Shifting the arguments over gender control

Charlotte Philby
Thursday 20 November 2008 11:29

According to gospel of Saint Paul: “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does... Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband.” In short, Saint Paul does not believe in marital rape. And while his statement suggests men are equally susceptible to the sexual will of their partners, there are fundamental physical reasons why women are more likely victims of their spouse’s uncontrolled urge.

This is, one might argue, an outdated - if not extreme - illustration of the ongoing struggle for power facing women in the 21st century. But sadly, it is not. In India, for one, with the passing of the Protection of Women From Domestic Violence Act 2005, which came into force two years ago, a civil remedy for victims was established. Yet this failed to criminalise marital rape, and to this day, jail is only available to the perpetrators in these cases if a court order has been violated. In Thailand and Mauritius, meanwhile, spousal rape, as it is also known, was not even a criminal offence until 2007.

In the “developed” world, 141 years after the formation of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage, the balance of power lies firmly in the male’s domain. In the UK, according to a report by the Fawcett Society, women working in full-time jobs earn 17 per cent less than their male counterparts (36 per cent if they are part-time); women make up less than 20 per cent of MPs (0.3 per cent are females from ethnic minorities), not to mention that of every 100 rape cases reported to the police, in Britain just six result in prosecution.

Such figures suddenly pale compared to female genital mutilation, most heavily practised in parts of Africa; honour killings, prevalent in Pakistan, where Shahnaz Bokhari, chair of the Pakistan Progressive Women’s Association, has counted over 4,000 cases of this type since 1994 in the three largest hospitals of Islamabad and Rawalpindi; and women trafficking – a global issue now at the centre of debate in Britain. These are, evidently, problems bound with huge and complex global issues, about which we, as individuals, are able to do very little. That we sigh at the magnitude of it all and then return to our daily lives is a largely forgivable reaction to such a massive human disaster.

Short of forming yet another largely impotent lobby rallying parliament and the UN for action, or joining an NGO in the often vain hope of “making a difference”, what can we do? As old-hat as it may sound, there is something to be said for merely voicing our acknowledgement. This was at least the thinking behind a recent collaborative project launched by the user-generated youth initiative Ctrl.Alt.Shift, “a community for passionate and outspoken individuals, joined in the fight against poverty and injustice”, which, with the support of VICE magazine, tasked young artists with addressing issues of gender, power and poverty through photography.

This is a nationwide competition, in which new photographers are asked to submit images that confront the issues and structures behind continual gender inequality. And for those who want something back for their deeds, there is a cash prize for the winner, chosen by Nan Goldin, plus the chance to show your print at an exhibition in London; and 14 runners-up will see their work exhibited alongside a host of “mentors” including Alexa Chung and VICE UK editor, Andy Capper, at a gallery in London. Submissions must be received by 23.59 on November 24, so get clicking. After all, this was supposed to be Age of Aquarius.

Click here for the competition homepage

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