The Other Half

Looking at noteworthy initiatives for fairer gender opportunities

Saudi women are finally given a copy of their marriage contract

Photo credit: Fayez Nureldine/AFP via Getty Images

According to the Guardian, women in Saudi Arabia are now allowed to receive a copy of their marriage contract. The move, which follows the first election of female representatives in the country in December, shows that the Kingdom is slowly opening rights to its female citizens. The reception of their marriage contract, which until now was a privilege reserved to men, will ensure that the bride is aware of “her rights and the terms of the contract”. The decision is also meant to take into consideration that a woman needs a copy of her marriage contract in case of a dispute with her husband and in court.

The Washington Post reported that Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, now third in line to become Saudi Arabia’s King, believes some of the restrictions women face are the result of improper interpretations of the state’s hard-line ideology, called Wahhabism. Indeed, there is still a long way ahead before women can enjoy basic rights in the Kingdom. Women in Saudi Arabia need a male chaperon to leave the house and cannot engage in “unlawful mixing” with men, which means that they could be punished for having a conversation with a man to who they are not related. Women also cannot drive, have to wear modest clothing and makeup and they are banned from entering cemeteries. 

Petition and video experiment encourage a repeal of high heel office policy

Photo credit: bestthesites.com, Getty

A campaign to make it illegal for companies to require women to wear high heels at work has now hit 140,757 signatures. Nicola Thorpe launched the petition after being sent home from accountancy firm PwC because she was wearing flat shoes. She was employed as a temp receptionist by agency Portico and was told that she was required to wear “2in to 4in heel”. The incident sparked a wider debate about office policies and the rationale behind the requirement for women to wear high heels at work.

According to the BBC, UK employers can set dress codes as they wish and can also set up different codes for men and women, as long as they have ‘equivalent level of smartness’. For most employers, ‘high heels’ are closely associated with ‘smartness’ which makes it difficult to contest the policy, but not impossible. Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, interviewed by the BBC, says that the policy is questionable if it is meant to make women look ‘sexy’, as ‘sexy’ is not a job requirement that is defendable. Also, health reasons can be provided to support a case against high heels at work. Tony Redmond, a biomechanics expert at Leeds University says: “The joints of the feet can be damaged by wearing high heels, and this can cause some forms of arthritis.” A waitress in Canada took pictures of her bloodied feet after working a full shift in high heels, as per her company’s dress code.


The Stylist went as far as to make its male staff wear high heels for a day and their conclusions were easily predictable: if some of them managed to get by, most of them were wondering why women are putting up with requirements to wear heels at work everyday.

This week’s roundup: Open letter against sexual harassment in French politics; Scrutiny for flash in #mycalvins campaign; Scottish mosque seek female board members and body shaming in Pakistan

This week, we have seen:

POLITICS

17 French female politicians break silence over recurring sexual harassment rows In a letter, 17 women including Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund and France’s former finance minister, have sought to break the silence over the remaining prominence of sexual harassment in politics. “Like all women who have entered spheres that up until then were exclusively male, we have had to fight against sexism,” the letter published in the Journal de Dimanche newspaper says. (Read more here)

SOCIAL MEDIA CAMPAIGN

Calvin Klein sticks to its guns with up-dress campaign, highlighting easy link between open female body image and sexual assault The fashion giant faced a backlash after posting the photo of Danish actress Klara Kristin posing with her underwear on show on its Instagram page. The camera angle facing upwards from underneath her dress and the slogan “I flash in #mycalvins” faced harsh criticism and comments on social media highlighted that the campaign is  “glamourising” sexual harassment. (Read more here)

RELIGION

Scottish mosque looks for first women board members According to Herald Scotland, Scotland’s largest mosque has made a surprising bid to attract the first women to its ruling board. This comes after years of refusal from the authorities to let women join the board for a variety of reason, including the need for “ladies” to be chaperoned by male relatives at meetings. (Read more here)

BODY SHAMING

‘Bully proof’ video sheds light on constant body shaming for women in Pakistan A recent video featuring Pakistani women and talking about their body shaming experiences has now gone viral. The advocacy group behind the video is called “Bully Proof” and is giving a voice to  women wanting to talk about their traumatizing experiences without being judged or punished for it. The BBC interviewed some of the women behind the video in one of its latest special reports. (Read more here)

‘Bully proof’ video sheds light on constant body shaming for women in Pakistan

A recent video featuring Pakistani women and talking about their body shaming experiences has now gone viral. The advocacy group behind the video is called “Bully Proof” and is giving a voice to  women wanting to talk about their traumatizing experiences without being judged or punished for it. The BBC interviewed some of the women behind the video in one of its latest special reports.

