I found a way to articulate my sentiments about it. “Found a way” is incorrect; my emotions, one day, spilled out of me in a torrent of words that rushed like a river ice-floe. Along with many others in this country, I had been alternating between grief and helplessness, between anger and resentment, between despair and hope for seven days and then, finally, I spoke.

Though it was just to my partner Ben, alone in the car, what a relief it was to say:

“I’m despondent to live in a country who has elected a leader that, despite his feeble arguments to the contrary, has indicated that misogyny and sexual assault of women are more than OK with him. I’m terrified that my beloved compatriots from marginalized racial and ethnic groups can now be openly discriminated against and that all our efforts to reform police racism and ethnocentrism may be slowed. I'm sad that queer people might soon struggle to see same-sex partners in the hospital. I'm anxious for the future of our environment. And . . .” There were tears in my eyes now, “Last Tuesday I woke up believing that a woman could ascend to the highest position of power in this county. On Wednesday, I found, to my disbelief, that she can’t. Not yet. And perhaps she never will in my lifetime. I feel like women will be second-class citizens for much longer than I expected.”

I couldn't believe my own words, but there they were sitting between us as we speed around the curve of the 101 North into the Mission district of San Francisco. When we got to the Mission, I looked around at the brilliant multi-faceted community of that neighborhood. I thought of all the aspects of humanity that I love there. My thoughts went something like:

LGBTQIA folks of the Mission remind me that love and relationships can reach beyond prosaic boundaries. Thinking about them, I hear the opinions of Trump nominees like Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions echoing around my head. Rich cultural traditions bring amazing art, food, spirituality, and diverse thinking to the Mission. My stomach turns when I think of the sheer panic that many immigrants will now live in. The variety of race, skin tone, ethnicity, and background in collaboration makes the Mission a space of kinship and appreciation across differing experience. I am filled with anguish about the highly racist environment our president-elect seems to be vivifying. According to recent scholarship, American Latinas (the Mission is a highly Latino and Chicano community) have "rapidly surfaced as prominent contributors to the educational, economic, and cultural wellbeing of not only their own ethnicity, but of American society and the consumer marketplace." Despite the dynamic, impressive contributions that Latinas make to my world every day, all I can think of is how to respond to the devastation those women must feel.

Ben and I sat at dinner in sullen silence that night in the Mission, depressed about our nation.We'd chosen a lovely little restaurant to eat at, but we could only stare out at the vibrant neighborhood that we love, which suddenly felt under siege.

Over the next few days, I had the luck to be researching for a Mediation paper. The research largely focused on the work-arounds, negotiations, and maneuvers women have used to navigate the age-old imbalance of power in a "man's world". In my research, I discovered Professor James C. Scott, a political scientist who argues that everyday forms of resistance "are an integral part of the small arsenal of relatively powerless groups." He gives examples such as "foot-dragging, dissimulations, false compliance, feigned ignorance, desertion" and more that can act as potent negotiating tactics for those out of power.

I loved this idea! While I cannot deny Donald Trump's impending presidency because it's happening whether I like it or not, suddenly, I realized I could respond to it. I could respect our government, but at the same time, I could find my own "everyday forms of resistance" in keeping with a long female tradition of doing so. I was heartened to see that Jill Filipovic in Esquire, Matt Taylor in Vice, Jaya Saxena in the Daily Dot, and staff at Seattle's The Stranger have all been publishing hope along similar lines.

So, I intend to use this blog post and my subsequent post to recommend some ways that those of us who feel powerless, who feel overwhelmed --who believe in our government, but not in the hatred and small-mindedness that it seems to be sanctioning-- can react and respond.

Part I "Everyday Activism"

Here is a small list of the #smallacts that have gained traction. Perhaps our small acts can make meaningful, loving, large ripples.

1. Consider donating to Planned Parenthood in Mike Pence's name, as 50,000 people have done.
2. Learn how to talk to children about hate speech, as this new Equal Justice Society guide recommends.
3. If you live in California, consider volunteering/being an ally at one of the UC's AB540 offices, such as the Undocumented Student Center here at UC Davis.
4. Contact your senators to oppose Trump nominations and appointments of people who have disgraceful civil rights records (for example).
5. Support mayors who intend to keep their cities Sanctuary Cities.
6. Keep apprised of Trump's intention to scale back environmental regulation, and perhaps volunteer with orgs like the American Lung Association to raise awareness about clean air.
7. Remember that women all over the world are being oppressed, and may struggle with much greater persecution than people of female gender here in the US. Consider supporting women's rights in Rwanda, in Nigeria, in Bangladesh, and all over the world.

These are just small things, but they have helped me keep my chin up. I hope they help you too.

