Miss Watson could do with some magical help.

November 9, 2014 8:56 am

Early this morning I was woken by the hammering of wind and rain against my bedroom skylight. Living next to the sea on the southwest tip of the UK every autumn we are hit by a succession of Atlantic depressions that bring summer to an end. Most of them begin life as tropical storms or hurricanes somewhere over in the Caribbean before turning north and west towards us. Thankfully they lose some power along the way but they can still shake a house. Unable to get back to sleep, I switched on the radio and found the BBC World Service. Then I was glad of the storm because what I heard helped clear up something that has been bothering me.

The other day an audibly nervous Emma Watson gave a speech to the UN about feminism and the education and the opportunities available to girls. Several of my female friends reposted the YouTube video to Facebook, calling it ‘powerful’ and ‘impassioned’ and various other epithets. But I confess to not getting it and admit it was because I didn’t listen very hard. Somewhat cynically I prejudged the young Miss Granger figuring that she had done just fine so far: gaining fame and fortune, and attending great universities. What’s more she achieved this through her talent in playing the heroine lead of films based on the books by the most successful writer of modern times – the British (and great) JK Rowling and most definitely female. From my point of view the sexual equality battle is over. From the top; the UK’s head of state is the hugely respected and admired Elizabeth II.

The laws of succession and primogeniture were changed before Wills and Kate had their first child. The UK elected the first female leader in the west, Maggie Thatcher. Mrs Rimmington and Manningham-Buller have lead our intelligence services. No female generals or admirals as yet, but girls are working their way through the ranks and now are sent into combat. This advance is mirrored in many walks of life, and that, I think, is the point. The process is not perfect or complete but full equality cannot be achieved overnight. It is organic and change is gradual rather than revolutionary, and typically British for it. To my mind the completion of the process is assured for one simple reason; I know of no one who disagrees with it, and acceptance is so wide that many are not even aware that it is an issue any more. Just ask the next generation. However, my dismissive approach did trouble me!

un feminism speech emma watson

Which brings me back to what was on the radio, and which made me listen properly to that UN speech. The piece was on the new president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani. In his inauguration speech he paid tribute to his wife, Rula, in a move that broke many taboos and cultural mores. Traditionally Afghan women have been relegated to the shadows. But then Rula is not a traditional woman in that she is from the Lebanon, a Christian, went to university in the US and built a career. But, despite being an ‘outsider’, she is now becoming a role model. It’s obvious to me, and the real implication of what Emma Watson was saying, is that, if peace and prosperity is to come to the fractious Middle East and elsewhere, the empowerment of women, the harnessing of the potential of fully half the population, will have an integral, influencial and stabilizing role to play. However there is a long road to travel and I fear that there will be many less lucky than the Nobel Prize winning Malala Yousafzai. Yet even her recognition was ‘widely criticised or ignored’ in her homeland. So Yes! Miss Watson, I do get it now. However it will be when you are able to give your speech not in the halls of the UN in New York, but freely in Syria, Tehran, Karachi or even Kabul, that you will know that real progress is being made.

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