At my university I took a class on rhetoric and one of our assignments was to prepare a speech on a subject we were interested in. Though it sounds easy, I must admit that it was very difficult to find a subject that would also be interesting for other people.
One of my classmates chose to talk about women’s rights and equality between men and women in Montenegro. She was convinced that her speech would make young people consider the possible change they could make in their behavior and in society in general.
She talked about political empowerment of women in Montenegro and tried to demonstrate how it is important for everyone to become aware of the inequalities between women and men in our society.
However, she was unheard. She tried hard to keep her speech going, but everyone seemed to have more important topics to talk about than listen to her. That was not the only part that bothered me. What drew my attention were the comments, mostly from young men in the audience.
They didn’t approve of anything she said, they protested loudly saying that nothing should change. They defended the values they learned from an early age and saw no sense in doing anything differently now. In fact, most of them claimed that women “are equal, they can be in politics, but it’s up to them whether they want it.”
This was the wake up call for me, when I realized that this opinion was deeply rooted in young people, who I thought were supposed to be more open minded.
When another friend of mine from class gave his speech, he looked at the audience and said: “I wish I could find another problem to address and that the one I want to talk to you about didn’t exist. But, my emotions and judgment oblige me to talk to you about violence against women.”
His words silenced the audience and soon everyone listened to what he had to say. He cited facts and statistics, including the average sentence for rape in Montenegro is two years and eight months in prison (Source: Podgorica and Bijelo Polje higher courts). This shocked everyone.
He finished his speech by saying: “Did you know that in every single case of rape, the court took into account the length of the women’s skirt? How could that fact be relevant? I wish there was another problem I could tell you about.”
The other students applauded and his speech was awarded as the best in the class.
Those two young people who tried to demonstrate the existence of a problem inspired me to write this post. Talking about a problem is making it visible. That is what I wanted to do. Not just as an intern, but also as a student and a woman, believing in what Gandhi once said: “We must be the change we want to see in the world….”
Iva Popović is an intern with UNDP in Montenegro, working on issues related to equality between women and men.