For me, Woman with Gloria Steinem is one of those rare TV events that first had me glued to the couch - and then made me want to get off it and actually DO something.
This gripping eight-part series takes you deep into some of the the issues facing women of the world today, from Pakistani women risking their lives for an education, to the staggering rates of femicide in gang-ruled El Salvador. Perhaps most alarming of all are the episodes tackling gender discrimination and injustice still occurring in the West, where men and women are supposed to be equal.
At the start of each episode Steinem reminds us that “the greatest indicator of the world’s stability, wealth and safety is the status of women”. She urges that it’s time to rebrand “women’s issues” when they affect society as a whole. Put simply, this show reminds us that women’s rights are human rights.
First World or Developing World: different context, same crisis
While women everywhere marched to protest the inauguration of President Trump, a handful of conservatives argued that Western women drawing attention to the inequalities they face looked petty in comparison to real (re: developing world) female hardships. But if Woman teaches us anything, it’s that discrimination and crimes against women are the same whether they’re in Philadelphia or Peshawar: the only thing different is the circumstance.
While child marriage isn’t a crisis in the West, as we see in one episode set in Zambia, we’re not immune from things like child trafficking and child sexual assault.
Furthermore, the sexualisation of young girls in Western society has been a direct result of our culture’s obsession with youth and beauty.
While no one can deny the magnitude of the epidemic of rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo, once a by-product of war, now a horrifying way of life, it doesn't diminish the cases of systemic rape, assault and sexual discrimination in the West.
Other episodes highlight the alarming rates of sexual assault in the US military and the crisis facing First Nations women in Canada, who are being murdered by their domestic partners in numbers four times the national average. Yet, that doesn't mean they're the only ones suffering. Woman makes it clear that all these cases are important to call out.
A world where women belong to men
Silvia Juarez, El Salvadorian activist and lawyer, explains that violence happens when men believe that women belong to them. “When you see why women lose their life in this country, you see among these reasons: getting married, wanting a divorce, wanting to end a relationship. These are not reasons why men die. When two people are judged in a society by a double standard, what’s happening is discrimination. When discrimination ends in death, in an extreme violence, what we have is precisely a hate crime.”
Never has a reason for men’s violence against women been put more succinctly or been depicted more universally. Juarez could have been speaking about anywhere in the world, such as in Australia where one woman every week is murdered by a domestic partner.
The laws aren't the issue
In many countries the law is not the problem - it’s the implementation. Child marriage is against the law in Zambia, but the law is useless in rural areas with deeply ingrained cultural traditions. El Salvador has legislation specifically condemning femicide and yet the law has no effect when those charged with upholding the laws - the police and judiciary - are male and don't enforce it.
Constitutionally, Pakistan protects and re-enforces the rights of women and yet is powerless to act in regions where the Taliban rule. Whenever fundamentalist groups come into power, the first thing threatened is the status of women. This is true in the Middle East, in Africa and is true even in the West where countries like Australia and the US are in the grip of conservative governments with fundamentalist religious factions jostling for power and stripping funding and support for services - such as reproductive healthcare and domestic violence - that overwhelmingly affect women.
A march for one woman is a march for all women
Of course, there are episodes where the content is specific to the region. It’s impossible to compare the life of an average woman in rural sub-Saharan Africa with one in Australia or the US.
But suggesting Western women have no need to march or to protest is arrogant, especially when the gender wage gap remains around 16 per cent and when there were only 10 female CEOs in ASX200 firms at the end of 2016.
It’s especially insulting when you hear statistics about domestic violence, cutbacks to female health services, rape on college campuses and sexual discrimination in the work place. Suggesting that such issues aren’t as “important” as things like genital mutilation and Islamic fundamentalism is completely unfair. It also implies that women can’t possibly march for things that directly affect them and still care deeply about those that don’t. If nothing else, activism and representation in one place inspires it elsewhere. More women in corporate and community leadership positions means more positive examples to inspire others.
Women are awesome, plain and simple
If you didn’t know it already, you can’t help but think it by the time the series has come to its end. Not only have you had your eyes opened to stories of incredible hardship and suffering, you’ve been exposed to tales of tremendous bravery and courage - women shaping not just their own future, but the future of the world at large.
Woman with Gloria Steinem airs 10.30pm Thursdays on SBS Viceland or you can stream the whole series On Demand: