Friday, December 30, 2011


This is one of the BBC’s Twelve Female Faces of the Year.

Yes, it’s a panda. Cute. Furry. And I am sure, at heart, a very nice panda.


It’s a panda.

Among the other eleven chosen, one was the woman who designed Kate Middleton’s wedding dress, while two other women - Charlene Wittstock and the Duchess of Alba - were just famous for marrying someone else.

The BBC also included the female Marine who went on YouTube asking Justin Timberlake for a date.  

Now I know these lists aren’t meant to be taken seriously. But the BBC has a huge platform; it could be a thought leader. Or does the UK’s largest independent news broadcaster just think of itself as, you know, a bit of a giggle?

Can I suggest some alternatives?

photograph: Harry Wad

Why not include the face of one of the three women who won the Nobel Peace Prize this year? There's Leymah Gbowee who, having worked in a trauma centre with the child soldiers of Charles Taylor’s army, became the spokeswoman for a women’s action group credited with bringing about the Accra Peace Accord that brought the appalling war in Liberia to an end.

(read more about this remarkable young woman here )

Or Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa's first democratically elected female president; or Tawaakul Karman, the youngest ever peace prize winner and the first Arab woman to win the prize. She heads the group Women Journalists Without Chains that fights for women's rights in Yemen. She has survived at least one assassination attempt.

But no, I suppose, sitting around eating bamboo shoots is far more important.

Instead of a celebrity dress designer they could have picked Samira Ibrahim, a 25 year old marketing manager who was one of seven women subjected to a so-called ‘virginity test’ after she was arrested for demonstrating against the government. These 'tests' were carried out by male army officers to protect the Egyptian military from accusations of rape - by proving that the women weren’t virgins in the first place. It is a proposition that is at once ludicrous, brutal and insulting (can only virgins be raped?) 

She took the matter to court and won. Can you imagine the guts that took? In Egypt.

To protect myself against accusations of being ageist against the Duchess of Alba, (85), how about Hetty Bower instead? She's 106 and still campaigning for peace. One of the founding members of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament fifty five years ago, she still marches, and recently spoke out against ­hospital ­closures and cuts in services for ­disabled people. 'As long as my legs can take me I will be participating in ­anti-war activity.'

I suppose these issues are all black and white for her. But for the BBC that's not good enough - you have to be black and white - and furry as well.

How about Christine Schuler-DeSchryver, who runs the City of Joy, a centre for rape survivors in Bukavu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the 'rape capital of the world'. She set up the centre with activist and playwright Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues. 

At least half a million women have been raped in the DRC since 1998, and in particularly brutal ways. One rape survivor said this: "Eve asked us what we wanted ... and  we said: shelter. A roof. A place where we can be safe. And a place where we can be powerful. That's what we now have."

If you have a strong stomach read more about this extraordinary woman and the City of Joy here

Instead of staring at the photograph of a woman who married the Prince of Monaco, couldn’t we rather look at a picture of  Shaima Jastaina from Saudi Arabia, the only country where women are not allowed to drive? This prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers, and those who cannot afford the $300-$400 (£190-£255) a month for a driver must rely on male relatives.

Shaima started driving as a protest against this law; she was caught behind the wheel of a car in Jeddah in July and sentenced to 10 lashes of the whip.

So there’s my nominations for the list. No endangered wildlife there - just endangered people. 

Am I taking this too seriously - or should we expect more thought leadership from our media?

Or is that idea just too quixotic in the age of the celebrity and the spin doctor?


  1. Not at all. You make an extremely good point. Our society has gotten to the point where we revere people for the wrong things, and the true heroes often go without notice.

  2. I love your list and agree there are so many courageous and strong women who should be highlighted in lists with as large a reach as the BBC! Bravo, Colin! So glad I found your blog.

  3. Thanks Marcy! The BBC list really annoyed me - as you say Marcia they have a huge audience and it would be good if they used to highlight the work some women are doing - which is more important than making dresses and marrying the Prince of Monte Carlo!

  4. As always- a thoughtful commentary.