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Malala and Emma: A Feminist Dream Team

November 4 marked the UK debut of “He Named Me Malala,” a biopic of Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. Ms. Yousafzai, 18, is best known for her work advocating for female education and for surviving a Taliban assassination attempt when armed men climbed on board her school bus and shot her in the head. She is co-founder of the Malala Fund along with her friend Shiza Shahid.

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“There’s nothing wrong by calling yourself a feminist. So I’m a feminist and we all should be a feminist because feminism is another word for equality.” –Malala Yousafzai

After the screening at the Into Film Festival, UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson sat down for a Question and Answer session with Ms. Yousafzai. During the Q&A, which was broadcast to over 80 cinemas across the UK, Ms. Yousafzai disclosed that it was thanks to Ms. Watson that she became a feminist after viewing her passionate speech at the launch of UN HeForShe program.

The HeForShe campaign is a movement that encourages men to identify themselves as feminists and support for women’s rights because it will benefit their gender as well. This reflects an underlying theme of Malala’s life as she has been able to follow her educational dreams in part thanks to her father who allowed his daughter to follow her education and supported her through all her work.
Ms. Yousafzai finished her interview by taking questions from primary school children in England. She reminded the viewers that they are never to young to start making a difference. “Do the things that you want to do.  Don’t think that one day I’ll grow up and do things. Don’t wait for this day, it will be too late.”

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A Necessary Priority

Check out this week’s blog post from our Get Educated, One Topic At A Time blog series. This week, learn about the importance of women in the world of politics and pursuing political careers. Check out our last four blog posts from the series, as well: “Creating A Road To Democracy”, “A Historical Moment For Genocide”, “Two Sides To Invest” and “An Undefined Grasp Of Failure”. Check back next Monday for a new post!

“With one-half the population, there is simply no reason women should only be represented at one-fifth of the seats at the table.”– U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

In June of 2011, United Nations Women identified women’s political participation and leadership as one of its top five priorities in its first Strategic Plan. Despite the fact that women constitute a little over 50% of the world population, their representation and participation in politics are vastly underrepresented. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, only 20% of parliamentary seats worldwide are currently held by women. Despite being a historic high, it is still far from the Beijing Platform for Action’s target goal of 30% in political participation, said to be the “minimum percentage necessary to ensure a critical mass of women who can influence the decision making processes and political agendas.” The current participation percentage is even further from the United Nations Millennium Goal target for gender parity, which lies between 40 and 60%. Unfortunately, UNIFEM predicts that the critical mass of 30% will not be achieved by 2015.

Egyptian women are also demanding a greater role in their government.

Female underrepresentation in politics and many more institutions can be traced back to the world’s patriarchal legacy. Historically, societies were male dominated, male identified and male centered. The majority of positions in all fields were naturally reserved for men and core cultural ideas and media were centered on male identities. One important movement in response to women oppression was the Feminist movement that began with its first wave in the 19th century, focusing on obtaining women’s right to vote. This was followed by second and third waves that concentrated on wider issues such as inequalities in the workplace, political inequalities, and educational disparity. Another important progress was made in 1979, when the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. This women’s bill of rights suggests measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women, including in the political field.

Women in Bangladesh are often pushed into a subordinate role by their social system, resulting in an unfavorable attitude towards women in politics.

Currently, there are only 31 female leaders out of the 192 member states of the United Nations. As of two years ago, women successfully hold 33% or more representation in parliaments in only twelve countries. Worldwide, the ratio of men to women is 4 to 1 in legislatures. Significant progress has been made on international, national and local levels to improve and increase women’s political participation and leadership. Unfortunately, this progress has been slow and has faced resistance in governments historically dominated by men. Women are especially affected in poverty-stricken nations, and they are often the victims of social and cultural factors that prioritize men in education. This expresses the extent that women’s rights and equality is crucial in overall international development, as well as to the successes of all the UN Millennium Development Goals.

-Yun-Hee