The Struggle for Women's Rights
Thought for the Day - BBC Radio 4 Today Programme
Wednesday, 23rd November, 2022
Good morning. Before Monday’s World Cup match between Iran and England, the Iranian team stood in silence, refusing to sing as their National Anthem was played. Reports say they were expressing solidarity with those protesting against their government’s violent suppression of dissent, including women who are risking their lives by defying the regime’s dress codes.
Those brave Iranian footballers show us that the continuing struggle for women’s rights is not just a women’s issue, nor is it confined to any one political context. Not so long ago, suffragettes in this country fought the same battle that women all over the world are still fighting today.
That struggle goes on, because misogyny remains an insidious influence in all societies, and women and girls are at greatest risk of domestic abuse and sexual violence. While social media can have a destructive impact on the lives of all young people whatever their gender, this can be particularly intense for girls because the female body is still objectified and commodified by the media and the advertising and fashion industries. For example, after a short-lived attempt to portray female bodies more realistically, many in the world of high fashion have reverted to very thin models on the catwalk, often scantily dressed. This too can be seen as a form of misogyny.
In such a culture, it’s not surprising that many women find greater freedom in covering their bodies than in exposing them. This is as true of Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab as it is of some Catholic nuns and Orthodox Jewish women who willingly choose religious clothing. The question at issue is not what women wear, but how free we are to make our own decisions.
As a Catholic feminist I lament the role some in my church have played in promoting the subjugation of women. Still today, women are not ordained to the priesthood in the Catholic Church because the female body is seen as an obstacle when it comes to representing Christ on the altar. I find this outrageous, but I draw courage and inspiration from the Gospel accounts of the women around Jesus. Not only were women never excluded on account of their sex, they were present at the most significant moments of Jesus’s life. They challenged him and argued with him, and he often praised them for their faith. Like those Iranian footballers, he took the side of those oppressed by tyrannical regimes, including the women who followed him. We are as much in need of such courageous protestors today, as at any time in history.