The majority of the 1.5 billion people living on a dollar a day or less are women. On average worldwide women earn 50% less then men. In the past decade more women have entered the poverty cycle than men and this has been referred to as ‘the feminization of poverty’. In 1978 Diana Pearce, a researcher for the University of Wisconsin coined the phrase ‘the feminization of poverty’ and now it encompasses all statistics associated with women and poverty. The hardest hit in this cycle of poverty are senior women. These statistics are as relevant to Canada as any country. Canada, in fact, has the fifth largest wage gap between men and women in the world. Only Spain, Portugal, Korea and Japan have larger wage gaps. Women living in poverty are often denied access to credit resources. Health-care and nutritional needs are not a priority. Empowering women is the key to freeing the millions of women who live in poverty. Education and economical opportunities are the answer and since the Beijing Conference in 1995 there has been a recognition by governments that there is a gender dimension to poverty. Numerous countries have implemented initiatives to stop the increase of poor among women and some show success. China claims that poverty has dropped from 65 million to 42 million since 1998 and 60% of those poor were women. Mexico now offers assistance to poor women; as does Zambia, Cameroon, Madagascar and Niger. In developing countries the urgency has been for healthcare, nutrition and education. In more developed countries there has been an emergence of programs that support loans to women in small business. The United States, Canada, Belize, Japan and Viet Nam have placed a focus on women in business. Has this awareness changed the fact that women still comprise the majority of the world’s poor? Obviously not or we would not have statistics such as the following: 1.)56% of lone parent families headed by women live below the poverty line, as compared to 24 % of lone parent families headed by men 2.) 83% of minimum wage earners in Canada are women and children 3.) The more severe a woman’s disability, the lower her income; disabled women under the age of 35 have an average income of $13,000 a year 4.) one in five Canadian women is living in poverty Statistics Canada low-income-cut off (LICO) represents the level at which people spend so great a proportion of their income on basic necessities such as food and rent that they are living under ‘straightened circumstances’. Canadian standards for poverty do not compare with third world standards where populations struggle to survive but no matter where you live, poverty wears a person down. The answer for most women seems to be ‘get a job’ but poverty is a 7-day a week job. When you only get enough money to pay rent, necessity bills and food, there isn’t anything left over for emergencies or some of life’s basics. Poor people can’t buy in bulk to save costs, save for a rainy day or take advantage of sales. What a poor woman does leaves her open to criticism from well-meaning folks who earn a higher income. She is chastised if she spends money on a treat, smokes or has a drink. Poor-bashing is as harmful as any form of racism. Blaming women for their own poverty takes the attention away from the governments who fail to provide for the poor. Women are often judged by the number of children they have and can’t support. Children from low-income homes often don’t have a computer, probably no quiet space to do homework, or often no room of their own. Nearly 30% of poor children have changed schools 3 or 4 times before the age of 12. That is three times more than better-off children. It isn’t necessarily because poor women are transient—often moves are made because of terrible living conditions in some rentable homes. The feminization of poverty impacts women with chronic ill health, susceptibility to infectious disease, increased risk of heart disease, arthritis, stomach ulcers, migraines, clinical depression, stress, breakdown, vulnerability to mental illness and self-destructive coping behaviours. There is also an increased vulnerability to violence and abuse The argument becomes, of course, why are women more subject to violence and abuse because of poverty? The answer is simple; when you are poor you have less choices and poverty often traps women. If you don’t have a credit card or a car, you can’t leave a violent situation as easily. The feminization of poverty is a global crisis. In our own country we should be fighting for more affordable childcare and after school programs, maternity and parental leave for lower income wage earners, tax relief for the poor not just tax breaks for the rich, better health care, mental health care, substance abuse treatment, decent affordable housing, pay equity for women. Get involved with a group that works to make change; volunteer at a church or soup kitchen, look for fair trade clothes and stop supporting products that exploit the work of women and children, support organizations that provide services to women and children—change the way you speak to and about women. Respect, not judge.
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On The Table
What’s a Reinovorerous?
by Gwynne Hunt
Remembrance Day brings many memories to mind—it was an event that ranked high around our house when I was a kid. My dad had been in the Royal Canadian Air force and every November 11 we stood parade-side and watched him proudly march down the a street.
Years later we came to understand that dad had been dishonorably discharged from the RCAF; so it was hard to reconcile the pride with the fall from grace. There was nothing dishonorable about dad—a little shady perhaps but no dishonor. He explained to me that he had brought women to a party as instructed by his commanding officer and he took the fall for the Lieutenant. It could have been true, hard to tell with dad, he told good stories.
Dishonorably discharged or not, he marched year after year before retiring to the Legion to bend elbows with his comrades. I was proud of him and have never forgotten his lessons or orders to honor and obey. I was instructed to stand up when God Save the Queen was played. To this day I hear the first few bars and spring to my feet knocking drinks and snacks off the tea tray with my robe.
