It’s Still Sexist Discrimination and It’s Still Not A Mancession – A Global Round-Up

So, yesterday, I blogged about culture and misogyny (and on this same subject, you should all read this). Today, let’s me line up a few items that clearly highlight the consequences of misogynistic culture, as embedded in social structure in the form of sexist discrimination.

Item the first something that will not surprise anyone because we tend to take misogyny for granted when it comes from the periphery, so no one will be shocked to know that to be a woman journalist in Somalia is a landmine:

“As a woman, you are then left to choose between career and family since if you choose the former, there is the risk of being banished by your family. A typical Muslim man would prefer a housewife to a journalist who travels a lot and has odd working hours. Even if you persist, you are not meant to interact with men other than your husband and immediate family members. As a reporter, this poses a challenge, to say the least.

When I started as a journalist, my editor did not fully grasp the limitations that come with my culture. But after constant pestering from my parents to fire me she got the message! (Sometimes now, she is careful when determining where I should go and what I should do, though I like to push.) To do my job as an investigative journalist properly stories often require days on the road. And this has led to a constant war between my parents and myself, not helped by some stories, on more than one occasion, almost getting me killed.

Recently, I wrote a series of stories on the al-Shabaab group, “the Taliban of Somalia”, a series for which last week I was lucky enough to receive an award. The series dealt with men of Somali descent, raised elsewhere, often the US, “returning” to fight for al-Shabaab. I was travelling with recruits from different countries, heading towards Mogadishu, when we were surrounded by some of the militia.

They did not care much about who we were and seemed happy for the men accompanying me to get on with their work but my presence as a woman offended them. I wasn’t married and had no relation within my group– reason enough for punishment, even execution.

There then followed an eight-hour ordeal in the hands of the militia group. They had guns fixed on my head, while smashing my belongings and discussing among themselves just what sort of punishment was fitting. The elder of the group finally decided that I should be killed and only the intervention of a contact that I had previously made, arguing vigorously in my favour, saved me.

Every single time I do any Somali-related story, to avoid problems with the family and immediate relations I choose never to disclose where I will be going and who I’m travelling with. It’s perhaps then not a surprise that there should be such a small number of women in the Somali media And those who survive are more likely to work as radio presenters, not needing to go out and get stories. Even then, there can be problems. Bhajo Mohamud, who was a reporter in one of the radio stations, has had to leave the country and even in exile still gets threatening calls.

Beyond the particular problems of the Somali community, there’s a general scarcity of women in our newsrooms, making it difficult for burning issues to be discussed from a female perspective.

Catherine Gicheru, a distinguished woman journalist and the managing editor of the Kenyan Star, says that a female journalist has to work extra hard so that nobody says she can’t do this or that. “You must be willing to take anything that is thrown at you in order to survive in the career.””

And yes, male reporters might face dangerous situations as well but no, they do not face the same kinds of obstacles that women face in the same profession. For starters, they do not have to prove themselves the way women have to.

Item the second, a form of discrimination that always takes place, quite “naturally”, in bad economic times:

“An engineering firm in northern Italy has sparked controversy after making almost half its workforce redundant – and selecting only women.

A union official quoted the company as having reported to the small businesses association: “We are firing the women so they can stay at home and look after the children. In any case, what they bring in is a second income.”

No one at the company, Ma-Vib, which is based in Inzago near Milan, could be reached for comment.

With Italy’s prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, on trial for paying an underage prostitute, there is a continuing and lively debate over the status of Italian women, which some international surveys suggest is abnormally low in comparison with the rest of Europe. In February, there were demonstrations in more than 250 cities around the world in defence of the dignity of Italy’s women.

“In this country, at the government and company level, there is always the same old thinking – that it is preferable that women stay at home”, said Maria Sciancati, general secretary of the FIOM engineering union.

