Category Archives: Women
How likely are you to see a piece of art in a London gallery created by a woman? An art audit by the East London Fawcett Group has attempted to find out
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An audit of more than 100 commercial galleries in London has found that only 5% represent an equal number of male and female artists.
East London Fawcett’s (ELF) art audit also found that not a single woman appeared on the top 100 auction performances list in 2012. The audit which looked at works from April 2012 – April 2013 gathered data on 134 commercial galleries in London, which collectively represent 3,163 artists.
Of this total, just 31% of the represented artists were women, with 78% of the galleries representing more men than women. Kira Cochrane writes today:
Here’s a teaser. How many women artists featured in the top 100 auction sales, ranked by price, last year? Gemma Rolls-Bentley, an independent curator, decided to find out.
One day, not long ago, she sat down with the 2012 list, “and spent a couple of hours writing M next to the artists. I got to the end and there wasn’t a single F.” Some of those artists were alive, some were dead, all were highly valued – clearly considered “great” or “genius” – and all were men.
ELF, the East London branch of the Fawcett Society, also turned their attention to gender representation in solo shows featured in the exhibition programmes of 29 non-commercial galleries in London. Nearly a third of the galleries presented no female solo shows during this period and only one of the gallery programmes featured all female shows.
Public art also came under scrutiny from the ELF audit. Of the 386 public works of art that were recorded in Westminster and the City of London, a mere 8% were created by female artists. That may not come as much of of a surprise if you take into account that a large proportion of the pieces of art date back many years.
So if we look at the modern day, do female artists fare better? A quarter of the artists selected for the Fourth Plinth, situated in the northwest corner of Trafalgar Square, were female, as Kira Cochrane writes today “far from brilliant, but much better than those other statistics for public art”.
Frieze Art Fair, an annual showcase of leading international artists, provided some interesting results. 27.5% of the artists represented at the art fair in 2012 were women. The results are a reflection of a survey that took in 3,441 artists across 135 international galleries that were represented in the commercial section of Frieze Art Fair 2012.
However, 23.3% of solo exhibitions hosted by commercial galleries in the capital during Frieze week presented female artists – an increase on the 11.6% figure that Laura McLean- Ferris found in 2008 when she conducted a similar survey.
Gemma Rolls-Bentley, arts director at ELF, is optimistic despite the gender gap displayed by the results:
The ELF art audit results provide statistical evidence that gender inequality still persists in London’s art world. However, these results also demonstrate that significant positive progress has and is being made.
By raising awareness of the challenges specific to female artists, we hope that the campaign will widen the dialogue around this issue and that as a result the gender balance will continue to improve. The art audit’s message is one of optimism.
Campaign group, UK Feminista, published results in 2010 of a similar piece of research looking at gender inequalty in the art world. They found that 83% of the artists in the Tate Modern and 70% of the artists in the Saatchi Gallery were male.
But the gender gap is the reverse when you look at university stats. In her Datablog piece examining the gender gap at universities by institution and subject, Rebecca Ratcliffe found that 61.7% of the undergraduate creative arts and design intake in UK universities in 2011-12 was female. So why are so few female artists being represented in art galleries? We’d love to hear your views in the comments below.
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An audit of the art world shows that every artist in the top 100 auction sales last year was a man, and just 8% of public art in central London was created by women. But things are changing
Here’s a teaser. How many female artists featured in the top 100 auction sales, ranked by price, last year? Gemma Rolls-Bentley, an independent curator, decided to find out. One day, not long ago, she sat down with the 2012 list, “and spent a couple of hours writing M next to the artists. I got to the end and there wasn’t a single F.” Some of those artists were alive, some were dead, all were highly valued – considered “great” or “genius” – and all were men.
Her count was part of a major project that began more than a year ago, in a packed church hall in Bethnal Green. East London Fawcett, a feminist group, had set up an event on women in the arts, and the turnout was large and vocal. “People were saying: ‘I find I can’t even have this conversation about equality in the art world’,” says Rolls-Bentley, “because so many people think it’s already been achieved. Because figures like Tracey Emin have defied the statistics, their rare success misleads people into thinking women get an equal shot.”