We always got the day off school, made poppies to wear and stuck in my head forever are the words to In Flander’s Field. My grandson asked me not long ago why Ed Flanders from the Simpson’s had a field where poppies grow, between the crosses row on row?
“That mark their places and in the sky, a lark still bravely singing flies . . .”, I carried on with tears gathering in the corners of my eyes.
I cried at every Remembrance Day Ceremony I attended; not for the soldiers, not back then. Back then I cried because I knew war was sad and hopeless. Later, I rebelled against glorifying war and refused to wear my poppy or go to the cenotaph. I thought honoring the dead perpetuated some idea that war was good. I grew up and have been a proud poppy wearer every since. I can’t put a poppy in my lapel without seeing my dad salute me as he marched down the street. I try to get the image of him possibly being a pimp out of my mind.
Armistice day, Remembrance Day – also known as Poppy Day, or Veteren’s Day is a Commonwealth holiday to commemorate the sacrifices of members of the armed forces and of civilians in times of war, specifically since the First World War. It is observed on 11 November to recall the end of World War I on that date in 1918 (major hostilities of World War I were formally ended “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month” of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice). Is that why I wake up at 11:11 all the time? Freaky coincidence if you ask me. Another freaky coincidence. is that my girlfriend’s house burned down at 11 after 11 AM on November 11th a few years back.
Remembrance Day was specifically dedicated by King George V, on 7 November 1919, to the observance of members of the armed forces who were killed during war. My dad was born in 1907 so as a 12 year old boy, it must have made an impact on him in England. He was a monarchist who loved his country and before he became a dishonorable person after the Second World War, he was a pigeon keeper during the First World War and received a citation. But as he was only age 11 when the war was over I have to wonder if that was another of dad’s stories. I’ve seen the letter thanking him for keeping the carrier pigeons so perhaps he was a young warrior up on his roof helping to fight for the cause in short britches.
My dad passed away when I was in my early twenties and I forgot about poppies, and going to the cenotaph and remembering anything then in the late 1970s I went to visit my sister in Chetwynd. We decided to honor dad and refresh those feelings of pride in our country we would make Remembrance Day a day to remember-sisters forever kind of thing.
We went to the cenotaph and observed the silence, crying, wearing our poppies and remembering our poppy. We went to the Legion after following in dad’s footsteps we bent our elbows for a bit, stood when we hear God Save the Queen and spent a solid day being sisters united in our beliefs and our memories.
We got home late and she went to bed. Having had a pint or two my brain was a little fuzzy and I started to replay the day’s events, started reciting ‘scarce heard amid the guns below, we are the dead . . .”. I started singing the songs from the ceremony and later the rowdy ones from the bar like Good Night Irene. I lay in the quiet living room on her lumpy couch listening to the clock ticking-the clock struck 11 and I peered through the darkness and watched the hands slowly move to 11:11. I felt a shiver and heard the words from God Save the Queen rattling through my brain, “long to reinoverous, God save the queen”.
I tried to puzzle it out-sang the words slower and faster, deciphering every phrase but every time I got stuck on that line. Finally I couldn’t stand it anymore, I knew there would be no sleep. I had to find the answer so I could drift in a healing sleep. It had been a big day. We stood in the rain during the ceremony, we had lunch at the Legion, drank a few pints, we had gone back to the cenotaph several times throughout the day—I was drawn to the place. I felt like I was going to solve one of life’s mysteries—maybe understand my complicated dad. Just before we had tumbled into our beds we had walked back to the cenotaph and under the cold and quiet moonlight we had marched around saluting each other and singing God Save the Queen in honour of our dad who was so dishonourably discharged. It was a somewhat poignant, if not drunk event. But I had bigger questions on my mind at 11:11 PM.
I called out to the snoring sister, “Hey, sis, what the heck is a reinoverous?”
Are You a Feminist?
Tired of arguing what it meant to be a feminist, I decided to find out just what a feminist is . . .to me it used to be burning my bra, taking birth control pills, free love and taking a stand for equality for women. Life was a lot simpler in 1969 when all I had to worry about was free choice, equality and mysogenistic pigs. Younger women look at me and ask, “There are all kinds of feminists, what kind are you,?”
What kind? It made me think about what feminism means now and what it meant in the past. I knew what some of the ideals of feminism were but had to do research to sort through. I also wanted to answer the question; is the women’s movement dead? Old feminists who runnon-profit organizations and women involed in action commitees lament, “We need to mobilize, the women’s movement is dead.”
So, what is feminism and is the women’s movement dead?