There was condemnation too from the equal opportunities councillor in Milan’s conservative-led administration. Cristina Stancari, who once worked in Berlusconi’s press office, said the firm’s action showed “discrimination and an utter lack of respect for women – a return to the past that cannot in any way be justified”.”

And if you think it has to do with Italian Macho culture (as the article itself notes), think again:

“Many leaders in business and politics profess to want to employ and promote women. But a decade of earnest vows from the corporate sector has not dented male-dominated Deutschland AG

“Germany is good at structural reforms, but not at cultural reforms,” said Thomas Sattelberger, human resource chief at Deutsche Telekom, which in spring 2010 stunned fellow members of the DAX 30 index by announcing a voluntary goal of 30 percent female managers by 2015.

“There is a very traditional image of women and men that was taken to an extreme in the Third Reich: female mother cult and male fraternity. These mental stereotypes have not yet been culturally processed and purged.”

Alice Schwarzer, founder of the magazine Emma and perhaps Germany’s best-known feminist, likens this mindset to “a leaden blanket across all of German society.”

Despite a battery of government measures — some introduced in the past year or so — and ever more passionate debate about gender roles, only about 14 percent of German mothers with one child resume full-time work, and only 6 percent of those with two. All 30 DAX companies are run by men. Nationwide, a single woman presides on a supervisory board: Simone Bagel-Trah at Henkel.

Eighteen months after the International Herald Tribune launched a series on the state of women in the 21st century with a look at Germany, the country has emerged as a test case for the push-and-pull of economics and tradition.

For the developed world, Germany’s situation suggests that puzzling out how to skirt or remove enduring barriers to women’s further progress is one of the hardest questions to solve.


According to Mr. Sattelberger at Deutsche Telekom, corporate rituals from recruitment to promotion to working hours retain a whiff of the 1950s, and male networks remain close-knit.

“In the DAX companies, the old social order is the most pervasive,” said Mr. Sattelberger. “This is a place where male dominance, elitism, power and money all come together.”

A 2009 study commissioned by the Ministry of Family illustrated this bias. The Sinus Sociovision institute in Heidelberg surveyed male and female managers in German companies and identified three patterns of thinking among male bosses: Those who simply don’t think women are cut out for it; those who think they are, but fear their colleagues don’t and worry about cohesion; and those who say that in theory gender does not matter but in practice women who make it “overcompensate” and are not “authentic.”

The upshot, says the director of the institute, Carsten Wippermann, is that women who qualify in the view of one type of manager are automatically disqualified by the view of another. “Men can think of reasons against having women on boards and in executive committees,” Mr. Wippermann told the German weekly Die Zeit. “But none in favor.””

And it is not just a matter of the usual occupational, glass ceiling-types of issues of privileged women. For example,

“Of the millions of dollars spent on climate change projects in developing countries, little has been allocated in a way that will benefit women. Yet, in Africa, it is women who will be most affected by climate change.

According to United Nations data, about 80 percent of the continent’s smallholder farmers are women. While they are responsible for the food security of millions of people, agriculture is one of the sectors hardest hit by climate change.

“There is a lot of international talk about climate change funding for local communities and especially for women, but not much is actually happening,” says Ange Bukasa, who runs investment facilitation organisation Chezange Connect in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Bukasa was one of the delegates at the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) 2011 Partnership Forum, which was held from Jun. 24-25 in Cape Town, South Africa.

The Climate Investment Funds (CIF), established by the World Bank in cooperation with regional multilateral development banks, provide funding for developing countries’ climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.

Since their launch in 2008, the CIF have allocated 6,5 billion dollars to climate change projects in 45 developing countries. More than a third of the money went to 15 African states.

But most of the money – more than 70 percent – is financing large-scale clean technology energy and transportation projects. These are traditionally male-dominated sectors of the formal economy.

Only 30 percent is being spent on small-scale projects that directly benefit poor, rural communities and thereby potentially improve women’s livelihoods.

Experts at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) warn that the funds could run the risk of perpetuating existing gender imbalances.