Zainab Chughtai, who founded Bully Proof in 2014 and has been reaching out to young girls in Lahore schools, recalls that her experience with body shaming started very early in her own family and was later followed on at school as well as in her work and personal relationships. She tells the BBC that ‘in every context of every relationship, body shaming was an element to [her] existence’. Another girl says : ‘there are so many things I could have done, I wanted to do theatre and I didn’t do that […] because the fear that people are going to judge me for the way I am was so overwhelming.’ The girls also mention how their negative body image is influencing their capacity to have healthy relationships, to trust people and to feel that they are being taken seriously.

The reaction to the video wasn’t all positive, however, and the girls were also put under scrutiny for talking about topics that are meant to be taboo. This shows how change, especially in such as traditional society as Pakistan, is bound to come slowly but baby steps are better than nothing.

Scottish mosque looks for first women board members

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Photo credit: progressivescottishmuslims.blogspot.com

According to Herald Scotland, Scotland’s largest mosque has made a surprising bid to attract the first women to its ruling board. This comes after years of refusal from the authorities to let women join the board for a variety of reason, including the need for “ladies” to be chaperoned by male relatives at meetings. A new mosque committee was due to be elected in April but only one woman applied for the position, against 68 men. The Mosque president responded to these numbers by extending the application deadlines to encourage more women to be elected for the job.

The bid comes as a first as women still very rarely get to positions of power in British Mosques, which tend to be dominated by men of Pakistani origin. There is no religious reason why females should not take part in committees managing the finances and housekeeping of mosques. Also, it might take some time before women get elected to positions of power, particularly because the ‘chaperone’ rule still applies and could be an important stumbling block. However, the decision shows that there is awareness of the imbalance in representation as well as the political will to change this over the medium term.

Calvin Klein sticks to its guns with up-dress campaign, highlighting easy link between open female body image and sexual assault

calvin

Photo credit: Calvin Klein’s Instagram account

The fashion giant faced a backlash after posting the photo of Danish actress Klara Kristin posing with her underwear on show on its Instagram page. The camera angle facing upwards from underneath her dress and the slogan “I flash in #mycalvins” faced harsh criticism and comments on social media highlighted that the campaign is  “glamourising” sexual harassment.  US campaign group The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has even launched a petition calling for the advert to be removed and branded the image “offensive”, according to the Evening Standard.

Klara Kristin reacted to the backlash by posting on her Instagram: “I love this photo @harleyweir took of me. This discussion about it makes me think about how alienated and scared some people are of the female human body… Be and love yourself and your sexuality.” She also signed off the post with the hashtags #girlpower and #calvinklein. I think her answer and the decision of Calvin Klein to keep the campaign are indeed spot on. I would never imagine a similar picture taken of male underwear sparking a debate over the fact that it is giving an invitation to sexual assault. And once again, the sexual assault discussion revolves around what women dress and how they look, rather than to men’s responsibility.

17 French female politicians break silence over recurring sexual harassment rows

imrs

Photo credit; International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde speaks during a press conference at the Treasury Office in central London on May 13, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / PETER NICHOLLSPETER NICHOLLS/AFP/Getty Images

In a letter, 17 women including Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund and France’s former finance minister, have sought to break the silence over the remaining prominence of sexual harassment in politics. “Like all women who have entered spheres that up until then were exclusively male, we have had to fight against sexism,” the letter published in the Journal de Dimanche newspaper says. The letter calls for an end to “immunity” for sexist male politicians, saying: “We will systematically denounce all sexist remarks, inappropriate gestures, inappropriate behavior. We encourage all victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault to publicly talk about it and to complain.”

The letter comes as a response to a recent sexual harassment scandal involving Denis Baupin, the deputy speaker of the National Assembly, who is accused of sexual misconduct with a Green Party spokeswoman Sandrine Rousseau and of sending explicit texts. According to the Telegraph, Ms Debost, a young Green councillor in 2011, recalls that Baupin sent her more than 150 messages of the type ‘I am on the train and I’d like to sodomise you wearing a cuissarde [thigh-high boots],’ or ‘I adore situations of domination. You must be a wonderful dominatrix’, or again ‘I’d like to see your arse’.

However, the Baupin case is not an isolated one. French finance minister Michel Sapin also recently admitted to acting “inappropriately” towards a female journalist following two earlier denials. Five years ago, former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested in New York over the alleged rape of a hotel maid, exposing a ring of sexual misconduct at the top of French politics.

The letter initiative and reactions to it shows progress in the way the public and the elite views these sexual harassment cases, however. At the time of the DSK case, there was a flood of sexist comments in France, with jokes being made in the press about re-establishing the age-old ‘trussing’ rights allowing nobles to force sex on servants while an ex-minister played down the scandal saying that ‘nobody [had] died“. Sexist comments have been rarer this time around, showing that increased awareness of the phenomenon have changed mentalities slightly and made this more unacceptable for both the general public and the political elite.

