I grew up in one of the most egalitarian countries in the world. I´m lucky, I know. At the same time I also know that equality is not constant. Just because we´ve reached equality once in one area don´t mean it will keep coming. Moving abroad has made me think a lot about this. We can´t expect that laws and regulations always will be in favor of us. The only way for equality to prosper is when we never stop working to obtain equality in our own lives.
There is a certain image that has crossed my mind more than once this past week. It´s an image of a woman. A powerful, wealthy, white woman that is speaking to her fellow sisters. People are trying their best to shout her down, yet she continues to hammer her message through: Women need to know their place as mothers, they need to step back and accept their destiny, otherwise planet earth will face terrible disaster. She is so certain of her belief, an intelligent young woman that possible could have a fantastic career in front of her. Instead she chooses to be the voice of submission.
This is a fictive scene, played out in one of the best and most scary series that HBO has delivered during the past years. At least in my opinion. I am of course talking about A Handmaids Tale. The series plays out in a dystopian future in Gilead (formerly known as the United States of America) where a totalitarian society built on religious norms subjects fertile women into child-bearing servitude.
I have felt sick to my stomach more than once while working myself through the first two seasons of the series. The feeling of being in a parallel universe and in the same time getting pulled back several hundred years into our own past is a nerve wrecking sentiment.
It is the same feeling I get when I hear what is going on in the southern states of America at the moment. Women are being betrayed in the most cruel way imaginable. They have no longer control over their own bodies. Young girls that have been victimized by men that couldn’t keep their libido in control is getting punished twice by becoming a parent together with their rapist. How utterly absurd is that? What is even more absurd is that there are even women, fellow sisters, that have supported this crazy act.
Womens rights have always been a soft spot for me. Or maybe I should put it this way: Equality is something that gets me ticking. It doesn’t matter if it is between male and female, different cultures of the world or the right to be different in any way. We are all humans, all entitled to respect.
My strong focus on equality is something that has been sitting firmly on my shoulder during our move to Switzerland. Switzerland, the country that was the last one in Europe to give their women right to their own voice. It wasn´t until 1971 that Swiss women was allowed to vote in federal elections. What is even more remarkable is that there is one canton where women weren´t granted the vote on local issues before 1991. I was eleven years old by then. I remember we were doing learning votations in school in Sweden at this time, learning how the democratic system worked and preparing ourselves to take on the task of voting in elections further on. I was eleven years old and women in Switzerland wasn´t allowed to vote. Their daughters prepared for a totally different life than I was.
I went on a guided tour of Basel the other night where the guide were applying the theme ”The strong women of Basel”. As we were standing at the City Hall and the guide told us about an initiative for women´s right to vote that got voted down in the end of the 50´s. I asked her why Switzerland was so behind other European counties when it came to this issue.
– Well you know, the guide turned to me. Switzerland was very conservative and many countries around like Austria, Italy and France were also late in this matter. And you must also understand that it wasn´t that black and white. There were also many women that didn´t want to be given the task to vote.
I thought about this for a long time. Of course it makes sense. What you don´t know anything about scares you. A woman that has been told all her life that her place is with the kids and the home might very well react out of fear when she is suddenly challenged to take a step out of this box. Especially when she is not encouraged to do so. I understand this completely. If she doesn´t feel comfortable in making her voice heard it should of course be her own decision to make. But the right to choose is hers nevertheless.
It is easy to laugh it all away and say that this is in the past. Our tour guide were showing us banners that were made to prevent people to vote yes to womens rights to elect. A picture of an ugly woman with long crooked fingers and a crazy look in her eyes. ”Do we really want women like this?” the banner says. Or a screaming child falling out of bed and the text ”Mother is off to do politics”.
I had the privilege to grow up in one of the most equal countries in the world, with state financed parental leave for men and women, fixed parental months for the father and laws that prevent the parent to fall back in salary while she or he is on leave. Still Sweden is struggling with a lot of things. We are far from equal, and of course it is not only about letting women into the world of men, it is just as important to let men into the former female territory. Share the parenting, housework, let men have their say and step back for a bit as mother in the parenting area. Who says all men want to have a career? Who says they are not just as stuck in a role as women are? Equality is about letting men and women both be powerful and fragile and let every family find their way in the cirkus of life. Here we all have quite a lot to learn still.
However, one of the greatest strengths of all the Scandinavian countries is that gender equality lies on top of the political agenda. In some matters even on the same level as economical growth. And sometimes I think that is completely necessary. There has to be a government that set idealistic goals, not only financial. Goals that are tough for companies or single people to set, because they don´t always align with the truth that we are capable to see in front of us. We all have different values and goals that we work ourselves towards. For a company it is first and foremost financial growth, for a human being it is many times the strive for a comfortable and good life, for the church religion is the precept. Any of those values serves their purpose, but none of them can be the single front figure in writing our future. If we only set goals that will harmonize with the way our reality looks like right now how can we expect that we will ever grow as human beings and prepare for our future to come?
Our tour of Basel ended with a cosy apero and some nice chats. After that everyone went home to their own lives again. I wonder what impressions the others were bringing home with them? What thoughts were running through their heads learning about the conditions of women in Basel during the past two centuries? Some of them being reminded on the conditions they lived under during their own youth. Did it make an impact on them or did they think of it as a closed chapter in our history?
I hope not.
The biggest limits in life is the ones we set for our selves. Tell me, what is equality to you and how do you strive for it in your own life?