As the arts director of ELF, she had come armed with statistics gathered by the campaigning group UK Feminista in 2010. These showed 83% of the artists in Tate Modern were men, along with 70% of those in the Saatchi Gallery. The conversation became even more heated.
A group of volunteers decided to do their own wide-ranging audit. The results are published today, and they make interesting reading. The auction statistic surprised Rolls-Bentley the most, but she was also struck by the low proportion of public art created by women. In east London, of 43 public works of art, 14% were created by women. In Westminster and the City of London, of 386 public works of art, the proportion created by women is just 8%.
Given that many of those commissions date back years, these numbers reflect women’s marginalisation in art history – it’s often estimated that only around 5% of the work featured in major permanent collections worldwide is by women. The National Gallery in London, for instance, contains more than 2,300 works; an information request made by the women’s activist Tim Symonds at the start of 2011 revealed that only 11 of the artists in that enormous collection are women.
Rolls-Bentley and the other ELF volunteers were inspired in their audit by the self-styled “conscience of the art world”, the feminist activist group Guerrilla Girls, who started highlighting sexual and racial inequality in the arts in 1985 – while dressed in gorilla masks. Perhaps their most famous poster came in 1989, and featured the female nude from Ingres’s Grande Odalisque, wearing a gorilla mask, alongside the question: “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met Museum? Less than 5% of the artists in the modern art sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female.”
Has anything improved in the nearly three decades since the Guerrilla Girls started? Some areas of the ELF audit suggest they have. When they looked at the proportion of women artists selected to exhibit on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, for example, they made up 25% of the total – far from brilliant, but much better than those other statistics for public art.
They also looked at the artists represented by 134 commercial galleries in London and found that 31% were women – a figure reflected exactly in the proportion of solo shows by women at the city’s non-commercial galleries. Given that women make up a majority of art students, the fact that they account for just fewer than one in three of the artists exhibited in, and represented by, London galleries might not seem much cause for celebration. But in the context of art history, it does suggest a step forward.
Rolls-Bentley recognises that there are still problems but is hopeful that we’re seeing improvements, and flags up one specific point of comparison to illustrate this. The ELF audit found 23.3% of solo exhibitions hosted by commercial galleries during the Frieze Art Fair last year were by women – when the Art Review journalist Laura McLean-Ferris investigated this in 2008, that figure was 11.6%.
The question remains how many of the female artists shown in London galleries will go on to be celebrated as true greats – and how many will be scuppered by that familiar tangle of boys’ clubs, motherhood and cultural expectations. On this last point, the auction statistics suggest it is still all-male at the top, as does the assertion by the feminist artist Judy Chicago that only 2.7% of art books concern female artists. When I spoke to Chicago last year, she pointed out: “The monographs on artists, permanent collections and major exhibitions are really the path into history, and that’s what is important to look at, and not be deceived by the many women showing at entry level in smaller and regional museums and galleries.”
The glass ceiling in art still exists, then – but campaigners are determined to break it. The audit was set up to put this issue on the map, says Rolls-Bentley; to encourage the art world to consider gender balance much more frequently and freely. If that becomes second nature, the many brilliant women at the start of their careers today, putting on shows in small galleries, might have a genuine shot at history.
Indian women with diabetes still play ‘caretaker role’ in the family and prioritise the health of others above their own
The disease itself may not discriminate on the basis of gender, but when it comes to healthcare for patients with diabetes, women in India find themselves at a disadvantage compared with men.
This is the conclusion of a study, Impact of Gender on Care of Type 2 Diabetes in Varkala, Kerala, which analysed gender roles, norms and values in a household and found women patients to be more vulnerable.
This vulnerability influences all phases of diabetic care, according to the paper by Dr Mini P Mani at the Achutha Menon Centre for Health Science Studies (AMCHSS) in Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of the southern state of Kerala.
Even when they suffer from diabetes, women cannot abandon the “caretaker role” in the family and have to continue to prioritise the health of other family members above their own, the study found. Inequitable access to resources prevents early diagnosis of the disease in women.
