One year with the PEN International Women’s Manifesto

The PEN International Women’s Manifesto is now a year old. It has during this year been circulated round the world. The important message has been welcomed by literature and publishing circles and has so far been translated into 28 world languages.  Author Tanja Tuma from the Slovenian PEN asked her PEN colleagues round the world: What does the women’s manifesto mean to you personally, to your country and to the world? Here are the answers.

November 29 2018 Text: Tanja Tuma

Iman Humaydan, PEN Lebanon, member of the PEN International Board
“The WM is just a beginning. At a time when the whole world is living through a recession of the dreams, hopes, and future plans concerning women, the WM is a courageous step to look the beast in the eye and say: “here we are, and we have not lost hope yet.” In Lebanon, activists—both women and men—have succeeded in changing a law which exempts the person who committed rape from a long imprisonment. They also implemented in part a law that gives a Lebanese mother the right to give Lebanese citizenship to her non-Lebanese children. WM is in the heart of the supporting literature that gives women power for their cause.”

Tienchi Martin-Liao, Independent Chinese PEN Center
“Diverse living circumstances in China have given rise to differing needs for women. For those who live in industrial and modern countries, the principles of the WM are accepted as a matter of course. For the educated female in urban areas, the main problem is unequal treatment in the job market and sexual harassment in the workplace. In the rural areas, hard labor in the field and domestic violence in the home are daily occurrences. Besides, forced abortions and forced sterilization are still state policy. Should a woman have too many children (two), she is subject to the state’s violence and punishment.” 

Sarah Lawson, English PEN, member of the PIWWC Board
“When I think of the PIWWC I think of how indispensable it is. PEN seemed to be getting along very well without it until around 1990, when some women members realized that women writers in different parts of the world had concerns that were under the radar of the predominantly male leaders of International PEN. Now that these problems are being brought to light and addressed, it seems incredible that they were ignored before. On a personal level, I value the chance to meet and work with my colleagues from other countries.”

Ola Larsmo, Chair of the PEN International Board
The Women’s Manifesto has more or less cemented PEN’s role as a voice for the freedom of literature and language. Time and again, literature has shown that you can’t succeed in repressing the voices of the few—someone will always write about experiences that another might not consider “proper,” but they cannot be ignored any longer because it is too poignant, too relevant, too well written.
The Manifesto points out the thresholds and closed doors writers face, obstacles that have to do with gender. PEN thus confirms that literature is a global movement in which we must eliminate all such obstacles that prevent people from writing and reading, if we seriously take literature as an indispensable part of human culture.

Dareen Tatour, Palestinian poet (her statement she had read from jail)
“The WM summarizes well what I have faced in prison and in my social, political, and educational and working life. I hope that one day, we as women will reach emancipation in the full meaning of the word, will taste the meaning of freedom we long for. By women’s emancipation, human beings in general, men and women and even the whole world, could develop.”

Regula Venske, President, German PEN
“At age four, I summarized my insight into world politics like this: “Daddy, God, and the police, they are in power.” It was my father who jotted down this quote in his diary, along with a remarkable question I had asked him before: “Aren’t you happy, Dad, that you are so well off in your men’s garden?” Of course, we kids were attending kindergarten, which translates as children’s gardenfrom German. Men seemed to be enjoying their lives in the outside world too, but women had to stay at home and take care of the family. But “all the dinners are cooked, the children sent off for school and gone. Nothing remains of it all.” Well, some things have improved since Virginia Woolf published her famous essay, “A Room of One’s Own” in 1929, and more things have improved since my childhood. Women still have a long way to go to share equal rights and opportunities in the world. PEN’s Women’s Manifesto will be both a challenge as well as a testimony for men and women throughout the 21stcentury.”

Dr. Ma Thida, Myanmar PEN
“The WM clearly states the importance of women’s free expression, creativity, and equal rights, including the right to be safe and free from discrimination. These are indeed forward looking steps for women around the world, especially for intellectual freedom. This should not be just a statement. Let’s practice and try to establish its principles, not just by women but by all genders all over the world.”

Burhan Sönmez, Chair of the PEN International Board 
“We are in a world where women are still silenced, suppressed, ignored. When we talk about freedom for women, we know that freedom does not have borderlines. It contains dignity, beauty, and happiness for everyone. A woman’s voice is a mirror, and if it is covered by fallacy then the whole world darkens. Fallacy is the name of the false knowledge imposed by men and power. That is history that still goes on. The Women’s Manifesto is a collective voice for all our sisters who can now open a new page for a better future. Their future will save us all.”

Elisha July, President, PEN Zimbabwe
As a result of the dominant cultural backgrounds in Zimbabwe, and of course in many other parts of the world, a noticeable gap exists between males and females. The “Women Manifesto” bridges the gap between men and women, boys and girls by taking a gender transformative approach.
The Manifesto, if adequately propagated, will address the discriminatory gender norms, stereotypes, and unequal relationships between males and females, creating a fertile space for literature, ideas, opinions, debate, and dialogue from both males and females to flourish. Above all, the Manifesto creates a platform where issues that affect female counterparts are addressed.