Liberal feminism is a philosophy based on the principal of individual liberty. Liberal feminists believe that inequality of women stems from the denial of equal rights and from a learned reluctance to demand equality. As suggested by the term liberal, these feminists believe that equality is gained through social and legal reform. I don’t think I am a liberal feminist. I agree in part but can’t commit.
In the seventies I thought I was part of the radical feminist movement. I certainly was radical but I have never completely believed that women’s oppression is the worst form of human oppression. Although I embraced women controlling sexuality by way of birth control and abortion when I was twenty, I no longer see things that way. I know I will create a lot of argument by saying this, but the so-called sexual revolution destroyed a lot of women. In an attempt to be in control , many women ended up being promiscuous,, having abortions they didn’t want and instead of being a strong woman, lost self-esteem and clarity. The major goal of radical feminism was to eliminate violence against women by men. A worthy goal but we didn’t succeed. I am no longer a radical feminist.
The roots of socialist feminism were planted in the 19th century but still are at the core of all feminist belief today . . . women’s work is underpaid. It is a lot more complicated than that and led to Marxist feminism which sought the dissolution of women’s economic dependence from men. Both valid and good points but limited in scope to what I think a feminist is.
In the seventies lesbian feminist called for the complete upheaval of the sexist patriarchal system. That didn’t work in the mainstream but spawned many womyn-only events. Lesbians were labeled racist and exclusionary and today the lesbian feminist movement is but a shadow of what it was.
I had never heard of standpoint or anti-racist feminists but apparently they arose out of the fear that mainstream feminism was too focused on white, middle-class women. This type of feminism looks at the needs of women as individuals by trying to understand the context in which certain groups of women live.
Until I got older I had always considered myself a not-so-radical feminist. But after researching the topic discovered I was a radical feminist by definition and now I appear to be a post-modern feminist. Post-modern feminism seeks social harmony rather than gender equality. The ideal is equal rights among genders, no blaming and placing less emphasis on the physical differences between men and women. Departing from other feminist beliefs, post-modern feminism places the responsibility for the actions of the movement on the individual rather than the government.
Thee is a lot of argument over the new wave of feminism saying it is too kind and gentle to make any change. I would point out here that the histronics of the past have not stopped the highways from being littered with murdered women. Taking responsibility for our own actions and the choices we make makes more sense to me then finger pointing and blaming. Men are as frightened in today’s world as we are. Men are as addicted and abused as we are. We live in a diseased society.
Naomi Wolfe is considered to be one of America’s foremost feminist thinkers and while she has come under attack for having visions of Jesus she says quite simply, “I believe each of us is here to repair the world. She calls the feminist movement fractured and is aware that people are waiting for the Jewish girl to cross-over. Feminist critics accuse that there is no room within feminism for spiritualism. Just a thought, but maybe that is why the movement is fractured.
The women’s movement was strong in the sixties and seventies and brought with it positive change but it seems that now the women’s movement has turned on itself. There are women’s groups that war with one another; definitions have become more important than truth, and women do not support one another. Is the underlying discord about non-profits chasing government funding dollars? Hmmm?
The women’s movement was an amazing force and should not be written off because of the internal weakness now. Maybe the focus is on individuals and our ability to make change one person at a time; stand for what we believe in and not be swayed by political funding. Too many sisters have been bought off by political patriarchal sugar-daddies who write the cheques. I refuse to say, “in solidarity’ anymore. It has lost its meaning.
I know this view will make me unpopular but I am unpopular anyway. I don’t conform to the standards set by the women’s groups with the money. I’m not angry at men or governments, just tired. Tired that women and children are still being killed and recognizing that the disease runs deeper then violent men acting out rage against women and children. It is time for us all of us to stand on our own to heal and love and care. Reach out and help another woman who is struggling, take a moment to mentor a child, stand up against the bullshit and the rhetoric. Women are dying; ravaged by beatings, burnings and brutality.
The women’s movement is dead because the strong thinking women who fueled the fire quit fire-walking and are now only poking the fire with sticks.
Disfigurment; real and self-perpetuated
by Gwynne Hunt
(first published The Rag/2003)
Who would have ever thought that cheap sulfuric acid would increase gender violence towards women? It is estimated that over 200 acid mutilations occur in Bangladesh every year. Our western publications cover cases of gender violence on a regular basis. Shocking but not overwhelming until you really think about how many women are burned and mutilated for dowry disputes and domestic fights.
I read a report this spring about a woman in Bangalore, India who is blind and disfigured because her boss who was in love with her threw acid on her when she refused to return to work and his advances. Hassena is not alone as it is estimated that thousands of young women in India have been burned when they have spurned lovers or have tarnished the family honour.
A report from Cambodia claims that not only men use acid to disfigure women but other women prefer this method of revenge. It is reported that two thirds of acid attacks are perpetrated by women. An angry wife of a government official threw acid on her husband’s 17-year-old mistress. In a poor country like Cambodia where girls don’t have equal access to education, beauty can be the only way to a comfortable life. The aim of disfigurement is not to kill but to strip a woman of her beauty.
