When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was created in 1948, women were pressing for the specific acknowledgement of their own rights within that document. These pleads were never distinguished, but rather generalized, and thus the struggle for women’s rights persisted over the next four decades. While the gender gaps have narrowed over the last century, domestic and public abuse continues to affect women on a daily basis; not to mention the issue of differences in pay between female employees and their male counterparts. Throughout history, women have been portrayed as subordinate to men in all areas of society and in every culture. How come this ideology has persisted over so many years and among all people throughout the world? What can women do to achieve equality? Can this oppression be eliminated or is it inevitable that it will continue on forever? These are the kinds of the questions that arose today during our discussion with guest speaker Shannon Lundeen who was with us through the morning and afternoon sessions of class.
We began class by listening to James Brown’s, This is a Man’s World, followed by Beyonce’s Run the World. These two songs, along with the music video that came with Run the World, brought up mixed feelings about how women are portrayed in today’s society as well as how they act against the injustices they face. In the end though, one student in class posed the question of whether or not men will always have dominance if women are always the ones trying to take their power. I think this is a very interesting question, because as of now I cannot picture women truly obtaining power in that sense. There has been so much oppression in the lives of women throughout history, that they have been called a minority in this country, although they make up 54% of the United States alone. To top that off, the injustices women face are considered as a whole a “special case” meaning that it is not of primary concern for the human race and therefore does not need to be immediately addressed. As one young woman stated in a YouTube video that responded to Run the World, it is ridiculous to call the inequality women are subject to a special interest seeing that they occupy almost half of the world’s human population!
After taking this discussion further, we talked about human rights in general and how we have this socialized gender hierarchy within our societies. We also touched on the topic of power and domination throughout different areas of the world, which led us into socialism vs. capitalism, and then the documentary called Working Women of the World.
This film portrayed factory workers of the jeans company Levi’s who struggled to have their basic human rights respected. From Belgium, France, and Turkey, on into Indonesia and the Philippines, female factory workers have been exploited by this company left and right. In the European Levi factories, mainly Belgium and France, women found themselves out of jobs that they had worked hard at for the last 28 years because the company was outsourcing the labor. Even though the conditions in these factories were absolutely exhausting and dangerous, these women fought until the very end to try and prevent their only source of income from being shipped across the sea. They gathered in large groups to protest the move and even proposed a 10% cut from their wages in hopes that the company would stay; but in the end, the company’s interests were more important than the lives of the 504 women working in the French facility.
As a result of this outsourcing of jobs, women in Indonesia now spend 80 hours a week putting together jeans for Levi; and you know what the worst part is? They are being exploited even worse than those women in France or Belgium, receiving wages so low that they work to pay for just a tad more than needed for basic living necessities. The interviewer asked a woman what she thought of her life, and immediately we could see that she didn’t know exactly how to respond to that question. After a look of surprise and confusion, she responded by saying that she lives a normal life, but that it is not a decent one. This is such a significant statement to me because although she is not sure how to compare the conditions she lives and works under to those of the outside world, she knows that her life is not fully respected and that it could be significantly better than it now is. It is that basic instinct to survive that allows for such mistreatment to occur and it is unbelievably cruel to intentionally disregard the rights of those people who have no other means of survival. This exploitation became even more extreme in the Philippines, where thousands of more workers are subject to this injustice. What is extremely troubling is that this pattern continues to spiral down as companies like Levi’s search for more desolate places in the world where they can drop the cost of labor to more extreme lows. I can only see this system turning into another one of the many covered up slave trades of our time, and that is such a pattern that greatly hinders the constant and continuous fight for equality in our world.