Women Around the World Share the Sexist Things They Can't Believe Still Exist
It's 2018, but women still face innumerable obstacles in their daily lives. In honor of International Women's Day, women explain what they'd like to see change in their home countries.
Nicoline Larsen, Denmark
I can’t believe toy stores still divide up toys in boys aisles and girls aisles. This isn't unique to Denmark, but I still don’t get why adults are trying to nudge kids towards playing with specific toys. Studies have shown that playing with dolls strengthens empathy in the early stages of a child’s development, so why are we only marketing them towards half the population? And why are cars, blocks, and the rest of the playthings that strengthen technical skills and understanding in the other corner of the store? When this concern is voiced in Denmark, it’s called out as an attempt to eliminate differences between the sexes. But it’s not about eliminating anything—it’s about giving everyone space to be who they are.
Clara Hernanz, Spain
The thing that pisses me off the most is that it’s 2018 and somehow we still don’t believe victims of sexual violence. In July 2016, an 18-year-old woman was allegedly raped by a group of men at San Fermin, Spain’s famous bull-running festival. Last December, the trial of the “wolf pack”—as the five friends accused of rape called themselves—shed light on an unfair and sexist legal system. Although it was later withdrawn, the court admitted into evidence a private detective's report into the victim’s personal life in the months following her assault. The aim? To prove that the victim had not suffered any trauma because she appeared happy in her Facebook posts.
Victim-blaming attitudes are like a punch in the gut. They remind me that a woman’s experience will be endlessly questioned unless she fits within a very narrow stereotype. Apparently, victims need to share their pain all over social media to make their rape credible. It makes me so angry that women have to go through this scrutiny, especially in a country that lacks rape crisis services and specific protocols for courts to handle rape and sexual assault cases.
According to government data, a Spanish woman is raped every eight hours. And yet, as a recent study revealed, sexism is so ingrained in society that one in four people between the ages of 15 and 29 considers gendered violence to be normal within a couple, and one in five think it is a politicised, exaggerated issue.
Elisabeth Efua Sutherland, Ghana
In Ghana, we actually have pretty decent laws when it comes to women's rights. But in practice, gender inequality is deeply rooted in our society. People have backwards attitudes when it comes to women and girls. And sexism holds back many girls from their education. Recently, some girls were banned from crossing a river while on their period, stopping them from getting to school.
As an artist, I often meet people who don't respect me because I'm a woman. But you get on with it. What we need is a deeper cultural paradigm shift to help rework the narrative some Ghanians currently hold relating to the role of women in our society.
Andreea Pocotilă, Romania
"She must have done something." Merely reading these words out loud hurts. When a woman in Romania is raped, beaten, or harassed, many men and women think these thoughts. What was she wearing? What did she say? What did she do? Read any article about how a woman was rape, or beaten by her husband. As you scroll through the comments underneath it, you'll find these words.
I have no doubt this happens more or less all over the world, but I think it is especially a problem for women here in Romania, where around 20,000 women are victims of domestic violence annually. Things are so bad that even the United Nations recently criticised Romania over its lack of commitment to tackling domestic violence—fining the country after it refused to punish a man who attacked his wife eight times.
Badar Salem, Palestine
I can't believe that the occupation [of Palestinian lands] still exists. Palestinian women still face physical violence, threats, and abuse at Israeli checkpoints. They are jailed without charge or trial under Israeli administrative detention, face unfair military trials, and live in inhumane prison conditions. Palestinian women in Israeli prisons aren't even allowed to see their families because of the restrictions on family visits. When they are allowed rare visits, they can't even hold their children because of the glass barriers installed.
Noor Spanjer, The Netherlands
I can’t believe the gender pay gap still exists in the Netherlands. Although discrimination is illegal under Dutch law, sexist structures that are deeply embedded in our society, and traditional gender roles that persist and aren't challenged by our government, mean that women still are paid less for the same work. According to 2016 figures, women are paid 16 percent less than men, meaning that women could stop working on November 3 each year—and for the rest of the year, they work for free.
Also, new dads (or other non-birth partners) get only two days of parental leave. This will extend to five days in 2019, but before this bill was passed earlier this year, our prime minister's party tried to block the proposals; they thought it was "not necessary" and described it as "controversial." As a result, mums work part-time a lot: in 47 percent of Dutch families, moms work part-time and fathers full-time. In only eight percent of Dutch families do both parents work either full or part-time. But even if you strip away the fact that women tend to work part-time more often, and work in less well-paid fields, there's still a gender pay gap of around 8 percent that can't be explained between men and women.
