Wednesday, February 16, 2011

This is What a Third Wave Looks Like

Originally published in the BG News on Wednesday, February 16, 2011.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Takver under Creative Commons 3.0

With the recent success in Egypt, it’s time to consider social transformations—and who’s causing them.
Asmaa Mahfouz is only 26-years-old, and credited with launching Egypt’s revolution.  Known for her YouTube video criticizing the President’s endless dictatorship,” the girl who crushed Mubarak” in one of many women across the Arab nations standing up and speaking out.
Mahfouz urged people to break away from their computers, take to the streets, and demand democracy.  The message went viral, reaching people across Egypt and around the world. 

She offered to stand alone, but found herself surrounded by supporters on that fateful day in January—now known as the start of the people’s revolt.  Overwhelming support prompted the government to shut down social networking services and limit Internet access.
"My family was so worried about me and they told me women are not harsh enough for that kind of confrontation," Mahfouz said. "They now tell me they are so proud of me. I knew that if I get scared and everybody gets scared, then this country will be lost for good," said Mahfouz.
While the mainstream media depicted violent riots made up of men, the real protests were peaceful and inclusive—not to mention effective.
Further west, you could hear the notes of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” swirling through the air as thousands of women in Italy gathered for another large demonstration. 

After Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, 74, was accused of paying a 17-year-old showgirl for sex, women led weekend protests in more than 280 cities. 
While prostitution is not a crime in Italy, sex with a minor is.  Following years of illegal activity, this may be the first time Berlusconi is successfully charged with an offense. 
During the post-earthquake reconstruction of 2009, the government promised a shelter for victims of domestic violence, but citizens are still waiting.  Italian women-- tired of watching their elderly, conservative Prime Minister either ignore or degrade them-- assembled outside with pots and pans to "bang out" their grievances. 
Rome's Piazza del Popolo was filled with those who think the television tycoon’s sleazy programming reinforces stereotypes and echoes Berlusconi’s real attitude towards women.
While questioning the allocation of their resources, Italians are also concerned about unemployment.  In a society that privileges men, many young women only aspire to be escorts or showgirls-- like the one Berlusconi propositioned.
"In a country where one in two women does not work, and economic disparity with men is still so huge, the body is seen as a viable shortcut," said Italian journalist and author Loredana Lipperini.
One woman involved in Berlusconi’s sex scandal confirmed these fears, calling school “a waste of time.”  Obviously, fraternizing with wealthy men (like the Prime Minister) is a more efficient path to financial stability.
Further north, Iceland is also experiencing a gendered economic crisis and women’s discontent gave way to radical social action that has not lost any momentum since October.
Because they earn roughly 65 percent of their male co-workers wages, Icelandic women staged a walk-out at 2:55 pm; roughly 65 percent of a 9 to 5 work day. 

The soundtrack to this protest?  Dolly Parton’s “9-5,” suggesting “I want to move ahead, but the boss won’t seem to let me, I swear sometimes that man is out to get me” is a relatable experience for women in any country’s workforce. 
The protest, officially named “Women Strike Back” was arranged to advocate “women’s freedom from male violence and closing the gender pay gap.”  A reenactment of the same strike held five years before, the event was more of a gender holiday. 
But participants maintain a serious attitude.  In the same space, members of the Feminist Association stretched a red scarf across an entire block to draw attention to the 270 rapes reported in 2009 with only 7 convictions. 

Apparently Iceland is experiencing a gap in justice as well.  But with an energetic women’s movement and an openly-gay woman Prime Minister, Iceland was dubbed the most feminist place in the world for the second year in a row. 

And with the inspiring events of last week, the world itself appears to be increasingly more feminist.
From the Middle East to the Netherlands, more women are getting involved and choosing to be effective, rather than affected. 

With the help of the Internet, national movements are harnessing international attention and inspiring others, proving the spirit of resistance is alive and well with women around the world.  Embracing a global consciousness and standing together in solidarity-- this truly is what a third wave looks like.

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