Stay tuned for Part II "Get Legal" !

Monday, November 21, 2016

The pressure to be thin

It is no secret that many women have unhealthy relationships with their bodies and, as a result, with the food they choose to eat. An estimated 80% of females in the United States are “dissatisfied with their appearance” and women, as a whole, are ten times more likely to develop an eating disorder than their male counterparts. The question must be asked: why are we so susceptible to these negative thoughts and ideas about ourselves?

The strong and, at times, overwhelming presence of the media in our lives puts enormous pressure on people to look and dress a certain way. The influential power it can have on society was outlined very clearly in ‘MissRepresentation’, and my eyes were opened to the considerable effect it has on my life and the lives of my peers. Having been introduced to this film I am now acutely aware of my reactions to certain images and concepts conveyed to me by the media and social media alike.

Fashion and body image have evolved over the years, and society has followed suit. Women aspire, sometimes unfortunately, to be like those portrayed by the media as “beautiful” and “sexy”.  It is unfortunate that we are swayed so dramatically by what we see when there is so much more to beauty. This video accurately depicts the varying definitions of the word throughout the ages. It would appear that we are just living in a time where our perception of the “perfect” body requires a great deal of discipline.

While the “old-school” forms of media are teaching us to aspire to look like celebrities, new forms of social media, such as Instagram, are influencing us to look better than our peers. . People are finding fame on this medium purely by being thin and attractive and having the "perfect bikini body". One girl tells the story of how Instagram negatively impacted her perceptions of her own body and worsened her eating disorder. The website has become a breeding ground for competition amongst women to such an extent that they feel the need to alter images of themselves. The burden has become so great that people edit and photoshop photos, transforming themselves into entirely different people.

This begs me to ask the question: have women been striving all these years to look a certain way so that they appear more sexually attractive, or are they merely doing so in order to outdo other women? On more than one occasion have I seen a fridge magnet or the likes brandishing the phrase:
“Dear God, if you won’t make me skinny then please make my friends fat”.
This suggests that women care less about their own appearance and more about how they are perceived relative to other women.

Women are often thought to be in constant competition with one another. It is rare that they are portrayed celebrating their peers. They are more commonly considered to be envious of others’ achievements. So, is it the case that, in relation to body image, the concern is not about gaining admirers but merely about outshining the rest of the competition?

Regardless of the motivation, the epidemic still exists and requires action. Perhaps if more attention were given to things other than one’s appearance, the issue would become less. Alternatively, if the focus shifted from loathing one’s body to adoring it and providing it with the nutrients it requires, then a healthier body image would be accepted.  

Monday, November 14, 2016

Abortion: right or privilege?

In Ireland abortion is unconstitutional. The Irish constitution, explicitly protects the right to life of the “unborn child” in its Eighth Amendment, which equates the life of a mother to that of her unborn foetus. This piece of legislation came about to reinforce the already stringent abortion regulations imposed on the country. The petition to ‘Repeal the Eighth’ looks to protect the rights of the mother o bodily autonomy. We must acknowlede that many of the reasons behind Ireland's strict abortion laws stem from the once very strong presence of the Roman Catholic Church in our country. In recent years, however, the grip of the church has begun to wane. Not all those that support the ban on abortion are doing so because they are devout Christians. Many do so because they genuinely believe that the termination of a pregnancy is murder, the life of the unborn foetus, who has no voice of its own, is to be protected.

In the aftermath of the recent presidential election it is evident that many of the U.S. natives I have encountered fear what is to follow this outcome. I have realised in this despair that many women fear whether their reproductive rights will change drastically. It is difficult for me to look at this despair and realise that a large part of what scares them is a part of my life at home, yet something that has never instilled such an emotion in me. 

In recent years, the Catholic Church has been the subject of many scandals, in particular the involvement of many priests in the molestation of children, leaving many Catholics struggling with their faith. The result of this was that reform was encouraged and celebrated in the country and things, such as the referendum to allow same-sex marriage, were celebrated. Considering these changes people became enlightened as to the possibilities that lay before them. Thus, the ‘Repeal the Eighth’ movement began.

Those in favour of the movement believe that abortion is a human right that should be made available to those in the Republic of Ireland. While the procedure is illegal there, no laws exist that refuse women the right to travel abroad for abortions to be carried out. Pro-choice supporters have acknowledged that, while this provides the women of Ireland with choice, it excludes the many who do not have access to the funds for such an excursion, thus excluding many vulnerable women facing unwanted pregnancy from this option. 