Women pay more attention to the health of the men and children in the family, leaving them with less time to devote to their own wellbeing, said Rosy Raphy, who teaches at a school in Munambam, near the central Kerala town of Kochi.
“As someone who has lived with diabetes for 26 years,” Raphy told IPS, “I can say that I was not aware of the disease and did not take due care because I was preoccupied with matters of the family. As a result, my case got aggravated.”
Of particular concern to women and gynaecologists in the country is gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM), a form of the disease that affects pregnant women. The incidence of GDM has grown fourfold in the past 10 years, according to Dr B Rajkumar, a doctor of Indian systems of medicine at the Keezhariyoor government ayurveda dispensary in the state’s northern coastal district of Kozhikode.
“Earlier, pregnant women would engage in physical activity while doing housework. Today, the lifestyle of women has changed. Lack of exercise affects the body. And obesity, too, is a cause of gestational diabetes,” he said.
One in five pregnant women in Ahmedabad in the western state of Gujarat were found to have GDM, according to a study by the Diabetes Care Institute, whose results were reported in February. Women with GDM were at higher risk of developing diabetes later in life, warned an earlier study in Kerala’s neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu, conducted by a group of doctors led by endocrinologist Dr V Seshiah.
“They are the ideal group to be targeted for lifestyle modification or pharmacologic intervention in order to delay or postpone the onset of overt diabetes. Hence, an important public health priority in the prevention of diabetes is to address maternal health both during the ante- and post-partum period,” the study said.
Medical researchers believe that the disease, earlier considered an ailment of the rich, is on the rise in India. Nearly 70 million people – half of them women – in a population of 1.21 billion have diabetes, and the number is predicted to rise to 101 million by 2030.
Nearly 60% of diabetics in India have never been screened or diagnosed due to a lack of awareness, according to a 2012 report published by the Brussels-based International Diabetes Federation, an umbrella organisation of diabetes associations in 160 countries. The study said nearly 63% did not even know the complications that arise from the disease.
Doctors attending the four-day World Congress of Diabetes in April, organised by Diabetes India in Kochi, suggested India-specific treatment guidelines for helping the rapidly growing number of patients in the country.
Dr Jothydev Kesavadev, the organising secretary for the fifth edition of the congress and the moderator for glucose monitoring consensus guidelines, told IPS that low-income patients suffer the most as they lack medical insurance.
“Though there are international guidelines for the treatment of diabetes, there is an urgent need for country-oriented guidelines,” he said, “especially in areas of glucose monitoring and use of insulin in hospitals, besides taking into consideration the socioeconomic status of a patient and the country.”
Healthcare experts say a combination of dietary pattern, sedentary lifestyle, obesity and genetic predisposition puts Indians at a unique risk of acquiring diabetes. Dr Meenu Hariharan, director of the Indian Institute of Diabetes in Thiruvananthapuram, told IPS that Indians were more prone genetically to diabetes than Europeans.
“Reduced physical activity and obesity accelerate the onset of diabetes in genetically predisposed people,” she said. Starch-rich diets and increased intake of tinned foods with a high content of preservatives are other culprits. Studies and screening programmes have highlighted the fact that diabetes is spreading fast across India.
Cases of diabetes are higher in the four southern states – Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala – than in other states, according to the results of a countrywide blood-testing campaign conducted under the national programme for prevention and control of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and strokes by the health ministry.
In Tamil Nadu, 11.8% of people tested positive for diabetes, 10.2% in Karnataka, 8.8% in Kerala, and 8.7% in Andhra Pradesh, compared with only 3% in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, which reported the lowest incidence of the disease.
Alarmingly, rural areas are also seeing a rise in diabetes rates, as a fallout of rapid urbanisation. However, the incidence of the disease remains higher in cities than in villages, according to Dr V Ramankutty, a health activist and professor at AMCHSS.
Talking to IPS, he charted the rise in the incidence of the disease. A survey in the early 1970s, he said, found only 2.3% of the urban population and 1.5% of the rural population to have diabetes. But by 1992, the proportion had risen to 8.2% and 2.4% for urban and rural areas, respectively. A repeat survey after five years found an even higher prevalence of the disease in urban areas, at 11.6%.
