Tag Archives: footbinding

‘Advancing women’s rights in fragile states’ – Financial but not cultural

Within previously war ruined communities across the not so modern world certain aspects of culture have been submerged rather than developed during the 20th century. This has resulted in painful and pointless exercises such as foot binding and FGC being treated an just another ‘womanly obligation’ much like the ‘vagazzle’ is over here.

Despite being banned in 1912 the age old tradition of foot binding is still going on, under wraps today in some corners of the country where girls are breaking their feet into “three-inch golden lotuses.” It is seen as a sign of beauty and the exercise is performed in private with the help, usually, of the mother, over the woman’s child hood  when the bones are nice an brittle.

In other parts of the world, ‘women’s worries’ much like this are yielding some horrific results. Women in Somalia, as well as aboriginal Australia, feel obligated to go through the dangerous but ‘purifying’ procedure of Female Genital Cutting (or Mutilation as it’s also known). These operations have huge amounts of risk as they are not always carried out in sterile conditions and infection is common. Edna Adan, the proprietor of the University Hospital in Somalia, laments that it is seen as part of their cultural identity and, as the gentiles are sewn up, the husband knows he is marrying a virgin. As globalisation develops more people migrate and they take these aspects of culture with them, instances of FGC have been reported in both America and Australia as well as parts of Europe.

Chinese author Yang Yang is currently writing a book on the story of Wang Lifen who was just 7 when her mother started binding her feet: breaking her toes and binding them underneath the sole of the foot with bandages. Pretty. After her mother died, Wang carried on, breaking the arch of her own foot to force her toes and heel ever closer.

“I regret binding my feet,” Lifen says. “I can’t dance, I can’t move properly. I regret it a lot. But at the time, if you didn’t bind your feet, no one would marry you.”

The originating reason for foot binding, is said to derive from Song dynasty (960-1279 A.D.) Under the reign of Li Yu, who ruled over one region of China between 961-975. It is said his heart was captured by a good looking pair of feet like the ones below, Yao Nian was a talented dancer who bound her feet to suggest the shape of a new moon and performed the beautiful  “lotus dance”.


“Oh, a little foot! You Europeans cannot understand how exquisite, how sweet, how exciting it is!” ~Sterling Seagrave, The Soong Dynasty

In these parts of the world marriage is still vital for most women who wish to live in financial security. They cling onto what their parents have taught them on how to bag a husband and due to lacking education this is all they have to rely on.

Woman’s independence has taken a momentous financial step forwards, however, in Bangladesh where researchers Beatriz Armendariz and Nigel Roome are studying the fluctuations in the micro finance investment industry, which had been flourishing gradually since the mid 1970’s. They found that according to 2006 Microcredit Summit Campaign Report, seven out of ten clients are women and millions of these women are married or live with a partner, and many have children. This is brings about an empowering change in women’s attitudes to their social standings in society, which is great, but the transition to shared financial obligation in these families has led to friction between spouses who are now competing for the position of breadwinners. Men feel that they are being excluded from the advantages given by the microfinance scheme, seven out of ten times to women rather than their counterparts. I fear that the reaction to ‘emasculation’ will be a violent one and that women will have to adopt a triple shift role as competing financiers as well as most of the time house wives.

So we have not yet attained universal suffrage and we have found out that simply instating a law to stop a cultural trend will not stop its practice, simply force it under ground. Problems such as these should be dealt using the gradual integration of sense into submerged and war torn parts of the world like we have seen in Bangladesh. In order for the position of the women to make any head way in gaining some equality it is the men who must understand horrific ends girls go to meet their out of date expectations. Please donate to Edna Adan’s non-profit organisation fighting the war against genital mutilation in Somalia every day. – http://www.ednahospital.org/

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