To take into account the gendered nature of energy consumption and domestic labour patterns in a resource-poor context, women need to be consulted when designing and implementing climate change mitigation and adaptation initiatives, they say.”

Which is a combination of the fact that global institutions (those more or less in charge of development, UN agencies, World Bank, IMF, WTO) are not exactly bastions of gender awareness along with patriarchal culture on the ground.

So, there is no doubt that the main source of resistance has nothing to do with the women but with patriarchal culture and sexist discrimination that is present in the most common interactions and not just at the structural / macro level:

“Thin and shorter than average, Sandra has a delicate face and long hair that she styles in curled braids and purple hair bands. At work, she pulls her hair up and keeps it covered so the sand does not turn it “stiff like dreadlocks”. Whenever a construction worker makes fun of her long nails, Sandra fires back: “These hands work the same as yours, dear. Sometimes better.” And then she adds: “Men, what are you good for anyway?” This is one of her favourite lines since she finished building her own house, where she lives with her three children.

Sandra is one of 20 women who learned the basics of the building trade, thanks to Lua Nova, a non-profit organisation that helps pregnant women facing high-risk situations like homelessness, drug addiction and domestic violence.

She grew up begging for money at traffic lights in São Paulo, Brazil’s richest and most populated city. Her mother abandoned the family after her younger sister died at age four from stomach worms. Sandra moved into her aunt’s house, where she was again forced to beg for money and where she suffered beatings if she came home empty-handed.

The first time she got pregnant Sandra was 19; she received no help to care for her children. In fact, her aunt’s family made several violent attempts to sabotage her pregnancies. It was only while working as a maid that Sandra’s employer noticed her bruises and constant pain. She called a friend who worked at Lua Nova and told her Sandra’s story. By the time she went to the association, her cousins had kicked her, thrown boiling water on her belly and forced her to swallow Cytotec, a drug illegally used to induce abortion in Brazil.

Sandra’s story is no worse than most of the 60 women helped by Lua Nova, which means New Moon – a reference to the invisible potential of these mothers. While the women are pregnant, the association provides shelter in a quiet, rural area near Sorocaba, a city with half a million inhabitants 100km from São Paulo. Twenty-six women live at the shelter, while 34 live off-campus and continue to work on the income-generating projects the association provides. Sandra was 20 when she arrived to find a bedroom, a cradle, diapers, food and all the basic necessities for her older children.

After giving birth, the women participate in income-generating classes. Sandra chose construction. She registered for the first class back in 2006, when male teachers from a well-known training school in Brazil were still arguing that women were incapable of learning the trade.

Raquel Barros, the psychologist who founded Lua Nova, managed to convince the trade school to give the women a chance. For the first few weeks, all the teachers did was joke and flirt with the women. Not only did the women meet resistance as they aimed at a market dominated by men, but they faced the social stigma of being single mothers learning a traditionally masculine trade in a Latin American city with a strong Catholic influence. “In their minds, we will always be outcasts,” Sandra sighs.

Against the odds, the association insisted on the classes, and the 20 women enrolled learned a variety of building techniques such as plumbing, painting, wiring and tiling. Meanwhile, Raquel built a brick factory as part of the association’s project incubator. The women began to make bricks for their future houses and sell the surplus to buy other materials. Once they had enough bricks, 16 women joined forces to build 20 houses.

New machines have been brought into the factory to speed up brick production. The idea is that the women sell the bricks and earn a portion of the profits. They already have five orders for a total of 60,000 bricks. The Lua Nova brick is eco-friendly. Because of their shape, the bricks fit together like Lego pieces and do not require as much mortar. Four women have so far opted to become full-time builders. They are either employed by big companies or work as freelancers, depending on demand. Raquel says: “At first they were hired out of pity and were paid lower wages. Now, people are recommending their services because they are meticulous, extremely careful with the grouting and better organised than the men.””

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