When will our government realize that inadequate parental leave is shameful, and that we are long-overdue for a change?
Puja Changoiwala, India
I can’t believe virginity tests still exist in India. I first learnt about the practice late last year. A news report revealed how a man was fighting to protect his fiancée from this community ritual. Angered and intrigued, I decided to find out more.
I got in touch with the man, and spoke to him at length. I learned that according to customs of his Bhantu community (a five million-strong nomadic tribe in India), the couple is asked to consummate their marriage on a white bed sheet on their wedding night. Members of the community council then check the sheet for blood. If the bride has bled, she’s assumed to be a virgin, and the marriage is officiated. If not, she is assaulted, publicly shamed, and the marriage is annulled.
The revelation left me stunned. We live in 21st century India. We're becoming a global economic power. And yet our social fabric is controlled by age-old customs that exploit and denigrate women.
As a journalist, I decided to write about the issue. But when I reached out to members of the community for my story, I was irked. One told me that, if such tests were done away with, girls and women would either get raped or go astray by indulging in pre-marital sex.
“It’s to protect our girls,” he said.
With that, once again as an Indian woman, I felt reduced to a vagina.
Jill Krajewski, Canada
On the “meanwhile in Canada” surface, it’s easy to assume everyone has it better here under our photogenic national leader Justin Trudeau. However, on International Women’s Day especially, we must recognize the historic and continued discrimination of Indigenous women and girls at the hands of the Canadian state.
We’re standing in the wake of nationwide protests demanding justice for Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old Indigenous girl who one Raymond Cormier previously admitted to killing in secretly-recorded conversations. A jury found Cormier not guilty, the second white man to be acquitted of an Indigenous person’s death in Canada in two weeks. It goes on: police force after police force after police force in Canada is under investigation for mistreating Indigenous women, including repeated instances of physical and sexual abuse. Indigenous women keep dying under state care all while a long-overdue national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls continues to run into delays and tensions with Indigenous families desperately searching for answers. The real “meanwhile in Canada” is a country that doesn’t prioritize the lives of its Indigenous population—especially non-men within it. Remember this the next time you see Trudeau’s smiling face on your timeline.
Laura Woldenberg, Mexico
Even now in the 21st century, a woman cannot make decisions about her own body, she continues to live in unequal working conditions, and she is still harassed and suffers from violence.
Although there have been significant advances, I find it hard to believe that there is not a #MeToo movement in Mexico. And as journalists, we are often not able to report on cases of sexual harassment in a way that generates a movement that resonates. On the contrary, some attempts to do so sometimes end up strengthening the profoundly macho discourse that prevails in our country.
Narrow-minded people aren't able to discern between the different degrees of harassment and its complexity. Defendants and victims are condemned by public opinion before going through due process. Sexual liberties are confused with sexual abuse, and a woman who enjoys her sexuality is called a whore.
I'd like to see a movement in Mexico that not only denounces sexual harassment, but also the different forms of violence and abuse that are so evident in our country. And I hope that this movement resonates not only with the privileged, but permeates through to all layers of society.
Lisa Ludwig, Germany
Last year, German gynecologist Kristina Hänel was fined 6000 euros. Her crime? She listed abortions as one of her services on her website and linked to further information on the procedure. Why? Because it's forbidden under paragraph 219a of the German criminal code rules to advertise abortions, as they’re still defined as a crime against life under German law. (Abortion, however, isn't illegal as long as it's in the first trimester of pregnancy and you receive counseling first.)
A petition to change the paragraph was signed by over 150,000 people, but as of now, paragraph 219a still exists, and gynecologists like Hänel can be prosecuted for simply informing women about their options.
Tiffany Mugo, South Africa
Whether or not you own your body seems to be a constant negotiation in South Africa. In the public and private sphere, women's bodies are often seen as something that's up for grabs.
Sexual assault is so normalized in South Africa that you could be on an average girls' night out, and three out of five women sitting around the table will have experienced some kind of trauma, often from a young age. Often sexual assault takes place in family homes, when older men assault younger relatives in cramped living quarters. Even former president Jacob Zuma has been accused of rape. Traveling around South Africa, men grab at you in taxi ranks and assaults in taxis are common.
In South Africa, the constant threat of sexual assault means that, more often than not, you're in the presence of a sexual violence survivor—or you are a survivor. On average, 109 rapes are recorded in South Africa every day. But sexual assault isn't a trending topic in our country.
There needs to be an acknowledgment of this brutality, and also a mindset shift: Both men and women need to change how we see sex, power, and the female body. But this will take dialogue, social and political will, and a lot of unlearning.