But insulin-deficient diabetes in children is less common in India than in western countries, said Dr GD Thapar, former director of the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in New Delhi. In his book How to Lead a Healthy Life Despite Diabetes, he emphasised how crucial breastfeeding is to prevent the disease in children.
Forward is working with young women in Africa to give them a voice and provide policymakers with first-hand evidence
Teenage women are the focus of Forward – the NGO has worked with adolescent women in Africa to tackle issues around their sexual and reproductive health and rights for almost two decades.
While its initial projects were carried out in partnership with established civil society organisations, over the years it became apparent that there was a missed opportunity to create change by partnering with emerging organisations led by young women.
Despite the trend towards encouraging participatory approaches within the sector, Forward’s experience has been that organisations led by young women were failing to receive the support they needed. All too often young women were simply the subject of assistance and not the drivers of change themselves.
The organisation’s Africa programmes manager, Elizabeth King, was born in Ethiopia and has worked for a number of international NGOs in the country, yet she says that her most valuable learning on how to address the issues faced by adolescent women has come from the young women themselves.
“My knowledge of girls in villages like Gonder in rural Ethiopia is based on what the girls have taught me. They taught me what it feels like to get married at 10 years old or the emotions you experience when you have to sleep with someone when you don’t even know what sex is.”
The ability to segment a project’s target audience has proved to be the key to ensuring the organisation can effectively meet the needs of young women. Unlike projects that are designed to reach women of all ages, Forward and its project partners specifically deal with adolescent women.
Because of the distressing experiences that many of these young women have, it is easy to forget how young they are. While a girl may be a domestic violence survivor, have suffered from fistula and have a family to support the fact that she is still a teenager needs to be addressed.
Greater participation and encouraging a consultative approach can sometimes be interpreted as simply encouraging local partners to be part of the process. Yet this still fails to put adolescent girls into the picture. Gathering the thoughts of a local civil society organisation is not the same as specifically encouraging the young women to share their experiences and insights.
“You avoid the traditional hierarchies when you involve girls from the village and hear directly from them,” says King.
“We forget that we were young once and that we need to leave the space to give young women the chance. These girls have unique insights but what they lack is the chance and capacity to lead.”
One of the methods that Forward uses to facilitate this learning is participatory ethnographic evaluation and research. The benefit of this qualitative method is that it empowers young women to understand and resolve the issues from their own perspective. They are trained to be the experts and the organisation argues that these young women are best placed to give an insight into the problems they face.
The young women get extensive training to develop their research skills. They are fully involved in the initial research design so as to be at the centre of the project and to ensure that the interview questions are relevant to their peer group. They conduct the surveys and, while the original design called for university students to act as supervisors, Forward’s experience has been that is more effective to use adolescent women from the local community who have strong literacy skills.
A key part of the process involves reviewing the information with the young women before it is shared with a wider audience. Local organisations and authorities listen to the report findings in the women’s own words. The experience not only empowers the women by sharing the findings in their voice but also provides local officials and policy makers with first-hand evidence of the girls’ experiences and challenges any assumptions they may have held.
Despite the appeal of the rhetoric of participation, the reality is that bottom-up approaches are both time-consuming and costly. People have to wait as the partner organisations are the ones who decide what action should be taken. Yet the organisation is adamant that the results have laid a solid foundation for future work. “The best approach to learning about adolescent girls is to approach them with a blank piece of paper and an open mind,” says King.
Women’s organisations say positive action in some areas of government is undermined by Department for Education
Government efforts to tackle domestic violence against women and girls are “virtually meaningless” in some areas, according to a group of women’s organisations.
In a report released on Thursday, the End Violence Against Women Coalition – an umbrella of 60 women’s organisations which aim to prevent domestic violence – gives the government 2.5 out of 10 for its preventative work, and argues that positive action from the Home Office, Department for International Development and Crown Prosecution Service is being undermined by the Department for Education and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
In the wake of a series of high-profile domestic and sexual abuse cases, the group urged the government to make sex and relationship education, which covers issues of consent and respect, compulsory. “For months now there has been a torrent of news reports about child sexual abuse, prosecutions of groups of men for child sexual exploitation, the murders of Tia Sharp and April Jones, and weekly stories of domestic violence murders, the rate of which is not falling,” said Marai Larasi, chair of the End Violence Against Women Coalition.