This week’s roundup: Beautiful, shy and housewife in Brazil, Drones for abortion pills, Google against the gender pay gap and Harvard sanctions single gender clubs

This week, we have seen:

SOCIAL MEDIA CAMPAIGN

Brazilian women use social media to open feminist debate This article from the Nouvel Obs (in French) summarizes years of social media campaigns that highlight sexual harassment as well as gender stereotypes in Brazil. The feminist collective « ThinkOlga » launched its first online campaign in 2013 “« #chegadefiufiu », (« stoptopsstpsst ») about street harassment. Since then, it has launched #meuprimeiroassedio (my first harassment) in 2015, a similar campaign to the one highlighted last week #WhenIwas (see this article) and a few other interesting campaigns. (see more here)

HEALTH SERVICES

Drones as tools to send termination pills to countries with restrictive abortion laws Rebecca Gompert, who founded the organization Women on Web is using gaps in the regulation to make termination pills available in countries where women have no access to them. According to Metro, Gompert claims she has already sent drones from Germany into Poland – where abortion is allowed only in cases of rape or incest, or if the foetus is severely deformed. (see more here)

GENDER PAY GAP

Google offers clear steps to close the gender pay gap There is more and more talk about the gender pay gap and some companies have chosen different ways to approach the issue, while most have chosen to ignore it altogether. Transparency can be a solution (see here) as well as encouraging women to negotiate as well as speak up for themselves (this is the main approach retained in Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In). Laszlo Bock, senior Vice President of people operations at Google, is offering a fresh take on the issue and according to him, there are two ways that his company will approach the gender pay gap, which can also be useful to other large employers. (See more here)

EDUCATION

Harvard takes historic step to sanction members of single-gender clubs Harvard University took a very significant decision this week as it adopted sanctions against members of its popular single-gender organizations (mostly known as fraternities and sororities). The decision comes as a response to a University-wide report on sexual assault prevention, which highlighted that women who spent time in final club spaces experienced increased likelihood of sexual assault. The sanctions will mean that members of single-gender clubs will be banned from leadership positions in student groups and team sports as well as from applying to prestigious fellowships. (see more here)

Harvard takes historic step to sanction members of single-gender clubs

harvard

Photo credit: www.ivygateblog.com

Harvard University took a very significant decision this week as it adopted sanctions against members of its popular single-gender organizations (mostly known as fraternities and sororities). The decision comes as a response to a University-wide report on sexual assault prevention, which highlighted that women who spent time in final club spaces experienced increased likelihood of sexual assault. The sanctions will mean that members of single-gender clubs will be banned from leadership positions in student groups and team sports as well as from applying to prestigious fellowships.

Feministing writes: ‘Final clubs are exclusive, historically all-male secret societies that own huge, fancy mansions in the very fancy Harvard Square. Bastions of elite nonsense and snooty parties — and so very very many salmon shorts — final clubs’ invitation-only selection process and legacy of gender, socioeconomic, sexual, and racial exclusion have long made them the bane of many a Harvard feminist, including yours truly. They represent and perpetuate the most egregious inequalities in our already egregious higher education system.’

 

According to the Harvard Crimson, the single-gender clubs have come to represent something that appears very “antithetical to [Harvard’s] institutional values,” says Rakesh Khurana, Dean of Harvard College and the author of recommendation to University President Drew Gilpin Faust. Khurana added that “Harvard has the obligation to establish the general regulations and standards governing Harvard students, faculty, and staff that are consistent with our educational philosophy.”

The sanctions will not be effective before the Class of 2021 arrives on campus in 2017. However, the move could definitely prompt some clubs to go gender neutral in the meantime.

Google offers clear steps to close the gender pay gap

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Photo credit: https://uk.pinterest.com/pin/12244230207257959/

There is more and more talk about the gender pay gap and some companies have chosen different ways to approach the issue, while most have chosen to ignore it altogether. Transparency can be a solution (see here) as well as encouraging women to negotiate as well as speak up for themselves (this is the main approach retained in Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In). Laszlo Bock, senior Vice President of people operations at Google, is offering a fresh take on the issue and according to him, there are two ways that his company will approach the gender pay gap, which can also be useful to other large employers.

First, he introduces the ‘anchoring bias’, which tells us that salary negotiations are based on employees’ previous salaries, rather than the jobs’ real worth. In this context, women are systematically disadvantaged as they tend to be consistently, and unjustly, paid less than men for the same work”. To this, Google responds with a ‘job’s worth’ approach where pay targets are calculated thanks to industry surveys or averages of pay for similar staff, regardless of candidates’ previous salaries. Every company adopting a similar policy would help to limit the gender gap in no time as it is precisely the ‘anchoring bias’ that limits women’s pay potential throughout their career.

Second, Google wants to make sure that women are not promoted more slowly than men, as this would limit pay growth for the female workforce as much as the ‘anchoring bias’ when hires and promotions are decided. This, according to Bock, can be easily tracked with data and corrected. Very exciting news and let’s hope Google will serve as a smart example for other companies to follow.

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