by Margareta Rončević
The ONE Youth Ambassador story continues as we lobby for the current campaign Poverty is Sexist.
On March 1 we spent the afternoon talking to MPs at Westminster and discussing the importance of women’s education.
Why is educating women so important?
I will give you a personal example. If I never learned English, or obtained my high school diploma, I could have never come to Scotland to study. And I don’t have to explain what a shame that would have been.
But the women we are advocating for don’t have a nice story such as mine. These women are not educated because they are forced to marry, they get pregnant, have to take care of their families – or simply because they are not men.
The casualness of lobbying made me think more about Poverty is Sexist. So, while there are 130 million girls without education, forced into marriage or child labour, I get to discuss their aid and lives in a cosy CAP room in Westminster over a glass of wine and snacks.
Before going to Parliament, ONE campaign (UK) coordinators, Billy Hill and Lowri Evans, gave us a few bits of advice on how to approach MPs and present the campaign. For most of us it was the first time talking to MPs. Some of the MPs had heard of ONE, some of them not. What made them all intrigued is a room full of young people advocating and practising their beliefs – a refreshment after all those long debates and discussions in Westminster.
We are all passionate and grateful to be a part of ONE, a global campaign fighting extreme poverty. A lot of the ambassadors like me are studying politics and events like this one are great practice for our future work. When will I get to meet a bunch of MPs and talk to them again?
But the whole experience made me feel like a hypocrite. I know that at Westminster, lobbying requires a certain level of decorum. Also, the strategy of ONE is to directly change the laws and policies in order to run a successful campaign. By talking to MPs, informing them about the campaign, and proposing how they can contribute, it is more likely that the campaign will be successful. It was proved in 2013 when ONE was a big part of setting the international aid budget which is 0.7% of national gross income.
Does it make me less eager to be a ONE Youth Ambassador? Of course not. Lobbying and changing the laws is a long process, but it is worth it in the end when the laws are actually changed and active.
Some of the MPs attended the debate for International Women’s Day on March 2 and were thrilled to support the campaign. It was great to watch the videos of the debate and seeing familiar faces, thinking: Hey, I told you that!
Even though it makes me feel blessed that I get to go to a great university and study my interests, I cannot turn a blind eye to the unfair, imposed differences that surround us. The other day my flatmate told me about her politics seminar where they talked about feminism. One of the female students argued that feminism in our part of the world is not needed because women already have the right to work and vote.
Essentially, this suggests we are being greedy for wanting the same treatment as men because there are women living in far worse conditions. According to the UCU (Universities and Colleges Union), in 2016, women employed at the University of Stirling were on average paid 5.3% less than men. Think of all your female professors and staff at our university and if they really deserve to be paid less based on their work and education. And their gender?
Yes, I am happy to live where I am not as defined by my gender as the women living in extreme poverty are. But no, I am not happy that a certain part of my being and work will still be defined by it, no matter how ‘civilised’ or ‘progressive’ our society is.
The Poverty is Sexist campaign is about empowering women. It’s about giving them the opportunity to pursue their interests, build their universities and schools, and one day advocate for people who are not as fortunate as they are or for themselves if needed.
Poverty is a (hu)manmade concept. It is not a personal choice and it can be eradicated. And even in poverty, in the most horrible conditions, women are the ones having it worse than men. I’m not implying ignoring the men living in extreme poverty, or trying to undermine their difficulties. What I am implying is the importance of addressing the struggle that the female sex has to go through daily. It is not just the wage gap, catcalling, rape or mansplaining. It is living under inhumane conditions and getting pushed down even more because you are a woman.
And, while I am proudly lobbying for this campaign, and thrilled to be a part of ONE, I can’t shake the feeling of frustration at living in a world where campaigns like this are still needed and an entire gender is being undervalued.
You can read the first instalment of Margareta’s series on working with the ONE campaign here.