How is it that the rape culture manages to persist?
We want to demolish the ‘rape culture’, as Margaret Lazarus defined it in the documentary of the same name back in 1975. This is the situation today
The scourge of female homicide
25 May 2018. Ireland votes yes to legalizing abortion. As recently as 2012, Savita Halappanavar died of septicemia in her seventh month of pregnancy—the abortion that the doctors at University Hospital in Galway did not carry out might have saved her life. In the last twenty years, more than 160,000 Irish women have travelled to England to terminate a pregnancy.
Cork, Ireland. 6 November 2018. The court tries a case of rape involving a seventeen-year-old local girl. Barrister Elizabeth O’Connell defends the accused by saying that wearing provocative underwear is an indication of a desire to have sexual intercourse, with the girl’s lacy blue thong as evidence. The court finds the accused not guilty. Public opinion reacts to this insult and the streets are filled with crowds of protestors. Instigating them is Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger, who on 13 November walked into the Irish parliament with a thong hidden up her jacket sleeve. She then held it up for the other members of parliament to see, together with figures, the statistics that showed that only 10% of all rapes are reported and of these only one out of forty ends with a guilty verdict for the accused.
It sounds like a nemesis, an ominous replica of what happened in Rome on 6 November 1998. The Court of Appeal issued a not guilty verdict for Carmine Cristiano, a driving instructor accused by one of his pupils of sexual violence. An examination of the girl’s body had revealed nothing but a bruise on her leg “as big as a lentil”, and the verdict was justified as follows: the tight jeans that the girl was wearing would have left more evident signs in the event of their enforced removal, “because jeans cannot be taken off without the effective collaboration of the wearer”. Following this sentence, Italian female MPs arrived in the Chamber all wearing tight trousers. The case went beyond the borders of Italy and arrived in America. Guess, a leading jeans manufacturer, promoted a campaign in support of female victims of abuse, with sales of their jeans funding women’s rights. Denim Day was invented, now an annual event, recognized in over twenty States of the Union.
Worldwide, of the 120 million children who do not go to school, 73 million are girls. Pregnancies in young girls, arranged marriages, and poverty are the main causes. If we want to instead look at those who do manage to go to school, we find that at the age of about seven, girls start to lose their self-confidence and seek refuge in the stereotypes that society imposes on them, leading to only 37% of them enrolling in science faculties.
In Brazil, of the 500,000 clandestine abortions carried out every year, 200,000 lead to complications and 500 to death. In Poland, almost 200,000 women and girls resort to illegal methods every year to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, because abortion is only allowed when the life of the mother is at risk, if the fetus is badly malformed or in the event of rape.
20 November 2018. The South American edition of El País reports the case of an eighteen-year-old girl attacked as she leaves a disco in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Last year, in Italy, 106 families had a female member murdered and figures are only available up to the end of October, so two months are unknown. In three cases out of four, the abuse was inflicted by a partner or an ex. In Australia, one woman was murdered every week in a crime of passion. It may happen anywhere. 14 December last year, in Madrid, the capital of Spain. An American girl, Andrea Sicignano, who was studying in the city, got on the wrong bus. A man approached to help her find her way home. He grabbed her phone, hit her in the face, broke her nose in four places, punched her in the eyes and raped her. She played dead, hoping it would save her life.
The starting point is equality
‘In order to be free to think, a woman must have money and a room of her own,” wrote Virginia Woolf in 1929 in the essay A Room of One’s Own, sustaining how emancipation depended on money. A statement that is a verbal attack, charged with regret and the stimulus to react, a sobering thought we should read again today. According to the World Economic Forum, we will not see equal professional and therefore financial retribution regardless of gender until 2234. In other words, in 2018, civil society does not yet support the commitment to human procreation that honors the female nature as it should.
