by Dulcie Lee
Today we stand at the forefront of history, the first humans to get this far, and yes, we do make mistakes. But if we act now, our children can look back in 50 years’ time and be grateful for the changes we made today.
Many religious texts ask the question: should religion and politics be separate? But in spite of all the debate, the conclusion is inconsequential given the inescapable fact that they will mix regardless.
For some women this mix is incredibly important; it swings their electoral vote. We only have to look to Bradford West for a stark example of how religion and politics have blended into one for young Muslim women. This integration of politics and religion is a huge issue for theist voters. Political parties have stayed away from it in the past, daunted by its sensitivity and complexity. Undoubtedly it is a thin line to tread, but isn’t that what politics is all about – tackling the difficult issues so more people can be happy?
It is no surprise that people want to be represented by someone who shares similar religious ideas, but young religious women should not need to turn to minority parties for this satisfaction - mainstream parties just need to be more accessible. Offering room for a personal interpretation of parties and policies would make more space for religion. To paraphrase Alastair Campbell, governments need not “do God”, but instead realise how it affects the ballot box and make time for it. Such a personalisation of politics would certainly diversify and therefore strengthen politics, without parties having to commit to one single religion.
Sadly, both women and religious women, especially those who are Muslim, still suffer discrimination. But by alienating religious women from mainstream politics, we are only making the discrimination worse. It also perpetuates the misguided notion that religion and radicalism go hand in hand. This serves only to equip those who subscribe to such prejudice and further estranges those who are the target of it.
If we can find a way to reconcile religion with politics, and open the door to young religious women, then not only can we encourage more of these people into politics, but help bridge other cultural gaps, educate society about the true nature of religion and bring young women together.
A second issue which concerns every young woman at some point is body image. To understand how we got to our shocking present situation, we need to look at the history of the issue. The last century saw the fall of some long-standing taboos surrounding sex and sexuality. But in our liberation, we have forgotten to elucidate the responsibility which areas of society consequently hold. The advertising, fashion and music industry now carry especially large burdens. But they have abused the power that came with that responsibility, and left thousands of vulnerable young women needlessly unhappy with their reflection.
Expressing oneself in one’s adolescence is important, but as teenagers experiment with body image, they are inevitably impressionable. Models of unhealthy body image can be promoted in most aspects of a young woman’s life: in lifestyle magazines, among peers, within the music industry and of course in fashion marketing.
More needs to be done to promote a healthy, and most importantly, realistic body image. London Fashion Week seems to epitomise this lack of realism, with models looking like teenage boys rather than the curvy and voluptuous women which men seem to prefer.
Israel, a country which has similar eating disorder rates to Britain, has taken a stand with the body image issue. They have banned underweight models appearing in advertising and on the catwalk. In doing so, they have set an example to the rest of the world, and we should be the first to follow it.
Solutions to the body image issue will have to be holistic and run right through the heart of our humanity. But ideally we need a change of culture which is regulated in the industries, enshrouded in the education system, and imprinted in our new generation.
The final issue for young women today which runs through nearly every aspect of a woman’s life is the continuing the fight for women’s equality. For so long, society was a monologue of men, but today it is a dialogue. As more voices speak out, our society becomes more representative, and our politics becomes more dynamic. In other words, equality is like wealth – better in the hands of the many than in the hands of the few.
History is peppered with examples of fantastic women – Ada Lovelace, Marie Curie, and Emily Davison. These select few, whose intellect was so unavoidable, managed to earn women a few pages in the history books. But think for a moment, how many voices were lost - all those women who had brilliant minds, but quiet voices - thousands of Rembrandts, Einsteins, Churchills. Humanity’s progress is stunted whenever women’s voices are not heard.
Every society needs its cleaners, its secretaries, its housewives as much as it needs its scientists, its lawyers and its doctors. Every part is just as important as the other, and equality realises and represents that idea. It is no longer a luxury to be treated as equal - it is a right. And this continued fight for equality is not one just for women. If we believed that feminism and equality could only be championed by women then we would be as prejudice and naïve as those we are fighting against.
Equality and discussion are pillars of democracy. So by giving women a voice, we’ve strengthened those pillars, and built ourselves a stronger democracy. A democracy we can take pride in. One which represents all women – religious or not. One which promotes healthy over skinny. One which deals with the most important issues for women.