Unwelcome spectators

A football match being watched boozily by some local men, a few minutes walk from the compound. Some kids hanging onto the wire, hoping to get a glimpse. Men and boys are very into football here.

Poni is the owner of this bar (the one that doubles as a goat meat shack that I've blipped about before), and today we had an insight into her recruitment strategy. I asked whether the former waitress was still around, who Poni had bemoaned in her earshot. She's been replaced by a tall rangy woman called Judith, who is very cheerful. Poni said part of the problem with the last one was that she was 'harsh' with customers when they were sleazy and groped her, and that it's better if waitresses join in with the rough and tumble; even more so if they're willing to have a drink with customers. She wouldn't want customers to be put off by a waitress who protests against being groped. Therefore Poni has decided to employ waitresses that are of the same 'class' as the customers.

I reckon most female South Sudan business owners, even those if quizzed separately would be honest about having suffered from male violence themselves and who would count as feminists in their world, are still prioritising profits over fair treatment of workers. Even if rights against feeling uncomfortable or harassed in the workplace are enshrined anywhere, which I doubt.

Is this example of the status quo a necessary growth stage in any society and economy, with only a very small minority among us (British Guardian readers, Scandinavians, people from Oregon) with the luxury of being able to currently shout for absolute equality in the workplace?

I appreciate that in South Sudan people have massive immediate issues to face and are content to keep hold of anything that can be deemed successful (a bar that weathers the economic crisis; a job that pays something with the minor drawback of men's hands on your buttocks), which is why with Poni it's only sensible to do some minor jostling about the difference in our attitudes. I've written before that it would be futile to promote gay rights during conversations in Indonesia, and I accept my views are usually in the minority when I'm travelling, and temper them accordingly.

But I would hope that with stability, change and growth in most societies that people move into positions where fairness becomes more of a focus and that they have more time and resources available to tackle injustices. This isn't always the case: there are large numbers of European and North American women whose lives are comfortable but they don't engage in the equal pay debate and are turned off by strong feminists. There are huge numbers of gay men who get more excited by their latest cruise brochure than they ever could do about the fight for equal rights. There are many privileged Westerners for whom pouting on Instagram is more engaging than social justice.

There has to be a broad correlation between increased prosperity/comfort and greater equality. Saudi Arabia recently gave women the right to drive, Australia will (for the love of gawd it had better do) give gay couples the right to marry, people in Ireland are protesting about abortion rights and, in a very rare move for Africa, Mozambique decriminalised homosexuality in 2015. If development of countries broadly equals greater equality, it rarely happens benignly, but in response to enough individuals standing up for what they believe and rallying against something that could change for the better. None of the changes above would be happening if it wasn't for pressure by a large enough group of lobbyists.

My belief remains that if our lives are comfortable enough in themselves to pop down to Costa for a toffee frappuccino, whilst there we could be discussing domestic and global equality, and keeping things bubbling on the agenda. Tipping points are reached, such as legislation and attitude changes in the UK that would have meant Judith (for illustrative purposes it's handy that many young South Sudanese women share names with older British women) in 1950s Nottingham would have felt protected enough to give the guy who felt her arse as she cleared tables a good old slap.

We ventured out of the compound for a few quick chores, as it's a strange feeling to be hidden inside so as not to attract attention. South Sudan is volatile and I'm nervous about being in public in Juba as incidents certainly do happen, but there is a rational line to be drawn and a need to explore a little of the local area despite the slightly heightened risk.

And the walk enabled me to take a minor bum pinch and turn it into ramblings about world equality.

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