“We urgently need a response from the prime minister as to the government’s plans not just to police but to prevent this abuse in the first place. It is not inevitable – strategic policy can detect risk and prevent abuse. Currently government work is at best patchy and education policy is a key barrier to improving this.”
The Department for Education was criticised for failing to support key government efforts to tackle domestic abuse, such as the Home Office’s “thisisabuse” campaign, which featured online, on youth television and in cinemas. The report states that the DfE did not distribute material about the campaign and did not warn schools and teachers to be prepared if children came forward to disclose abuse as a result of the campaign. It added that a DfE expert group on violence against women and girls was disbanded in early 2012 and “our experts also did not feel there was sufficient ongoing training on safeguarding for teachers and staff”.
Michael Gove, the education secretary, dropped Labour plans to introduce compulsory sex education lessons in English primary schools last year, and told an education select committee that there was a direct link between children doing well academically and their chances of indulging in “risky behaviour”.
“If governmental departments don’t work together on key initiatives, their effectiveness is undermined,” said Holly Dustin, manager of End Violence Against Women. “There is good work in some areas of government, but unfortunately in other key areas the government’s pledge is virtually meaningless.”
A YouGov poll of more than 2,000 adults, commissioned by the group in conjunction with the report, found 86% of UK adults questioned believed sex and relationships education “which addresses sexual consent and respectful relationships” should be compulsory in secondary schools. A third of respondents believed their school should be doing more to prevent abuse, while 44% did not know. Of the third who thought schools should do more, 87% said teachers should be trained in spotting signs of abuse; 76% said schools should proactively tackle “sexual bullying” such as groping and sexual name-calling and 65% agreed that schools should have a clear policy prohibiting pornography in school including via phones and online.
A Home Office spokesperson said the government had “driven forward significant progress in tackling violence against women and girls”, including ringfencing £40m for domestic and sexual violence support services, creating two new offences of stalking, launching the pilot of “Clare’s law”, introducing legislation to criminalise forced marriage and campaigning against female genital mutilation. “We are actively pursuing ways in which we can prevent domestic and sexual violence happening in the first place, do even more to help victims, bring perpetrators to justice and eradicate these appalling crimes for good.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said that sex and relationship education was already compulsory in maintained secondary schools. “Our guidance explicitly states that children must learn about ‘how to recognise and avoid exploitation and abuse’,” said a spokeswoman. “Teachers must also cover the concept of sexual consent and teach pupils to respect themselves and others. We supported the thisisabuse campaign and made it accessible to teachers. We are also working hard to tackle child sexual exploitation, sexual bullying and the sexualisation of childhood.”
According to the Sex Education Forum, current government policy states that it is compulsory to teach the biological aspect of sex education but sex and relationships education (SRE) is “currently not compulsory but is contained within non-statutory PSHE [personal, social, health and economic] education within the national curriculum and is strongly recommended within government SRE guidance.” Government guidelines state: “Parents have the right to withdraw their children from all or part of any sex education provided, but not from teaching the biological aspects of human growth and reproduction necessary under national curriculum science.”
Dustin said: “We are confused as to why the Department for Education are saying that sex and relationships education is already compulsory when ministers have said repeatedly that they will not make it so. There is no law requiring schools to address issues such as sexual consent or healthy and respectful relationships, nor indeed to discuss the harmful messages that pornography sends.”
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Angela Merkel may top the Forbes list of most powerful women in the world, but tell us who’s No 1 in your personal chart
Forbes has released its annual list of the most powerful women in the world. Topping the list is Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. The list contains only two British women – the Queen and JK Rowling.
