LONDON – Excluding and alienating men in the fight for women’s rights slows down the global women’s rights movement, singer and activist Annie Lennox has said.
Both sexes need to work in partnership to overcome entrenched habits and prejudices to help make discrimination and violence against women a thing of the past, said Lennox.
“In order to go forward, we must be inclusive of men, we must make men part of the movement,” Lennox told Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview. “Without that partnership, we will move forward more slowly.”
“If you go to men with tremendous anger, you alienate them. They become defensive. In a way, you lose because you become part of a parody stereotype of an angry, strident woman; you become a cartoon, you’re not to be taken seriously.”
Lennox, an award-winning singer-songwriter who shot to global fame in the 1980s with the Eurythmics band, now devotes most of her time to women’s rights campaigning and raising awareness about HIV/AIDS.
She decided to become an activist when she witnessed former South African president Nelson Mandela in 2003 describing the HIV/AIDS pandemic as a virtual genocide of the South African people, in particular women and children.
“It truly was an awakening, a turning point...I was outraged and ashamed. But it isn’t just about a pandemic. It is about the devaluation of women, the lack of protection, the lack of care, of legislative measures, of mechanisms to protect women and children,” she said.
“I’m a woman, I’m a mother…my gender means that I’m connected to an awful lot of issues but this really resonated with me. I realised that women and children don’t have a voice in this.”
Lennox founded the SING campaign in 2007 to raise global awareness of the impact of HIV on women and children, particularly in South Africa, Malawi and the UK, and to provide financial support for organisations helping to ensure that HIV-positive women and children have access to treatment and care.
Health experts acknowledge that great strides have been made in treating and preventing HIV/AIDS. But in many developing countries, inequality, social pressures and lack of education about the virus often make women more vulnerable to HIV infection than men. In sub-Saharan Africa, women and girls make up the majority of the HIV-positive population.
“If you look at HIV/AIDS and how it affects women and children, you realise it’s a human rights and women’s rights issue due to the lack of power that many women have in developing countries, the lack of choice whom they’re going to marry, when they have babies, or the violence they experience,“ Lennox said.
FIGHTING FOR REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS
Lennox, who has two daughters, said her own experience of losing her first-born child, a boy, heightened her awareness of the need to improve reproductive rights for women.
“I’ve been through the loss of a child, I know what that means. Different circumstances but nevertheless, I have a personal experience. What did I learn? I learned that every time a woman delivers a child, it’s a unique and sacred moment. I don’t mean that in a religious sense – I mean that there is a sort of sanctity about human life that should be respected everywhere.”
Lennox said that on a recent trip to Malawi with fellow members of the Global Leaders Council for Reproductive Health, she saw the effects on girls of giving birth at the early age of 14 or 15.
“Many will give birth in dangerous circumstances, probably in some remote rural place where they could die because of some simple complication that could have been prevented but they didn’t have the right kind of care. And they will go on and have five or six more children, it’s far too many.”
Although Malawi has made progress in reducing maternal mortality, it still has one of the world’s worst maternal mortality rates in the world, with one in 36 pregnant women at risk of dying while giving birth. As a result, President Joyce Banda has launched an ambitious plan to make childbirth safer.
Lennox, 58, whose parents were working-class Scots, said it is easy to feel powerless in the face of a multitude of problems in the world.
Initiatives like “One Billion Rising”, a campaign spearheaded by playwright Eve Ensler that calls for an end to violence against women and for gender equality, fill her with hope, Lennox said.
“All over the world now, there are women – and men – dedicated to ending violence against women, to fight for women’s rights… It’s a wave, it needs to be sustained. Here is the deal: Do nothing, nothing happens. Do something, maybe something will happen…it’s like water on a stone.
“I’m idealistic to a degree, but I’m also pragmatic and really believe that there is more discussion about women’s issues than ever before,” she said. “But no campaign or campaigner can do it alone – it has to be a movement.”