The past week has been totally overwhelming and totally awesome. I’ve been summarising my notes from each day for a select audience of my friends and family, so here are some of the highlights from my summaries of the first 5 days; some square brackets with my extra meta-thoughts on re-reading this stuff; and, to start off with, some key thoughts I have in general. Enjoy the madness and excuse the messiness, this is what my brain looks like now!
- The best sessions have been those with a call to action for us as individuals; the most boring have been those run by official governments of countries that are not great on gender equality, since they just drone on about how great they’re doing even though everyone in the room knows they’re lying [is it still lying if the speaker kind of believes it themselves?]
- Everything is hopelessly interconnected, and governments and NGOs trying to address issues need to acknowledge this and deal with it.
- It is AMAZING to be spending time with my fellow delegates – we struggle to get to bed before midnight because we have so much to discuss that our regular social networks don’t let us get out.
- New York is cool to visit but I no longer dream of living here – London is where it’s at y’all.
Day 1, official side event run by Iceland
- Nottinghamshire police decided to protect gender from hate speech – put up posters encouraging women to report street harassment, groping in bars, any of the everyday sexism which we have all experienced but just have to accept. About 150 reports in 18 months, very successful.
- Debate in Parliament about whether or not to expand this system nationwide linked this kind of everyday “acceptable” sexism to more extreme violence – rationale for preventing it at the roots through police action and accountability rather than letting it escalate. [PLEASE let’s get this in NZ, I’m so sick of catcallers!]
Day 2, NGO parallel event on media
- Media domination by white American men. We pay attention to our physical diets but we never check the ingredients of the tv we’re watching - distortions in our perception. Creation of a culture that is conducive to a culture of sexual harassment and violence that affects all genders.
- 80% of global film media made by USA. 62.7% made by white American men.
- What can you do? Use Bechdel test when choosing your media. As an aside, films that pass this end up earning more, and women-led films earn 16% more than male led films. Choose media that is made by women. Call film fests and ask for 50% to be directed by women. Use your voice and your purchasing power. Go to opening weekends of films made by women to boost their box office power. And just stop watching things that are not diverse on both sides of the camera!
Day 3, another NGO event: Why do so many feminists love sexist Korean dramas?
This was 100% my fave event of the day. Run by YWCA Korea, it explored the sexist narratives prevalent in K culture, the reasons why these are so problematic, and why it remains so popular across the globe.
YWCA Korea started a media monitoring programme in 2013 with the (small financial) support of the Ministry for Gender Equality and Family. Volunteer monitors watched different target programmes each month and recorded the number of men vs women, the roles portrayed by men vs women, and any glaringly sexist tropes they noticed. YWCA Korea then sent the results of this research to all involved parties in the industry and in the governmental sector – anyone who could make change. Funnily enough, not much has happened yet, but YWCA Korea is continuing to press the issue.
They closed the session by showing us clips from K dramas and asking us to ‘fix’ them so that the narrative stayed consistent but lost the misogyny – romanticised clips of men kissing women to silence them, convincing women to have sex with them using terrible philosophical arguments (think male undergrad philosophy student wearing fedora), and freezing time on their girlfriend walking away after a fight so they could walk over and kiss her while she was frozen. I answered this question up the front with a mic (woo!) – basically all these scenes needed was to be talking scenes not fight/kiss scenes – once the conflict was resolved by the guy actually listening and respecting the girl, then you can have a cute kiss to move the romance on. Because men not being jerks is sexy!
Finally, a call to action for all of us – watch TV and film, be aware, and call it out when it’s sexist. Watch female-led media, contact producers and advertising companies that buy advertising slots during sexist shows and tell them where they get off (my phrasing, not the lovely professional Koreans’ phrasing).
Day 4, Vatican anti-reproductive choice/anti-neocolonialism official side event
This talk was run by the Vatican in partnership with a bunch of African anti-abortion and anti-SRHR organisations on a difficult topic – the imposition of Western values on African countries through their aid funding, in the context of SRHR education, contraception, and abortion. While I agreed with the general themes of engaging the women using services in the creation of these services and avoiding placing conditions on aid, the discussion of sex education, abortion and contraception as inherently terrible for all African women (a whole continent!) was instantly unconvincing.
The messages I have been hearing from all other African women speakers (and speakers from Latin America, Asia, and non-governmental speakers from the Arab states) at CSW62 are that sexual education saves lives, contraception and abortion allow women to balance motherhood and participation in civil and political life, and that there is direct correlation between access to family planning services and women’s safety and success.
A few messages that were interesting amongst the generic anti-abortion anti-sex rhetoric, and a few quotes that indicate the level of this rhetoric:
- Many aid organisations are indeed guilty of failing to connect with those on the ground - this disconnect does end up making relief efforts feel tokenistic and unrelated to the women who are intended to benefit. This lack of engagement also leads to a feeling of paternalistic and at worst colonialist attitudes – the “white man’s burden” of “civilising” others without understanding and valuing indigenous cultures.
- This is not a good reason to write off just abortion, contraceptives, and sexual education –the argument should be against all forms of disengaged aid coming from Western countries and for all forms of aid that are engaged with local communities and their needs.
- Official Development Assistance donations from different Western countries – the two countries that give the most to Africa are giving most to “population programmes” – sexual health, sex ed, contraception etc. Africa the only area where this is the case – Asian aid has population programmes as lowest funding, Europe America and Oceania also don’t have this focus on population programmes. [This is really uncomfortable if it’s true – unsure of statistics’ source.]
- And quotes: NGOs are “marketing irresponsible sexual behaviour by handing out condoms and contraceptives”; “Abortion robs African women of their natural default which is mothering.”
Day 5, Beyond #MeToo – a Japanese NGO event
This event was really interesting – three Japanese women and two white American men. The bias the men showed was crazy – they are both working hard to improve women’s lives and safety (one a lawyer and one a police chief) but super clueless.
The policeman focused on all the good programs the American police have – trauma training, policies around treatment of rape victims, taking rape cases as seriously as robbery without any victim blaming – without acknowledging that these good theories are not the reality for the vast majority of American rape victims.
The lawyer spoke about how there has been a sea change in America on men in positions of power being held accountable, and said that now was probably the best it had ever been for women bringing cases against these men for sexual harassment or assault. Again, this ignores the fact that it costs a fortune to even get your case to court – for the actresses suing directors it’s fine, but your average office worker who is harassed by her boss has no chance of ever bringing him to justice.
The women who spoke were amazing – Japanese rape law is appalling but has recently improved slightly for the first time since it was written 110 years ago, with an expansion in the definition of rape and an increase in minimum sentencing. This improvement has come after a few rape cases that gained international attention, including the case brought by one of the women that was speaking after she was drugged and raped by a business contact - despite the overwhelming evidence of CCTV and eyewitnesses, she was told not to bring it to court since it would not succeed.
All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences.