20 Reasons Why We Still Need The "F" Word


Guest blog by executive coach Lynn Harris, author of Unwritten Rules: What Women Need To Know About Leading In Today's Organisations, is one I wished I had written myself. On the other hand, it's also one I wish didn't have to be written at all...

In our privileged world “Feminism” has become a dirty word. For most western young women, to be called a Feminist is an insult.

My son and his girlfriends associate Feminism with anti-men and women who wear unattractive clothes. To them the “F” word is, at best, dated and no longer relevant.

If we could perhaps change the name, I’m told, Feminism might become more palatable.

I don’t really care what it’s called. What I do care about is that the job of Feminism is far from done. In fact, there are many urgent reasons why we need Feminism now, more than ever...

Here are 20 of them:

  1. Approximately once every ten seconds, a girl somewhere in the world is pinned down. Her legs are pulled apart, and a local woman with no medical training uses a knife or razor blade to slice off some or all of the girl’s genitals. In most cases, without anesthetic.
  2. Of the estimated 300,000 child soldiers around the world, about 40% are girls and most are sexually abused.
  3. An estimated one hundred million girls worldwide are involved in child labor.
  4. More than 900 million girls and women are living on less than a dollar a day.
  5. More girls have been killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles of the twentieth century. (Read this one again to make sure you really got it.)
  6. Female infanticide persists in many countries, and often it is mothers who kill their own daughters.
  7. One American-sponsored abstinence-only approach to controlling the spread of AIDS, consists of handing out heart-shaped lollipops inscribed with the message: DON’T BE A SUCKER! SAVE SEX FOR MARRIAGE. Then the session leader invites girls to suck on the lollipops and explains:  “Your body is a wrapped lollipop. When you have sex with a man, he unwraps your lollipop and sucks on it. It may feel great at the time, but, unfortunately, when he’s done with you, all you have left for your next partner is a poorly wrapped, saliva-fouled sucker.”
  8. Approximately 730,000 American teenage girls will get pregnant this year.
  9. When a group of girls were interviewed on 20/20, ABC’s primetime news magazine, and asked if they’d rather be fat or lose an arm, they unanimously answered that they’d rather lose an arm.
  10. The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is twelve times as high as the death rate of all causes of death for American females aged fifteen to twenty-four.
  11. Far more women and girls are sold into brothels each year in the early twenty-first century than African slaves were sold into slave plantations each year in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries.
  12. Approximately one third of women worldwide face beatings in the home. Women aged fifteen through forty four are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined.
  13. A major study by the World Health Organization found that in most countries, between 30% and 60% of women had experienced physical or sexual violence by a husband or boyfriend.
  14. Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz, a leading religious authority in Saudi Arabia, declared in 2004: “Allowing women to mix with men is the root of every evil and catastrophe.”
  15. It is increasingly common for men in South Asia to hurl sulfuric acid into the faces of girls or women who have rejected them. The acid melts the skin and sometimes the bones underneath; when it strikes the eyes, the women are blinded.
  16. In South Africa, rape has become so endemic, that some women protect themselves by inserting a device called a Rapex. It’s a tube, with barbs inside. The woman inserts it like a tampon and any man who tries to rape her impales himself on the barbs and must go to an emergency room to have the Rapex removed.
  17. In 2008 the United Nations formally declared rape a “weapon of war.”  In one of its reports it claimed that in parts of Liberia during the civil war, 90% of girls and women over the age of three were sexually abused. Major General Patrick Cammaert, a former UN force commander, said: “It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in an armed conflict.”
  18. 122 million women around the world want contraception and can’t get it. Up to 40% of all pregnancies globally are unplanned or unwanted – and almost half of those result in induced abortions.
  19. The equivalent of five jumbo jets’ worth of women die in labor each day. The World Health Organization estimates that 536,000 women perished in pregnancy or childbirth in 2005, a toll that has hardly changed in 30 years.
  20. It would take an estimated $9 billion a year to provide all effective interventions for maternal and newborn health to 95% of the world’s population. In contrast, the world spends $40 billion per year on dog food.

Stand up and be counted

It’s not sexy to be a feminist; it never has been. You won’t be the most popular girl in the room if you have the courage to use the “F” word.

But Feminism, and what it stands for, is needed as much now as it was a hundred years ago when women fought for the right to vote.

In my work, I have the relative luxury of addressing such inequalities as 88% of all board appointments in the world’s 200 largest companies are still held by men.

From the safe confines of my Montreal office I can rant about the fact that Rwanda has 56.3% women in parliament, but Canada and UK have only 22% and the U.S. only 16.8%.

Of course we must continue to support women who want to lead governments and organizations – we still have our own battles to fight.

But even more important, we need to support our sisters worldwide who are fighting for their lives and their fundamental human rights.

5 things you can do right now:

    1. Start the discussion – forward this article and argue about it with others (women and men).
  1. Read “Half The Sky. Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide” by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. When you’ve recovered from the shock of what you’ve read – get angry about it.
  2. Be inspired by watching Isabel Allende’s passionate TED talk.
  3. Support women survivors of war and help them to rebuild their communities through Women for Women International.
  4. If you think the term “Feminism” is working against rather than for us – think of a new name and send it to me by commenting on this blog page. Or post comments and suggestions on Unwritten Rules-The Book facebook page.

Information in this blog courtesy of:

  • Half The Sky. Turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
  • I Am An Emotional Creature. The Secret Life Of Girls Around The World by Eve Ensler
  • Corporate Women Directors International 2010 Report: Women Board Directors of the 2009 Fortune Global 200.
  • Women in National Parliaments: World Classification

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