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Women of the 21st Century

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HARRIET HARMAN
PA

The crafty innovation and clever spin placed on social and economic issues by politicians to further their cause never ceases to amaze me. However, after Harriet Harman, the Labour Party's deputy leader spoke out about how the tabloid's page 3 is not "the right thing for women in the 21st century" I found myself wondering if women's rights have progressed very much since the suffragettes and the mid-nineteenth century.

For many years the ability to vote was restricted to wealthy property owners within Britain, therefore specifically excluding women, as property law and marriage law gave males ownership rights at marriage or inheritance until the 19th century. As difficult as it may be for some to believe, by the 7th century reforms under Islam gave women rights in inheritance, marriage and divorce - the likes of which are yet to be seen in some cultures and were yet to be seen in the civilized west for many centuries.

Now, the laws and legislations of the west seem to have overtaken the early attempts of Islamic reform. Though there are many laws and bills that "guarantee" equality in terms of employment,
pay and treatment in the work force; women are still paid, on average, less than men and there are fewer women than men who hold the top jobs in any sector.

SO?

Why could this still be an issue after all of these campaigns and laws? It could be that by the time women get to the point where a "top-level" job is within their grasp, they decide to have children or the new job could mean less time spent with the children that they already managed to have.

But the real question is why do we always end up coming back to jobs, flexible hours and childcare every time we talk about women's rights; when originally the issue was equal rights of voting and weight within the law ie. giving evidence.

The point of any human rights movements is not to carve a way out for 'their people to live' but to provide an alternative option; to give them the right to chose how they wish to live their life - be it a careers climbing the corporate ladder, flying through chambers or looking after 3 little children and an even more difficult to please adult one too.

However, the choices people make are hinged on the perceived value of their path - be it by them or their peers. And, the value something is given depends very heavily on the criteria you chose to value it by - a diamond would fail in its evaluation if you used the criteria for grading apples.

The problem we have is that we use money as our national and international grading system. It may fit when deciding what job we take or what car to buy; but we lose the true essence of people if we use this to appreciate them.

If we value women monetarily, then Page 3 is a very clever and viable option as models tend to make more money than junior doctors or barristers in their pupillage. The whole point of women's rights is to value them as people, as contributors not as objects, and how much they make; in this respect, Page 3 is regressing the place of women in society.

Though Harman may have a political agenda, the issue is important: How can we expect our young generation of women to respect themselves and encourage their presence in industry and government if we can justify a woman posing in her knickers by quoting how much money she makes?

Even female politicians get can't escape the senseless analysis about what clothes they're wearing how much weight they have put on, or what their hair looks like. Can you imagine what our history and politics would have looked like if Dick Cheney, Gordon Brown or even Churchill were judged on their grooming?

Let us start by allowing our women to be judged by the same criteria as their male counterparts, by their achievements and their efforts; not on how disposable their wardrobe is or whether they dress to their shape. Then maybe we can avoid the paradox of objectifying a woman on page 3 and complaining about the glass ceiling on page 7. It will allow this new generation of women to accurately reflect the year on year success of girls in the classroom in the real working world - from politics and economics to science and literature. But still respect themselves enough to feel it is far less "degrading" to be a hard working stay at home mother than being paied to be photographed topless.

If we can instill a true and genuine sense of value and respect for women that is expressed in conduct and not purely title and a paycheck, then we can find a happy medium for true emancipation of women.