Yesterday was International Women’s Day. We have come a long way but we still have a long way to go. Not even 100 years have passed in this country since women were granted the vote.
To earn that right, they fought the police, smashed windows, chained themselves to railings and went on hunger strike in prison. Today, men still earn, on average, 14.2 per cent more than women. On the boards of Britain’s top companies, only one in five directors is a woman. In the Tory government’s own pay equality department, the women are paid £2 an hour less than the men.
All over the world, women are beaten, abused and subjugated. The exercise of unjust power by men is so deeply embedded in some cultures it will take generations to root it out. In Egypt, for example, nine out of every ten women has been genitally mutilated. And in India, a country that prides itself on being a progressive nation, the widely held belief that it is OK to commit rape is shocking. In 2012, British documentary filmmaker Leslee Udwin made a film called India’s Daughter about the gang rape and murder of a 22-year-old medical student coming home from the cinema with her boyfriend. The film has just appeared on Netflix. It isn’t just heartbreaking, it is profoundly disturbing.
Jyoti the victim had just completed her medical exams. She spoke perfect English. She worked in a call centre from 8pm until 4am to pay for her studies. Her ambition was to build and run a hospital in her village. On the fatal night, she and a male friend stepped aboard a bus being run by a gang of criminals. They set upon the boy with clubs. They took Jyoti to the back of the bus and “took turns” with her. Finally, they then performed a particularly nauseating act with an iron rod. They threw her, still alive, on to the side of the road. Three days later, she died.
What was inspiring was the way thousands of men and women poured on to the streets of Delhi to protest her death, braving tear gas and water cannon. What was depressing was the reaction of the Indian establishment. One of the gang’s defence lawyers said: “If my daughter or sister engaged in such pre-marital activities, I would douse her in petrol and set her on fire.”
The other defence lawyer solemnly upheld the status quo: “We have the best culture. In our culture, there is no place for a woman.”
Worst of all, on the day the documentary was to be screened, the Indian government banned it and tried to arrest Leslee Udwin, who had to flee the country. Like I said at the start, we have a long way to go.