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Why I am a Feminist: Born in Morocco, Then a Parisian Banker - Now a Gender Campaigner

25/04/2013 17:39 BST | Updated 25/06/2013 10:12 BST
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Feminism means that gender equality should become the norm.

It is a work of changing the mentalities now and here, the wrong habits of inequality in our world.

It means that the deeply rooted mentality about the weaker position of women in our world needs to change.

I was born in Casablanca in Morocco and grew up in Paris; I was exposed to gender inequality early on in my life, and have always striven to fight openly against it.

In beautiful Morocco women were assigned the typical female roles, which could not fit with my own self-definition. I could not stand that social prison. I would never cook nor raise children! I actually ended up loving cooking tagines and having three children! I will always remember those parties where women were not admitted to the table of men, I will always remember those intelligent women having no voice in the political or societal debate... But those years were the setting for the rise of my quiet rage to fight the discrepancies in society.

In Paris I succeeded to work in a very male sector of the economy, the stock exchange. Well I really fought to prove myself as equal, I loved the game so much that I turned inequality into an advantage. Being a rare female gave me some preferences. But really it was at all times a challenge to pass through the barrier of the prejudiced eyes, of those guys looking at my body rather than listening to what I had to offer in terms of financial products.

Those years have built in me the desire to fight for gender rights.

I co-founded with Mariella Fostrup and Jason McCue, the human rights lawyer, the GREAT Initiative: a foundation to fight for gender equality in Africa and here. Through the foundation we have been helping grassroots women's organisations in Africa, notably in Liberia, where we recently travelled with actress Renée Zellweger and supported a fantastic radio station for women and other NGOs doing vital work.

But gender equality is not just an issue in Africa - it is also something we need to confront at home.

Here in the UK, girls are being abused in schools, at home, on the streets and in gangs. It's vital that we tackle the root of this violence against women. So we have created a campaign named Great Men Value Women.

Great Men Value Women aims to deliver messages of gender equality to young British men with the help of ambassadors including singers, rappers, comedians and sportsmen, who go into schools to talk to boys and teenagers and get them to reflect on the positive roles that girls and women have played in their lives. This campaign convinced me even more strongly that we need to talk to boys about how they can define themselves in an equal relationship with girls and women, without sacrificing their male pride and place within their peer group.

Today I live in London. I feel privileged to live in a free country.

I am often scared to say that we live in a heaven of freedom when I travel to Africa and other countries where I try to bring some help to the abused women. I acknowledge that gender rights need a great boost in the UK when you look at the number of women in Parliament or at the discrepancies in wages between genders. But when I travel to places in Africa where we try to help those women with deprived rights to have a simple and safe life, I feel London is a place of freedom where feminism has already helped realise lots of progress.

As a trustee of the GREAT Initiative where we fight for gender equality, I often find myself in this debate:

What does it mean to talk of gender equality here in Western countries and there in Africa, or in Afghanistan, or India?

Can I compare those two fights? And then stand up for the same rights, women standing side by side with men?

Can I compare them when I visit a woman who has been raped and whose children have been killed in a war?

Can I compare my woman's rights in the financial world of the City to the rights of Liberian woman?

And yet those battles exist in the same word: feminism. Fighting for women to have an equal seat in society to men.

Inequality shows us horrible consequences. In some war zones, rape is a weapon of war. In some areas of the world women have had taken away the right to receive education, the right to their own freedom of movement, freedom of marriage, of so much else...

Here we are fighting for equal chances in jobs, for equal wages... but we are also seeing the resurgence of violence against women.

All of this has the same venomous root.

It is the fact that women are not seen as equal to men.

It is the fact that still some men consider it OK to dispose of their daughter's life, consider it OK to rape a woman, consider it OK to look at a woman and think she is a second-class gender.

When I listened to the boys in English schools talking about how they define themselves as men, then I understood.

Those young men have the pressure of their peers - and thinking as a man often implicates them in looking at the other gender like a sub-gender.

It would be difficult for me not to be a feminist.

Karen Ruimy is co-founder of the GREAT initiative - Gender, Rights & Equality Trust http://www.thegreatinitiative.com Her new album Come With Me is out on May 28 available for download from iTunes http://bit.ly/145noRw. Karen will be appearing at Mind Body Spirit at Earls Court 24-27 May. www.karenruimy.com