We don’t need to tell you that lists like this should be taken with a pinch of salt (this one also features the model Gisele Bündchen and Beyoncé), so we’d like to know who your most powerful women are. Did you have a teacher who convinced you to carry on with a difficult subject? Did your mother wield power over her unruly children with ease? Maybe you feel like an artist or writer has had a bigger impact than the women on the official list. Perhaps you were mentored by a woman who changed your life for the better. Let us know your nominations for our alternative women in power list.
A revised minimum wage could help women working in harsh conditions who have few other places to go, but employers say they are also suffering as a result of disrupted production
The bulldozers have moved on and the eight-storey Rana Plaza building, in which more than 1,120 workers died when it collapsed on 24 April, is nothing more than a gaping hole in the ground.
For workers hurrying to their shifts at the scores of garment factories that dot the neighbourhood of Savar, 15km north of Dhaka, it is a grim reminder of the hazardous conditions that prevail in Bangladesh’s $20bn apparel industry.
Walking past the fenced-off building site every day, Bangladeshi seamstress Selina Begum, 23, relives the moment the roof crashed down on top of her. She was pulled out by rescue workers after roughly six hours, and she knows she had a narrow escape.
But Begum, who worked at a factory on the Rana Plaza’s sixth floor, says she is already scouring the area for work – in a garment factory. “We’re poor. I have to work to survive. Unless I go to work at the factory, who will feed me?” she says.
Begum is typical of the 3.6 million women who work in Bangladesh’s garment industry. In a country where the per capita annual income is only $850, the $60 per month she earns puts a roof over her head and food on the table – but only just. “It’s difficult to get through the month,” she says. “It’s long hours. But I hope I will earn more as I gather experience.”
The government last week announced an immediate review of the minimum wage for the garment sector. The textile ministry is to set up a wage board to fix a new minimum wage for garment workers, who have been agitating for better pay and working conditions in recent months.
“In view of the current circumstances, the government has decided to review the minimum wage, and a wage board has been constituted with representatives of the government, the workers and the garment owners,” the jute and textile minister, Abdul Latif Siddiqui, said. “The board will fix the minimum wage, which will be applicable from 1 May.”
Analysts say the government has been under severe pressure to improve conditions in the country’s largest export industry. Foreign and domestic pressure has been growing since November, after a series of industrial accidents involving garment factories – in which about 1,300 people died people.
Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity, says it is a step towards ensuring a decent living wage in the industry. “The workers have been demanding better wages since inflation has been so high recently,” she says. “These workers sew the clothes that earn the country foreign currency, so they deserve better.”
However, garment manufacturers are unhappy about the timing of the review and the 1 May date for implementation. They suggest that since a minimum wage was fixed as recently as 2010, it should be reviewed at a later date.
“Garment owners are suffering because of missed shipments and disrupted production due to strikes,” says Siddiqur Rahman, senior vice-president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association. “The government should take that into account and rethink the retrospective implementation of the new minimum wage.”
Rozina Akter, 21, a sewing-machine operator who worked at the Phantom Apparels factory on the fourth floor of Rana Plaza, fractured her right foot in the accident. She says she has no alternative but to go back to work as soon as doctors will allow.
Akter arrived in Dhaka three years ago with her family to join the workforce that sews clothes for some of the world’s biggest retail brands. She has moved from factory to factory, working seven days a week, eight to 12 hours a day, doing night shifts and overtime. She started at the minimum monthly wage of 3,000 taka ($38.50) but gradually earned more as she gained experienced.
“It’s a hard job,” she says, but with her level of education – she dropped out of school in the seventh grade – she knows she will have a hard time finding better work. “At least I have a fan over my head and I can live in the city,” she says. “I tried to open a tailoring shop back home, but I had to give it up.”
Akter’s older sister, who lives in the same two-room house with their parents, also works in a garment factory, down the road from Rana Plaza. The family comes from the district of Gaibandha in the north of Bangladesh – where meandering rivers constantly rewrite the geography and seasonal hunger haunts millions of people.
“The river took our home so we had to leave. We decided to come to Dhaka to make a living,” says Salma Akter, Rozina’s sister. “We pay the rent jointly. Much of what we earn we have to give to the landlord. But we hope we will gradually earn more.”