Many Irish celebrity figures have expressed their support in conjunction with the many civilians who are marching the streets in the hope that their rights will be recognised. However, while there is a large group in support of the campaign, there are also many that still favour the current laws. Abortion, to them, is fundamentally wrong and it would appear Donald Trump, the U.S. president-elect, seems to view it similarly.

Trump has expressed that he is likely to allow pregnancies to be terminated in a number of circumstances, but not all. He called for the punishment of those women who choose to terminate their pregnancies. This seemed to spark a great deal of outrage amongst the American people. It concerns me to see a nation that has made significant progress in such a controversial area potentially being forced to digress so drastically. It begs me to consider the question: is abortion a presumed right or is the choice a privilege for those to whom it is available?

Gender gap in Switzerland : when bad results lead to positive legislative changes

The World Economic Forum (WEF) publishes a yearly report on gender gaps. The countries covered in the report get a rank and a country profile. I first heard about the reports when I attended Saadia Zahidi's the WEF's leader on gender parity TEDxWomen talk in Lausanne last year. Her TEDx talk is a great way to learn about how the WEF evaluates the Global Gender Gap and other disparities (video available here).

In the past month, women in Europe stopped working earlier than scheduled in a symbolic gesture to denounce the wage disparity in their country (further information on this in the blog post Mind the gap). Sadly, a new trend of  western countries experiencing deterioration in their overall gender equality situation seems to emerge.

Switzerland was number 8 out of 145 countries in the WEF 2015 Gender Gap Index.  We could argue that this ranking is not that bad, especially since it was number 26 back in 2006. However, Switzerland's overall gender inequality is worse in 2016 than in 2015. The country's rank is now 11 out of 144. The fact that gender inequality is actually worsening in this mostly privileged developed country is truly preoccupying.

A particular area of concern for me is the salary equality. The principles of equal pay for equal work and the prohibition of discrimination based on gender are enshrined in the Swiss Federal Constitution since 1981, as well as in in the Gender Equality Act since 1996. However, despite the legal principle, Swiss women still earn on average between 15 and 20 percent less than their male colleagues, according to The Local. Moreover, a recent and alarming Glassdoor survey found that 1 in 10 Swiss men do not think that men and women should be paid equally.

The Gender Equality Act (GEA) has been in force for 20 years. Yet the gap is still widening. The new WEF report caused great shock and media coverage in Switzerland. Consequently, the Swiss Government proposed a modification of the GEA on October 26th. In a press statement, the Federal Council
announced plans to make companies with at least 50 employees conduct the reviews of their pay policies – which would be checked by an external auditor. Following a consultation period, it has been decided to put that plan to parliament next summer.
Half of the parties involved in the consultation had come out in favour of the idea. But most had disagreed with the plan to publically name and shame companies with pay inequalities. Cabinet has therefore agreed to shelve that part of the plan in its bill (
In September 2016, a member of the Federal Council launched a nonbinding Charter for equal salary in the Swiss public employment sector. So far, the Swiss Government, as well as 10 cantons (a canton is equivalent to a US state) and 15 communes signed the Charter. Signatories agree to inform their employees about the GEA thoroughly, to regularly analyze the salaries, to introduce control mechanisms and to inform the public as well as the Federal Bureau for Equality about their results and data. When introducing the Charter, Alain Berset, head of the Federal Department of Home Affairs, expressed his convincing belief that
The public sector must be an example when it comes to salary equality (The Local)
Initially, the WEF 2016 report made me reconsider Swiss laws and policies in a new light. I was disappointed and concerned by the results and the worsening of gender inequalities. However, I am now pleasantly surprised by the Swiss Government, which took steps in response to the WEF report. It is even more surprising because it usually takes a lot of time for legislative change to happen in Helvetia. Public entities taking a stance this quickly is a good sign and, hopefully, they will indeed be an example for the private sector.

The Swiss people will probably have to vote on the GEA revision in the coming year, which means that the media and politicians will extensively discuss gender equality prior to the popular vote. It makes me hopeful because the authorities and media could easily have ignored the new WEF evaluation. Of course, the way toward equality is still long, but the Swiss authorities seem to take steps in the right direction. Will employers do the same?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Mind the gap

Western countries have been grappling with the issue of gender pay inequality since the second-wave feminist movement in the 1960s. Despite our progression in other areas such as maternity leave, the gender pay gap has remained a sad reality across the developed world. 

Statistics show that women in America earn eighty cent for every dollar earned by a man. This presents a pay gap of 20%. The 2016 report “The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap” projects that at the rate of change between 1960 and 2015, women are expected to reach pay equity with men in 2059. (That equates to, dare I mention it, over ten presidential terms!) 

The twist of the knife comes with the realisation that women of colour experience an even greater wage gap: In 2013, African-American women working full time, year-round were paid only sixty-four cent to the white-man's dollar.

