As we enter 2018, Comment reflects on what has been a strange and divisive year for many of us.
2017 for women
Despite the continuation of victim-shaming, girls being sent home from school for ‘inappropriate’ clothing, and the need to fight for the right to legal abortion, 2017 was huge for women across the world. 2017 was the year women decided it was time to speak out, regardless of the consequences. This couldn’t be more clearly embodied than in the fall of Harvey Weinstein. Here was one man, but many, many victims.
Powerful women from all over the industry came forward to reveal the dirty deeds of Weinstein, putting the spotlight on men like him who use their position and clout to threaten and silence women. It doesn’t help that our society has a habit of questioning the victims rather than those who perpetuate the crime.
Women are now coming together to ensure that men will no longer be allowed to behave in this way. To raise awareness of our plight, earlier this year the #MeToo campaign worked superbly to reveal the reality of sexual harassment that women face on a day-to-day basis. Time named the voices behind #MeToo their ‘Person of the Year’. By doing so, the magazine did the thing that women have been trying to get the world to do for a very long time: acknowledge our problems.
I believe that the first step to creating a better situation for women is to get people recognise the reality. Hopefully, this will be an impetus to forging a more equal society. Ironically, in Saudi Arabia – a country well-known for its oppression of women – a female robot was given citizenship, which opened the floodgates and highlighted the hypocrisy of the country. However, Saudi Arabia also permitted women the right to drive in September, demonstrating that as long as people, especially women, continue to criticise and talk about their problems, I am confident that one day we can subdue the devil of gender inequality.
2017 and the Rohingya crisis
2017 is over. Though news-outlets may forage for joys in this year’s barren wasteland, it is likely that this ghoulish spectre will haunt us for years to come. 2017 was a bad year for humanity, full of political blunders and tragedies. Some might disagree: for the Trump supporters, it was Year Zero.
Amidst all this, the Rohingya crisis is its own unique and tragic story. One of ethnic cleansing, rape, and displacement. A story too bitter for this holiday season. Yet, it is a familiar story which will most likely be forgotten in the loud colours and noise of December 31st.
More than 700,000 Rohingya people have taken refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh. Amongst these are estranged children and women who have been gang-raped. More than 6,700 Rohingya have been murdered. According to Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s disgraced State Counsellor, this is all ‘fake news’.
The Rohingya refugees live in appalling conditions in overcrowded refugee camps, where every day is a struggle for food. Proper sanitation and medical care are necessary but are currently far-removed from reality. The human dignity of this proud people lies in tatters.
100,000 Rohingya are set to be sent back to Myanmar by January 2018. They will go back to a land where their villages have been ravaged, livestock killed, harvests stolen, and family members murdered by the Myanmar Military and Buddhist fundamentalists.
Where does this leave the Rohingya people? The Myanmar government denies them citizenship, and other basic rights like health care, education, freedom of movement, voting rights, and access to work. As 2018 approaches, the backs of the Rohingya people are against the wall. This crisis could have grave consequences, not only for the Rohingya population, but for the future of Myanmar itself.
2017: The worst year ever?
The other night I was out for a drink with a friend and, as inevitably tends to happen this time of year, we reflected on the 12 months that had just passed. Like, I think, a lot of people, we were both glad that 2017 was over. However, we remembered, somewhat disconcertingly, feeling exactly the same way about 2016 a year ago. And so the conversation became a debate: which was worse, 2016 or 2017?
I argued for 2016, he for 2017.
‘2016 was terrible. Trump and Brexit happened, alongside so many other bad things. And on top of all that, a lot of good people died.’
‘Yes but this year we had to actually deal with Trump and Brexit. And yet more terrible things happened. And more, though not as many, good people died.’
We failed to reach any sort of agreement on the matter. I still think 2016 was worse. But my reasoning for this belief was the very depressing argument that last year desensitised us to such a great extent that 2017 could not in any way compete with the shock of 2016. I had begun to expect the terrible headlines that appeared regularly in newspapers, and after the election results on both sides of the Atlantic last year, little could have surprised me.
If this is the case, I hate to think what this means for 2018 should yet more terrible things happen. The only sensible defence I can think of is to constantly remind ourselves: ‘This is not normal’. I hate to think what might happen should we forget.
Photograph: Alan O’Rourke via Flickr and Creative Commons