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THE SHEWORD - EPISODE 4 | WOMEN AND WOMEN'S RIGHT

THE SHEWORD - EPISODE 4 | WOMEN AND WOMEN'S RIGHT

In today’s episode of the SHE Word, we’re tackling the topic of women and women’s rights. For this important conversation, Trudy Kerry is joined by Samantha Rowe-Beddoe, Lara Dimitrijevic, and Maria Pisani.  

 

Trudy describes these three women as incredible powerhouse women who are in the sphere of women’s rights and have made it their calling. We wholeheartedly agree and this important conversation could not have been had with more apt women.  

Samantha Rowe-Beddoe is the founder of the Olwyn Foundation, an organisation set up to protect the rights of women and girls around the world to help them thrive.  

‘My background is in education and the creative arts. I ran an education project in the UK for many years looking at self-esteem and conflict in young kids. I saw the power of communication and drama in order to better facilitate conversation skills to get them back to school. That journey brought me here to Malta and we set up the Olwyn Foundation to protect women and girls, all around the world, and also to help give them access to education. Education is the core and the key to many things. We worked in African countries with women in areas of conflict and we have partnered with some extraordinary organisations.’ 

Lara Dimitrijevic is the founding partner at Sciberras Associates but also a champion of human rights and the founder of the Women’s Rights Foundation in Malta.  

‘I have always been a rebel and angry at any injustice that took place. It started forming in the 6th form years. Back then, it was all about fighting for our educational rights. I became a young mother and it shifted and I had a better understanding of women and motherhood. I went into law as a mature student, and I started learning about rights and social justice. I went to detention centres to work, and I wanted to work mostly with women and children. I learnt so much from these women; they had power and energy and a constant strive to push on. I started my private practice and the first thing I realised when I stepped into the courtroom is that there was a big injustice to women, especially in the area of domestic violence. That’s why I set up the Women’s Rights Foundation.’ 

Maria Pisani is a senior lecturer at the University of Malta with the Youth and Community Studies and the Faculty of Social Wellbeing. She is also the co-founder of the Integra Foundation, an organisation set up in 2004 to assist in the inclusion of minorities in Malta.  

‘My focus is on inclusion and social justice and my journey was shaped by my experience as a girl and a migrant in England and Germany when I lived there as a child, and a returned migrant in Malta when I came back at 16 years old. For me, feminism is creating the space for all human beings to be able to stand on their own pedestal. I also went to university as a mature student and all my dissertations focused on inclusion and adult education. Today my ideas have shifted, and I try to look at vectors of power and how they impact women’s lives in different times and spaces.’ 

Trudy read a shocking statistic to these women, and to us, as listeners of this podcaster. Her research found that it will take 136 years for women to be equal to men. It’s 2022…so why are we sitting here discussing women’s rights when it should be accepted that we have the same rights?  

 

‘Yes, it should but it’s obviously not’, claims Samantha. ‘Women are considered as being subservient in some form and we still live in a patriarchal society. That has not changed. There have been changes but all these chances were fought for not given to us’. 

Lara claims that if you look back in history, it was only around the 1960s that women started standing up for themselves. They fought for their voting and property rights. ‘It hasn’t been that long. I would say that 136 years is very optimistic…I think it would take a longer period’. 

‘On paper, there is equality in terms of rights’, Maria says. ‘The question is, are women accessing these rights, and if not, why not? I don’t have any objection to men in power, but I do have issues with the fact that there isn’t representation for everyone when it comes to gender and age’.  

Trudy reads out that in Malta, 91.7% of the legal frameworks that promote, enforce, and monitor gender equality with a focus on violence against women, are in place. So, how have we ended up where we are? Why do we still have these issues?  

‘Our laws are still not reflective of equality’, claims Lara. ‘Law on paper, on its own, is not enough. Without a form of serious implementation, we will end up in the same position and in the same situation…only looking good on paper, simply ticking boxes without being effective’.  

In Malta, as of February 2020, only 13.4% of seats in parliament were held by women. Then, with the election, we saw that women were not voted in positions but the quota that was needed was filled by elected women. Is that the way to go, Trudy asks. Is this how we force women’s equality?  

‘Sometimes, we need temporary measures to kickstart a change in attitudes. However, just merely changing the legislation is not enough. That legislation without any family-friendly measures, change in hours etc, will not push women to get into politics’, says Lara. ‘Then, there’s the issue that people still voted for male counterparts. You need to change the perspective to promote that women are capable of doing the job’. 

Trudy asks a very intriguing question to these three powerhouse women. Where are we most compromised as women in Malta and Europe?  

Samantha was quick to answer that this has to be the autonomy over our own bodies. ‘It is not so different in countries in Europe as it is in African countries. I believe that we have the right over our own bodies to do with it whatever we please’. 

Maria is also in agreement, and she notes that she has met so many women who had FGM (female genital mutilation) performed on them without their consent and sometimes this is done dangerously.  

Lara agrees that these are the first rights that are taken away from women. ‘If you look at Poland, Hungary, Croatia, Italy – these are generally the first rights that women either don’t have or are taken away from them. Then, you have the issue of violence against women which I feel strongly about. We still have a tolerant attitude especially when it comes to rape’. 

So, how do we change that? These issues, including violence against women, haven’t changed for millennia.  

‘A legislation cannot just be done on its own’, claims Lara. ‘You need prevention, education and awareness raising in order to bring a cultural shift. Also, constant political commitment. If there isn’t this commitment, it will not change. I honestly feel that women are at war’. 

Trudy turned round to ask this question to the two other women…Are we at war?  

Samantha says, ‘It’s so huge, there are so many layers and it’s a scary time for women. I think that our education system needs to evolve and have a more holistic approach to understanding power and dynamics. So yes, we’re on high alert’. 

Maria shares and feels Lara’s frustration. ‘I think I stand at disappointment and fear. Many issues that I deal with on a day-to-day basis have gone backwards. Many young women don’t see how much women and men have fought for them. If this is all you know, you don’t know how it needs to be protected. There seems to be little awareness, interest, and a lack of empathy. The first thing I tell my students is ‘What do you stand for?’. It’s not my job to tell them the answer but it’s my job to facilitate it. It’s important to find the answer because if you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything’. 

Trudy asks these three powerhouse women one final question. What can every woman do to make a difference? 

Lara stresses not to be tolerant. ‘Do not shy away from reality. This is reality. We need to stand up for one another and we need to unite. We’re all affected, some more than others. There has to be more unity. This is crucial’. 

Maria urges to call out any injustice. ‘Take a stand. It can be anything – from making a phone call to a politician or local police to turning up to someone’s doorstep and saying, ‘I’m here for you’. There are different ways, and we can all find our own ways. Sometimes it’s the invisible work that makes a difference. Do your little bit’. 

‘I agree with both ladies. We need to support and stand in solidarity’, says Samantha. ‘Sometimes it’s so overwhelming but if you can affect a change in one woman’s life, then the ripple effect can be enormous. We need to stand up, call it out and go out of our way to support’. 

Thank you, ladies, for doing what you do and for being the powerhouses that you are and also for giving us the advice to start making change!  

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