Saturday, 11 March 2017

International Women's Day 2017

Over the past week, I have attended a few different events to mark International Women's Day (IWD). During the day itself (8th March 2017) I shared lots of posts within the spirit of marking the day and celebrating the strength and achievements of women. However, I was slightly surprised when an intelligent but young American male acquaintance asked why women were campaigning that day. If I didn't know him it would have been easy to assume that he was being sarcastic, another "whens International Men's Day" kind of guy. However, after pausing before I responded, I quickly realised that he was genuinely asking why women were protesting in the USA and why other women that he knew were marking the day worldwide. His question and my response inspired me to write this blog.

So what is International Women's Day? The official website defines it as "a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity." The day has been marked since the early 1900's and the focus has frequently changed as consequence of political and social change worldwide. For example, this year there was an influx in support for IWD in response to the way the newly elected President Trump has both spoken and acted towards women. This includes the recent controversy over an all-male cabinet making decisions on abortion policy and his distasteful and misogynistic comments toward women such as "grab her by the pussy". 

IWD is an opportunity to come together and remember the strong women who have enabled many women to enjoy the rights and equality that we may take for granted day to day. From the more publicly and politically defiant women such as the Suffragettes to more discreet role models such as the Bletchley Code Breakers and Florence Nightingale. When you spend your whole life exercising your rights daily, it is very easy to take them for granted. However, we must remember that these rights are to the detriment of the battles of strong women. While this is obviously important as a mark of respect, it is also important to remind us of the importance of continuing the fight, in order to retain and improve our rights as women for equality. 

Therefore, the day can also be spent identifying areas where we need to continue to improve in society, in order to reach true gender equality. It is also a day for encouraging solidarity, confidence and empowerment amongst women. This can include acknowledging the role women play in both society and the family. Some people choose specific topics of interest and others embrace the day in a broader context. 

Worldwide women continue to suffer from injustice and struggle for equal rights. From access to education and child brides to FGM and right to autonomy. The list in itself would provide enough content to complete many blogs. While the struggle for gender equality within 'Western civilisation' may appear less trivial that in other parts of the world where women have little or no rights, the struggle for equality and justice is real. Particularly, for the most vulnerable female members of society. 

In England, on average 2 women, a week die from domestic violence and roughly 10 women an hour are raped, totalling over 85,000 rape victims per year (imagine the figures if we included children). Then there's all the women and girls who are sexually exploited, enslaved and subjected to FGM. Yes, some people still struggle to accept that females living in the UK are subjected to FGM. Nevertheless, government funding for vital services continues to be cut, resulting in significant strains and closures to vital services accessed by vulnerable women. Then there's the everyday misogyny, pregnancy and maternity discrimination, unequal gender pay and unbalanced gender representations in the workplace. Sadly, the list goes on.......and so must IWD and the fight for gender equality, social justice and adequate funding for vital support services which remain under threat. 

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