Why do we need International Women’s Day?

 

So what’s the deal with International Women’s Day? Isn’t it just angry women ranting about not getting a pay rise or whatever? A bunch of feminist bloggers?

Hmm, the F word.

Feminism is such a tricky term; one that is often treated with as much contempt as the other F word.

The Huffington Post’s Poorna Bell claims that:

“We have moved beyond the procrastination of 2013, when women were deciding whether or not they were feminists,” to this year where “the voice of women grew from a murmur to a roar.”

Well that maybe true in certain sections of the press, and perhaps on Twitter. But in real life, do people really care about inequality and gender issues? Do you?

 

What was it that broke the internet?

According to one editor of a prominent women’s magazine, the articles that get the most click-throughs on their site are chicken recipes and Mary Berry’s cupcake recipe. It seems we care more about fluffy lifestyle topics such as baking or how to contour our cheekbones to cut glass than we do about FGM, the gender pay gap or domestic violence.

Think about it. It wasn’t the picture of Malala receiving her Nobel Prize that broke the internet was it?

It’s great to celebrate some of the steps forward that we have taken as a society. Like the changes to paternity leave that mean the responsibility of childcare no longer falls solely on women. Or the growing openness around breastfeeding.

But let’s not overstate the case. What about the issues that don’t gain a hashtag or social media attention? What about marginalised women who don’t have a voice at all?

If you need further convincing on this, then consider the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day, #PledgeForParity. Not #LetsCelebrateHowFarWe’veCome. According to the official website, “progress towards gender equality has slowed in many places.”

#PledgeforParity is about the continued fight to see women gain equal status all over the world. Not just here in the West. It’s the fight to see women in India have access to indoor toilets. It’s the fight to end FGM, the practice that is said to maintain a woman’s sexual purity. It’s the fight to stop girls being married off as young as 12. And so much more….

But I fear that before we take on that fight, we have to move past our own apathy.

Because let’s face it, most people would rather watch the video of the baby panda sneezing or anything to do with cats before they engage with gender issues.

 

Some unlikely home truths

So how do we get people to care? It seems that once a year, the stats and figures on the plight of women across the world get rolled out; only to be put away again until March 8th the following year. Instead of shocking people once a year with “what’s happening out there”, how do we really bring it home?

Well how about asking a few home truths that may seem unlikely. Like:

Do you have a vagina?

Do you have children?

Do you have a non- English name?

Do you have coloured skin?

Are you gay?

Are you on the minimum wage?

Are you an immigrant or the child of one?

Are you disabled or suffer from a long term illness?

Answering yes to any one of these questions means you WILL face discrimination at one point in your life. Simply because there are power structures in place which mean that most of us will experience discrimination and disadvantage.

That’s why we should all care about International Women’s Day. Because its a day for the disadvantaged, and yes that includes women. Because, as Hilary Clinton so famously said in her iconic 1995 speech to the UN, “because women’s rights are human rights.”

And one more thing. Why should it be me, you, us that roll up our sleeves and do this? Because:

“I am resourced. I am educated, I have the right to vote, I have access to medical healthcare. WE must open doors for others who don’t have the rights that we take for granted.”

Annie Lennox, speaking at Women of the World 2015, London.

 

 

 

If you want to read more on this topic, you might like these posts:

A letter to my daughter on International Women’s Day

Can Twitter really change the lives of women?

Why we don’t care about other women

What is Desi Feminism?

Why we don’t care about other women

Women's rights

Trigger Warning: Contains some disturbing material

“It doesn’t really affect me.”

“I’m too tired from work to think about those issues”.

“I’ve got problems of my own”.

These are just some of the excuses I hear from people I talk to as to why gender inequality- actually any inequality, is not a priority to them.

We hear about rape in India; female genital mutilation; human trafficking and the sex trade. We are all horrified for a moment, but then the moment is gone. We go back to our daily lives in which we are not affected by these issues, are too tired for them, or are bogged down by our own problems.

I get it. Life is hard. You’re worried about your job. Your mum was diagnosed with cancer. You have ongoing sickness. Your partner left you. We all face our own battles every day. Trust me, I certainly do.

But you know the best way to get your mind off your own problems? Go out and help someone with theirs. Believe me it will really put things in perspective because there is always someone who is worse off than you are.

Baby girls are being denied food, suffocated or have their spines broken- just because they are girls.

Young girls and women are having their vaginas cut and mutilated for the sake of their sexual purity and so-called “honour”.

A leading cause of death amongst women aged 14-44 is violence from relatives in their own homes.

(Adapted from “Remarks to the U.N. 4th World Conference on Women Plenary Session” by Hillary Clinton)

Still think you have problems?

Listen, I’m not belittling your life. But here’s another way to put it. Speaking at the Women of the World festival in London this month, that I had the privilege of attending, Annie Lennox said this:

“I am resourced. I am educated, I have the right to vote, I have access to medical healthcare. WE must open doors for others who don’t have the rights that we take for granted.”

It is up to us. And it is your, my, our, problem.

Because the truth is that inequality is everywhere- it would be naiive to think it doesn’t affect you.

Do you have non-English name, or coloured skin? Are you an immigrant or the child of one? Do you have a vagina? Do you have children? Are you gay? Are you disabled or long-term sick? Are you on the minimum wage? Are you a blue-collar worker? Any one of these means you will face discrimination in your lifetime at some point- and yes, more than one means you face twice the discrimination. There are power structures in place which mean that most of us will experience discrimination and disadvantage. And that should make you angry. It makes me so angry!

But what makes me the angriest is gender-based discrimination. Because I am a woman, I get treated like a second-class citizen? Really? Sadly misogyny and violence against women is worse than ever before in some parts of the world. Sexism is rampant in public and private life.  And don’t even get me started on how South Asian women- women like me, both in the UK and abroad are some of the most oppressed, most beaten, most raped, most tortured women in world; denied access to any of the freedoms we take for granted like healthcare and education, or just the simple freedom to make their own choices.

Ten years ago at the UN World Conference for Women in Beijing, Hilary Clinton gave a now famous speech in which she said “human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights”.

So much of what she said was ahead of its time. It’s only now that we are really waking up to the truth of what women face globally. Technology and the instant spread of information have aided that.

So what can we do? Well start by reading up on“India’s Daughter” (you can no longer download it). But you can download Wednesday night’s “Hilary Clinton: The Power of Women”, and listen to Hilary’s original speech in the clip above. Get on Twitter and see what’s trending. Listen to a TED talk. Just get in the conversation and for God’s sake get a conscience.

Social justice isn’t just for angry bloggers like me, it’s everyone’s responsibility. We need to actually give a damn about someone other than ourselves.