8 March 2018 – PEN International has launched its Women’s Manifesto, a set of principles, which aim to protect free expression for women by combating and eliminating the silencing of women worldwide, whether through censorship, harassment, or violence.
On International Women’s Day, the organisation is highlighting women’s rights to express themselves freely and play an equal role in world literature. PEN, along with advisors who have helped develop the manifesto – including Kamila Shamsie and Caroline Criado Perez – will be recommending women writers on Twitter throughout the day using the hashtag “#ReadWomenPEN”.
PEN International’s president and writer Jennifer Clement said:
‘In the manifold varieties of violence – from murder and domestic violence, to stolen girls who are sold and trafficked, to female students at universities who are rated and slut shamed on social media – one common result is to silence the voices of women and hamper the transmission of their words and stories leaving unfilled pages and impoverished literatures. This manifesto is our commitment, as the world’s largest writers’ association, to achieve gender equality.’
The manifesto builds on PEN’s Charter, which states that ‘literature knows no frontiers.’
PEN International board member and writer Margie Orford said:
‘Women are disproportionately silenced in a variety of ways across the world, both online and offline. This ranges from a lack of access or denial of education, to self-censorship due to harassment, to sexual harassment, assault, and violence. In the digital sphere, acts of harassment and threats of sexual and physical violence are also rampant. These risks often lead the removal of women’s voices and are, ultimately, a denial of their right to the basic and fundamental right to free expression.’
The introduction to the manifesto states:
‘For women to have free speech, the right to read, the right to write, they need to have the right to roam physically, socially and intellectually. There are few social systems that do not regard with hostility a woman who walks by herself.
PEN believes that violence against women, in all its many forms, both within the walls of a home or in the public sphere, creates dangerous forms of censorship. Across the globe, culture, religion and tradition are repeatedly valued above human rights and are used as arguments to encourage or defend harm against women and girls.
PEN International believes that the act of silencing a person is to deny their existence. It’s a kind of death. Humanity is both wanting and bereft without the full and free expression of women’s creativity and knowledge.’
The manifesto was developed in consultation with Kamila Shamsie, Gillian Slovo, Gaby Wood, Ellah Allfrey, Nina George, Lisa Appignanesi and Caroline Criado Perez among others, and passed with unanimity at the Assembly of Delegates of PEN International 83rd World Congress in Lviv, Ukraine on 21 September 2017.
To read the manifesto in full click here.