Experts say that while the garment industry has benefited from the cheap labour offered by women – who tend to work for less than men – the industry has reduced the marginalisation of women who were excluded from formal sector jobs.
A World Bank study found in 2008 that compared with other countries, agriculture does not employ as many women in Bangladesh. World bank experts say this is because land-holding size and agricultural productivity have been historically low, leading to low demand for labour.
Studies show that the predominant role of agriculture in the labour market for poorer people has declined as more people head to cities to find work.
According to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics data, agricultural employment as a percentage of the workforce declined from 52% in 2002 to 48% in 2010. In the same period, manufacturing employment increased from 10% to 12%.
A USAid-funded study showed that labour force participation for 20- to 24-year-old women more than doubled over the past 10 years – coinciding with the garment boom – but declined for men in the same age group.
“The truth is, there is no other industry that can absorb so many female workers with little schooling or skills,” says Ahsan Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute, a Dhaka-based thinktank.
Rozina Akter admits that the Rana Plaza collapse has scarred her. “I didn’t want to go to work that morning,” she says. “But the supervisors said we’d be docked pay if we didn’t go. Then the building owner turned up with some guys who threatened to beat us with sticks if we didn’t start working … We went in and started working, but then the power went out and the whole building started to shake. I ran for the stairs. But after I ran down one flight, the roof crashed down around me. I fell and lost consciousness …”
Despite her fear, hunger seems to drive Akter on. “I’ll go back to work as soon as I get better,” she says with a little smile. “Not all buildings will collapse.”
Bangladesh’s minimum wage
A minimum wage board was formed in the spring of 2010 and a new minimum wage, effective from November 2010, was set in August. The wage board raised the minimum monthly pay for garment workers to 3,000 taka from 1,662.50. Wages increased by 67-81%, depending on job category. The first minimum wage board, set up in 1994, fixed 940 taka as the minimum wage for garment workers. The second board, formed in 2006, raised the minimum to 1662.50.
Jack O’Sullivan makes some very important points about the clear difficulty around discussing what men experience and how the post-feminist settlement leaves out matriarchal influences and power relations in the domestic space (A man walks out of a room, 21 May).
For men, feminism has been a gift in how it has opened up new ways of being a man, but it has also left men facing the psychological quandary of how to “be”, in response to what has changed. This applies particularly in the home, which, in the conventional heterosexual formulation, is still predominantly defined by women. In my view we have a long way to go before we understand male development and behaviour. Many men are still caught by the tensions inherent in mother-son relationships: part of them yearning for relationship, another striving to define their gendered identity as separate from her. Despite all the commonalities, male development, and attachment patterns, from infancy onwards is not the same as that of females, and we need to face the reality of how this impacts on home life in adulthood as well as how we seem to assume that early-years and primary education should remain a predominantly matriarchal space in the same way that many of our homes are.
What Diane Abbott has spoken to as a crisis in masculinity goes much deeper than its social and interpersonal manifestations. We need a narrative about male development that helps us to make sense of the problems boys and men face (and how girls and women are also affected by this) in the same way as feminism provided a narrative for women. This also needs to be a narrative that makes it OK for men to critique feminism without feeling scared of the reaction they might get.
Dr Phil Goss
Senior lecturer, counselling & psychotherapy, University of Central Lancashire
• Jack O’Sullivan’s article is a welcome and perceptive contribution to highlighting men’s issues.
What the author misses, however, is that all over the western world men are in fact meeting together to discover and practice more wholehearted and authentic ways of being, and that these initiatives are barely represented in the mainstream media. The chief reason for this is not that men fear ridicule from women for talking about masculinity, or that matriarchy has a lot to answer for, but that other men, and especially in Britain, and particularly journalists, are very fearful of anything they imagine is connected with “tree-hugging”. At our centre we are frequently asked by women what groups and events we have for their husbands sons and even fathers. Britain lags behind here. In fact this weekend, a group of men from all over Europe are meeting near Frankfurt in an International Symposium for Men in order to share the different ways being pioneered of working with men’s issues. Lamentably, Britain boasts the fewest number of participants, which has to do with the way our culture regularly practices ridicule towards those who are willing to express that they care about things that are beyond others’ understanding.
