A little over a week ago, secondary school teacher and actress Kescia Branche was found unconscious at the side of the road; she died a few days later without regaining consciousness and even now detectives are retracing her last steps so as to find the person or persons responsible and bring them to justice. This is a case that has raised public ire and there is no doubt that everyone, except perhaps Ms Branche’s killer(s), is wishing the police speed and success in solving it.
As has happened countless times in the past, there was a blurring of the line between motive and reason. Too many voices were quick to question why Ms Branche was at the place where she was likely taken advantage of at the particular time she was there, rather than why someone would have sought to harm her. Unless Ms Branche’s assailant(s) confess and reveal exactly why she was targeted, motive may never be known. However, the main reason Ms Branche was attacked that night is because of her gender; she was a woman.
It is 2017, 22 years since the Beijing World Conference on Women, which seemed to offer hope with its focus on action for equality, development and peace and the coining of the phrase “women’s rights are human rights” by Mrs Hillary Clinton, who at the time was the First Lady of the United States of America. Incidentally, Ms Branche was born that same year, 1995, and was but a baby when the call to action was made. It is beyond sad that not enough action has been taken in all the years she has been alive that would have prevented her and many other women from losing the right to life.
There have been advances in women’s rights over the years, but nowhere in the world have there been enough to call a halt to the activism, the constant reminder that women have the same rights and should have the same opportunities as men in the economic, social and political strata.
In too many developed countries, where a lot of strides have been made on several fronts, women are automatically offered a lower pay scale than men. In fact, in some companies, economic sexism is a sort of unwritten rule. In undeveloped and under-developed countries, women and women-headed households, which have been growing at exponential rates owing to issues such as abandonment and AIDS-related deaths, are the poorest. Some of the damning results of poverty are poor nutrition, ill health and a lack of education, all of which feed into the vicious cycle that women and children are forced to continue on.
Statistics have proven that women rather than men are more likely to become victims of random crimes, domestic violence and rapes. They are more likely to be sexually harassed and molested and not be believed or blamed for ‘inviting’ these behaviours when they occur. It is simultaneously gratifying and horrific that women in the USA and in the recent past in Britain have been speaking out about the atrocities they have suffered at the hands of famous and powerful men. Society has begun to shun some of these men, and in several instances consequences will be faced including justice, but there are others who will continue to elude any form of punishment or ostracization and there is still too much victim blaming.
Tokenism and affirmative action still delineate the roles of too many women in the political sphere in countless places. Why are there still so many ‘firsts’? One must note too that in some places the firsts remain ‘onlys’. The men at the top often shift just enough to make room for one, and grudgingly, before they close ranks again. So much for the glass ceiling. Then there are those countries where women are still barely able to secure rights to vote or drive and others where these struggles are still being waged.
The Sustainable Development Goals that were adopted by the United Nations at a summit for that purpose in 2015, said to be a call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure peace and prosperity, specifically pledged equity to 50% of the world’s population – women. However, for as long as the status quo remains that will continue to be an empty promise and a goal unfulfilled, like its predecessor, the third Millennium Development Goal which was to promote gender equality and empower women.
There can be no true development as long as women, and as a consequence children, continue to be seen as lesser beings, property and outlets for men’s frustration. That there is still such a thing as women’s plight is as a result of too many calls and not enough action. What will it take? Must funds for development be tied to the advancement of rights before governments and all of us do the right thing?