This issue has recently caused a public outcry in France. Eurostat's figures for 2014 show that French women's salaries are 15.1% less than that of males. The French feminist group Les Glourieuses stated that 
This difference in salaries hides other inequalities. Women also do other unpaid work like household tasks.

The feminist group calculated that if women earned the same as men in France, they could stop work each year on Monday November 7 at 4:34pm and be no worse off than they are now. This week, institutions such as Paris City Hall joined the protest and stopped work to highlight the wage disparity between men and women.

This new stance against such inequality excites me. Women are sending their message loud and clear, while maintaining their poise and dignity. How can government officials argue when women are simply performing the work which their wages merit?

A near-identical protest took place in Iceland this week. Even in the country which experts consider to be the world's leader in gender equality, the pay gap persists. Last Monday November 7, thousands of Icelandic women left work at 2:38pm (14% early) to reflect the country's 14% pay gap.

This issue stems beyond the typical careers of the labor market. Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence has bravely addressed Hollywood's ruthless gender pay gap. She opened up to Diane Sawyer on gender inequality within the showbiz industry when hacked e-mails revealed that she was paid less than her male counterpart in the critically-acclaimed 2014 film "American Hustle".

Jennifer confessed that she had fallen in to the trap which so many American women are lured in to by their male superiors. She explained that when Sony told her of the salary difference, she smiled and nodded so as not to "appear spoiled or difficult." As women are in equal, if not higher demand in the film industry, this sparked bewilderment.

It is clear from recent years that we are no longer naive to this blatant discrimination against women in the workforce. The issue has been placed under a white-hot spotlight and can no longer be avoided.

It is motivating for myself as a young woman to witness other women around the world facing this archaic concept head-on. Whether it takes years or decades, I believe that there will come a time where women can earn equal and in some cases, more, than men. Change is imminent. You might call my ambition absurd, but so is the pay gap.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Young M.A.: Queer, Female, and Spitting Game

Feminism's clash with rap is not a new phenomenon (as highlighted in this previous post), but the talented artist Young M.A. and other queer women are claiming the genre for themselves and challenging our conversation on misogyny in rap music.

Young M.A. first gained popularity when her song "BROOKLYN" (Chiraq Freestyle) was released in 2014 and her song "OOOUUU" from the summer of 2016 has reached over seventy million views on YouTube. As this recent article pointed out, when listening to her lyrics for the first time two things will likely jump out to you as the listener: that she is woman rapping about other women. For example, the music video for her song "Summer Story" depicts scenes of Young M.A. singing while holding on to another woman, and the song itself contains lyrics such as:

 I’ma ride for my bitch, do or die for my bitch
Fucked around a few times on my bitch, woah
She said I don’t have no loyalty
Just cause the pussy just be calling me
And she don’t think I love her even when I say I love her

These lyrics also show how Young M.A.'s music does not depart from the objectification of women, violence, and the hustle that other street rappers are known for. For this she has not escaped from criticism, most notably from a social commentator Dr. Boyce Watkins who said in a Facebook post the he wonders "what kind of trauma has this society imposed on this poor child to make her think this is normal behavior?" and that he "would encourage her to use her talent in a way that will empower her". Yes, Young M.A. has undoubtedly suffered trauma that informs her song lyrics, but who are we to say that her music as it is now isn't empowering for her? And empowering other queer women of color who do not see themselves represented in rap?

In an interview with The BoomBox Young M.A. told the interviewer how when she first started out in the music industry she tried to be more feminine because of "how the game was, there was no dyking, none of that". Unhappy being told to be someone she wasn't, Young M.A. left the music industry until the passing of her brother, when she used music as a coping mechanism, and this time rapping and representing herself the way she wanted. Staying genuine to who she is has not come without scrutiny and hatred from the public, and she says that people often comment "What is this he-she?" In fact, while googling her upcoming album, google showed people also asked "Is Young M.A. a girl?" In the face of criticism and the weight of being an out lesbian rapper in the industry, Young M.A. brushes negative comments off, to her "its like a splinter, it doesn't affect [her] at all." 

Young M.A. finds her self in the company of other queer female hip-hop artists who are breaking out on the scene, and providing a new voice in music. While her music may perpetuate the violence and objectification of women that hip-hop and rap has been criticized for, it cannot be denied that she is pushing the boundaries of rap music. Young M.A. describes sex and relationships from a queer women's perspective, and represents herself as a strong woman that does not conform to the music industry's presumption of how a woman should dress or act. Her next album that is slated to drop is fittingly titled Herstory, and will hopefully give us a deeper look into Young M.A.'s life and the unique voice she brings to rap.