John Bunzl Founder, International Simultaneous Policy Organisation, Nick Duffell Co-founder, Centre for Gender Psychology
Young women are using Botox as a ‘preventive measure’, but facial paralysis inhibits the ability to mirror others’ expressions
The news that younger women than ever are resorting to Botox as a “preventive measure” has got me thinking about the time a few years ago when I went to stay with a friend. The face she greeted me with was not her face. One of her eyelids sagged, giving her a strange lopsided smile. Distress bubbled up inside me. Had she been struck down with Bell’s palsy? Had a stroke? Why didn’t she tell me?
“What’s happened to your face?” I blurted out, feeling the tears rise in my eyes.
“It’s no big deal,” she said, brushing me off with a wave of the hand. “It’s just a bit of Botox gone wrong. It’s not permanent or anything.”
It took me a while to fully process her answer. My startlingly confident, formidably intelligent, beautiful 31-year-old friend was getting Botox? And Botox had caused her eye to sag as though she’d had a stroke? Of course, I knew film stars and celebrities forked out in order to have this paralysing poison injected into their faces, but it wasn’t something I’d anticipated someone I actually know would do.
Fast forward a few years and Botox seems far more common. I have other friends with the tell-tale shiny foreheads, though I’ve never again encountered a droopy eye. Yet Botoxed faces all have something in common. A strange vacancy, a peculiar dullness. Despite the glimmering smoothness of the skin – the odd way that light reflects off an unlined surface – there’s a kind of deadness around the eyes. All my Botoxed friends look faintly angry, with a touch of indifference. It’s a particular expression, rarely found in an unneedled face, and it takes some getting used to.
Lately, I’ve found myself feeling uneasy after spending time with these shiny-faced friends. The sense of connectedness we’ve always shared seems impeded by their impenetrable faces. In short, I miss their micro-expressions. I feel cut off from them, and come away lonely and disturbed. I worry how these frozen faces serve them in other parts of their lives. How do their partners feel? What about their children?
I know why women feel they need Botox. I understand the pressure on us all to maintain a youthful appearance. The relentless bombardment of media images and meta-messages. Our invisibility once past a certain age. The very real ramifications of ageing as a woman in our culture. But I can’t help wondering about the costs of Botox, and not just as far as one’s wallet is concerned.
There’s no argument that Botox paralyses facial muscles. That’s how it works. It minimises micro-expressions, those brief, involuntary facial expressions that reveal our unconscious feeling of anger, happiness, disgust, embarrassment or pride. In a sense, communicating with someone who’s had Botox is like communicating with a static image – much of the body language involved is silenced. Considering that body language, mostly consisting of facial expressions, makes up at least half of any message being communicated, this is a significant loss.
But this facial paralysis also inhibits the ability of the Botoxed to mimic the facial expressions of others, which is critical in the formation of empathy. Facial micro-mimicry is the major way we understand others’ emotions. If you are wincing in pain I immediately do a micro-wince, which sends a message to my brain about what you are experiencing. By experiencing it myself I understand what you are going through. This suggests that not only do I find my Botoxed friends hard to read, but they are also hindered in their capacity to read me. An unfortunate feedback cycle. The possible implications of this are frightening.
There has been a study into the effects of Botox on the ability to empathise, but nothing that specifically addresses the impacts on friendship, or the mother-infant bond. The absence of discussion around the effect of Botox on mothering is troubling considering that a mother’s display of emotions is how the infant learns to interact with the world. Psychologists have a method for testing infant distress at unresponsive faces called the “still face paradigm”. Any alarm bells ringing?
Empathy is a cornerstone of our relationships, vital to both building and maintaining positive interactions with others. That many women are presenting themselves as a still image is disturbing and worthy of consideration. The poker face, by definition, doesn’t express anything. With the proliferation of “selfies” and the focus on static representations of women’s faces, are we forgetting how much of who we are is communicated through facial expressions? Are we, in some sense, choosing a form of silence far more insidious than women have ever known in the past? Who benefits from the silencing of women’s faces? And what is the cost?