A tawdry selection by United Nations

Waxa Daabacay on Oct 29th, 2016 and filed under Daily Somali News, OPINION. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

The appointment of a fictional character as the world body’s ambassador for women’s empowerment is yet another example of an institution that has lost its soul

By Bashir Goth, Special to Gulf News
Published: 17:07 October 28, 2016
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When I first saw the news that the United Nations had appointed the fictional Disney character Wonder Woman as an honorary UN ambassador for “the empowerment of women and girls”, my first reaction was that when the UN failed to choose a woman as its secretary-general, unlike what was widely anticipated and hoped for, a woman who could have been the face of womanhood, motherhood and humanity and an inspirational role model for all girls around the world, the UN then magically waved its wand and abracadabra enlisted a fantasy woman to celebrate women’s empowerment.

If fantasy is what it takes to address difficult issues then why not revert to Greek mythology and appoint Eirene, the Greek deity of Peace, as the UN secretary-general. Why waste mountains of resources on running the UN behemoth when we can have Eirene end all wars with her magic power or even better — unearth Aladdin’s lamp and achieve all our goals by invoking the genie.

To me, this is exactly what the UN’s decision is all about. It is an insult to women of flesh and blood who toil everyday to raise families, send children to school, grapple with poverty, societal pressures and cultural shackles. Women who suffer from gender inequality, sexual assault, physical abuse and body mutilation. It is an insult to mothers who, due to lack of sufficient funds, deprive themselves of going to the doctor when they are sick in order to buy milk for their children.

This fictional character doesn’t know anything about motherhood. She doesn’t go through pregnancy and the pain of childbirth. She doesn’t stay awake all night to care for a sick child. She doesn’t suffer from ridicule and body shame for her looks and she doesn’t have to torture herself to meet unrealistic expectations or struggle financially.

The real role models that should have been honoured and celebrated by the UN are rural and nomad women around the world who work from sunrise to sunset and beyond, struggling with the burden of fetching firewood and transporting water on their back while carrying children in their arms. Women working on farms, looking after their livestock, and caring for their families when they come home. Women who do physical labour at construction sites in my hometown, who carry cinder blocks on their backs and mix cement and sand by hand all day in order to get less than a dollar a day — barely enough to provide hot tea and bread for their children. Women who drive heavy cargo trucks through rough and dangerous terrain in order to send children to school.

 

Role models are the women in war zone areas such Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Darfur, Yemen, Congo, Libya, Palestine, Colombia and elsewhere. Women who are victims of rape, torture and untold crimes against humanity. Women who protect their children from the perils of war with their body, bare hands, and motherly love. Women, who, despite the death surrounding them, despite their fear of tomorrow still sing lullabies to their children — not only to put them to sleep amid the rumble of ruthless shelling, but also to give them hope that the world is still beautiful with the mother’s sweet voice. Women who risk death and tremendous suffering by crossing oceans and dangerous terrain to alien lands in search of a safe place for their children, only to end up in humiliation and loss of humanity. Women who also care for the elderly and infirmed. Who lend emotional and physical support to their spouses, their extended families and communities. And women leaders in education, technology, business and politics who struggle to break glass ceilings.

I wonder what such an appointment would say to these millions of living and breathing women of flesh and blood and, above all, to the mothers of the Syrian children, Aylan Kurdi and Omran Daqneesh, whose images shook the conscience of humanity.

I wonder what such an appointment would say to girls of colour from Africa, Asia and Latin America, who see the image of this fictional character as the epitome of cultural domination and discrimination endorsed by the UN.

I admire the female staff of the UN who protested strongly against this appointment. “For something that is this important, you need a woman or a man who can speak,” a staffer told the Guardian on condition of anonymity. “Somebody who can travel, somebody who can champion these rights, somebody who is able to have an opinion, somebody who can be interviewed, somebody who can stand up in front of 192 member-states and say this is what we would like you to do.”

And I may also add that we need somebody who can be hurt and can feel pain, who sweats, toils and suffers, who can associate with the struggle that women and girls worldwide go through daily in order to gain their rights and achieve their goals.

It is also reassuring to know that a petition being circulated online also rejects this move and demands the UN to reverse it. “A … white woman of impossible proportions, scantily clad in a shimmery, … body suit with an American flag motif and knee-high boots — the epitome of a “pin-up” girl,” the petition said, calling it alarming that the UN “would consider using a character with an overtly sexualised image at a time when the headline news in the United States and the world is the objectification of women and girls.”

I wonder how this fictional character would measure up to the feats of heroism demonstrated by young women such as Nobel laureate Malala Yousufzai, that wonderful, young, girls’ education activist who survived the Taliban’s assassination attempt, and Nadia Murad, the Yazidi girl who escaped rape and sexual slavery by Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), as well as the heroic Kurdish Peshmerga women fighters who risk their lives everyday to stop the barbaric onslaught of Daesh on their homes and villages.

And behold for a final story of the mother of my childhood friend. He was the only child of his mother and was raised by her after his father died. One day, while he was preparing to go to school as a six-year-old boy, his mother fell sick and fainted. He stayed at home and started crying. When she regained consciousness after some time and she saw him sitting beside her and sobbing, she asked him why he didn’t go to school. He told her he couldn’t go to school because she was sick. Then she told him: “You go to school now and if any day in the future I fall sick or even die don’t miss your school, and call people to bury me only after you finish the school.” This mother is an example of countless women whose heroic actions deserve to be celebrated, instead of insulting them by adopting a fictional character as a role model for women. Shame on you, UN.

— Bashir Goth is an African commentator on political, social and cultural issues


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