Defense of women starts with respect as its base and a milestone that is the real starting point: the equal right to work, because work dignifies human life. Here in the West, this has been the cornerstone of our culture since medieval times. Civil society must support a woman’s career: flexible hours, teleworking, company crèches, and paternity leave. Measures adopted, at least in part, by the 20 companies that figure in the Italian classification Best Workplaces for Women, drawn up after analysis of 127 companies during 2017, listening to the opinions of more than twenty-two thousand female workers. The research reveals that only one of these companies in Italy is actually Italian—the legal firm Portolano Cavallo—the rest are Italian branches of multinationals. The technology industry with Gore, hotel hospitality with Hilton, clothing with H&M and service companies. Of the latter, we would like to mention the case of American Express Italia, which boasts a percentage of 50% female top managers, and which, from 2012 for three years, started up a training program called Women in the pipeline & at the top for its female employees. With a three-step path, AmEx works on development of professional competences of its women staff: first by organizing corporate training courses on gender intelligence, spreading a principle of gender equality and of labor equality between men and women; then, it sources sponsors in line with its inclusive philosophy with a view to enhancing career advancement of women employed by other companies. The last step is creation of a network of global female communication, a network linking all the women who are part of the American Express community.
We mention American Express not only because the company deserves it for the commitment it shows, but deliberately because AmEx is helping Lampoon PH to spread and popularize the figures given in this article, aiming to raise awareness with the largest number of people possible. Remembering how much civil and humanitarian value information has may sound rhetoric, but it is not.
In 2005, American Express offered 19,000 beds at the New Life Center (NLC), the biggest shelter in Arizona for abused women and children. Beyoncé’s The Formation World Tour (49 dates in 2017) was sponsored by American Express. This totaled a turnover of 250 million, second only to that of Bruce Springsteen. AmEx is not the only sponsor of the World Tour, and in fact collaborates with the private TNC (transportation network company) Uber, guaranteeing free transport for all those taking part in the concert, booking with the relative app. The aim was to ensure safe mobility for spectators, in particular women, who could not only use the service to the concert, but also for their homeward journey, in total safety. In Australia, AmEx works with Two Good, a food industry, and with Deliveroo, a food delivery company, to support the Love Shouldn’t Hurt initiative, which provides hot meals for women in anti-abuse shelters. The dishes are prepared by famous local chefs, such as Kylie Kwong, Matt Moran and Christine Manfield, and each container is tailor made for its recipient—a symbolic act that shows attention to and care of the individual. This project is also championed by the world of art: AmEx has in fact commissioned the artist Noula Diamantopoulos with a mural mosaic made from 20,000 food delivery containers and cans, inspired by the face of Felicity Cook, a woman who survived domestic violence. The mural represents all the meals donated thanks to Love Shouldn’t Hurt, and it can be seen at 182 George Street in Sydney, the headquarters of the multinational Lendlease, leader in the infrastructure sector. Today, Sonia Cargan, a black woman, is the head of AmEx’s Diversity Office.
Last year in Italy, for the first time, the number of women on the boards of quoted companies was more than one third of the total members of boards of directors, largely thanks to the introduction of the gender quota law approved in 2011. Whereas women CEOs are still marginal cases (7.9% of companies) as are female board chairpersons (23, two more than in 2016).
In Italy, 5 ministers out of 18 are women. In the USA, in the peak year of women’s rise to power, captained by Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, a twenty-nine year old born in the Bronx with a Puerto Rican mother, there are now 110 women in Congress out of a total of 535, 25.4%: the image persists of girls becoming nurses or dental hygienists, secretaries or even just mothers, at home feeling unfulfilled. While some women see the female quotas as an insult, these legal requisites have allowed women in most of the states in East and South Africa to represent more than 30% of MPs. In Ethiopia, under the presidency of Abiy, 50% of the executive is made up of women, who hold key roles such as defense, revenue, trade and peace. Ruanda has the highest number of female members of parliament than any other country in the world.
We Should All Be Feminists is the title of an essay by the writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian activist and feminist and the adaptation of a Tedx talk from 2012. ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ are the words that Maria Grazia Chiuri had written on the white Dior tees, the sale of which is again linked to civil and female support. This is 2018, we cannot no longer call it suffrage—it can only be called civility.
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