In western culture we find other means of attacking women’s self-esteem so they literally disfigure themselves with anorexia and bulimia. During the selfish generation of the 80s it was popular to believe that you cant be too rich or too thin. Fat people have always been seen as not as bright, not as desirable, not as acceptable. Ugly women aren’t very popular.
A healthy body image is the most important tool a woman can have today to succeed. We are held back by our fear of being unacceptable and most of our vulnerability comes from the way we look. The average woman sees 400-500 advertisements a day and by the time she is 17 she has seen 250.000 commercials.
Advertisers often put huge emphasis on sexuality and the importance of physical attractiveness. Being thin and beautiful is the ideal standard for women. The diet industry generates billions of dollars in revenue each year. Marketing tactics tend to stress the health benefits of being thin but it is really about looking good.
Women compare themselves to other women. If you watch commercials with nothing but thin women you begin to feel bad about your tummy and your flab. Look at all the shows on television where the wives are beautiful thin model types and the husbands are fat, overgrown boys. Men don’t feel the pressures to be beautiful and thin as much as women.
Certainly there is a trend for men to wax, pluck and exfoliate these days. More men exercise and take care of themselves and many bow to the same societal pressures as women. But no man feels the pressure to be beautiful as much as a woman does. Men can be slightly homely and still pass for attractive if they clean up nice. A homely woman is a homely woman and women are still judged by their looks more then men. You rarely hear of a man being disfigured by a jealous girlfriend.
Making someone ugly is reserved for female targets. And how we define what is beautiful depends on society. Regardless of era though there has always been an expectation for women to be beautiful and destroying her beauty the greatest insult.
In the early 1900s women attempted to contort their bodies for that thin corseted hourglass look. Flappers in the 1920s were supposed to be free of those Victorian traditions with their flat-chested skinny little bodies. They were still slaves to being desirable and beautiful. We went from full-body curves in the 1950s to the skinny Twiggy look of the 60s and evolved into the 80s feeling smug because now we were just being healthy and fit. Healthy and fit with lovely faces.
Only about 4% of women in the 90s obtained that frail waif-like look naturally and at the turn of the century most women don’t have the large breasts and narrow hips that the models do. Skinny gaunt women with that ‘junkie’ look tend to be junkies. The average woman is 5 foot 4 inches tall and weighs at least 140 pounds. Most of those average women spend enormous amounts of time trying to look like 4% of the population. So the norm is not set by our peers but by the media, advertising and marketing.
How many older women do we have to see on television that have had face lifts before we feel sensitive about our own waddles? So more women are heading to the plastic surgeons to look good and mutilate their own bodies to look like what they perceive the rest of the world does. Supporters of do what every makes you feel good don’t take into consideration that is societal pressures that makes us feel bad. In the 50s, 50-year-old women looked like 50-year-old women. Now 60-year-old women look 40 and that leaves the majority of women feeling fat, stupid and ugly.
If make-up makes you feel good about the way you look, ask yourself this simple question, if nobody wore make-up would you? Not likely, because we would all look like we just got out of bed and have uneven complexion and blah eyes. We base our appearance on what everyone else looks like. When it was a fad in the early 1900s to have a straight nose women wore a horrible contraption called a nose shaper that was metal and adjusted by screws. Today, they just get nose jobs.
Young girls use make-up to look attractive and older, older women use make-up to look attractive and younger. Women don’t wear make-up to look attractive to men . . . we wear it to look attractive to each other and to fit in to what society says we should look like. We strive every day to fit the description.
There is such a huge emphasis placed on flaw-concealment. Beauty icons worked hard for a natural look in the 60s. Then towards the end of the 80s we had the Madonna women who symbolized what a woman was supposed to be then. Very sexy, feminine but in charge, in control. A big homely women in charge would be called a dike. So, as I understood it I could be woman and I could be strong but I had to look devilishly cute while doing it.
Cosmetic surgery has simply raised the bar and made looking good even more obtainable and while I wear make-up and do my best to look good I balk at surgery and find I am overly annoyed at my sisters who go under the knife to maim and cut themselves. They are leaving us hard-nosed realistic women behind like the ugly stepsisters while like Cinderella they run off to the ball with everything they ever wished for.
From the turn of the 20th century to now the predominant feature of beauty is the importance of outward appearance and obsession with everything beautiful. Beauty is linked with success and success to happiness. You can destroy someone’s happiness if you take away their beauty. We may not have a rash of acid throwing in North America but gender-violence is on the rise against women and girls. We strong women on this planet today don’t have to wait to be attacked or maimed we mutilate ourselves in order to keep looking good.