On Wednesday 20 November 2013, the Lord Speaker, the Rt Hon the Baroness D’Souza, delivered an Open Lecture that discussed why women’s political engagement is important. She covered how women’s education and economic equality are crucial to achieving political engagement for women in the developing world, as well as in the UK.
She said of women and participation:
‘Political participation is a basic human right – the right to be involved in decisions that affect our lives and our livelihoods. Creating the conditions that encourage such political participation for women is a crucial driver for achieving development and establishing stable and successful societies.
Women’s political engagement can’t really be seen as an issue on its own. It’s something that grows out of the broader context of women’s liberation and equality.
Therefore, we can’t be complacent about the fact that 70 per cent of the world’s poorest people are women. Too many women today still live in states of poverty, fear, exploitation and utter weariness.
The weapon against this is education and information about how the world works.
Men have, over the years, with the consent of most women, been keeping us uninformed. We don’t know about the pools of knowledge there are which, in turn, create the power that is exercised in society, still mostly by men. In many ways women’s collective poverty is the result of mothers and wives, sisters and daughters making it possible (and justifiable) for their husbands, fathers and brothers to behave as they do.
But how exactly do they behave? Nobody has seen fit to shine a light on this question. Even this simple question most women cannot attempt to answer; to answer this question would be truly dangerous. To know what is done in the name of human endeavour by men, to make the world safer for the children their wives bear, would be to see the extent to which women’s trust has been betrayed over the centuries.
Is it because we are not interested that we don’t know what goes on in the world? Or is it because we have no idea of what the language means, in which the financial affairs of the world are conducted? (Hopefully nobody will start to contend that keeping women poor is not the only way to subjugate them into positions where they can be used to serve men.) Women with money are emancipated. We know that from Virginia Woolf’s writings and personal experience: if one’s purse is able to generate endless ten shilling notes, then and only then would a woman be able to afford a room of one’s own, to write. Ditto, I would say, to think for herself.
What is evident is that here is a case of mass obfuscation. If the stories of our times were told in simple terms, in the form of a narrative, then women would listen and understand. If numbers could be translated into words and stories then surely women would listen.
Then, they would be equipped to take a view about whether they particularly want to do something, or influence something, or leave it alone.
My objective is not to be prescriptive about what women should do.
I want to create a global institution which is accessible to anyone who can access the internet, through which women (and their husbands and sons) can hear the stories of our times in words which they can all understand.
Only this will create dialogues at dinner tables, which, as so many of us know, is the birthplace of vulnerability, adjustment and change within families. Society is a network of families and the institutions they have built and continue to support.
I seek your support. The outcome can only be empowerment, better understanding and, ultimately, at the level of home life, a more balanced view of the importance of all members of the family.