Today is International Women’s Day; “a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.”
First celebrated in 1911, IWD is as necessary now as it was then. In the early 20th century, women in many countries worldwide lacked the right to vote, the right to an equal education, equal employment rights, and often very basic reproductive rights and bodily autonomy – all of these are things we would now consider to be basic human and civic rights for anyone, although many of these rights are still under threat for women.
But despite the fact that many of these women the world over are still disadvantaged, discriminated against and experience gender-based/sexual violence, much has been achieved since the first IWD, and much is still being achieved by the women’s movement and by individual women alike. And that is indeed something to celebrate, as are the many remarkable and inspirational women who have left (or who are leaving) their mark on the world.
However, there is still much that can be and needs to be achieved by and for self-identified women everywhere. Commenting on a Facebook post of mine on the subject of IWD earlier, a sympathetic male friend wryly observed: “Yeah, but tomorrow it’s international men’s day again for the rest of the year!”
And that says it all, really. The very fact that IWD still exists and is still needed demonstrates that, despite the undoubted fact that women have fought and won many battles since 1911, we still have a long way to go. Celebrating the achievements of women should not just be limited to one day a year, and neither should bringing the inequalities of being female to wider public and political attention.
The talk is certainly being talked – the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon stressed the central importance of women’s rights and equality at the UN’s own marking of IWD:
“Gender equality and women’s empowerment are fundamental to the global mission of the United Nations to achieve equal rights and dignity for all… But equality for women and girls is also an economic and social imperative. Until women and girls are liberated from poverty and injustice, all our goals – peace, security, sustainable development – stand in jeopardy.”
Fine words indeed, but to achieve such an eventuality must mean unified activism from the grassroots up, as well as the full co-operation of governments with activists and other relevant groups. Equality for everyone – whether based on gender, sexuality, ethnic origin or ability – will only come into being when we all work together for it.
And, in the case of women’s rights, that means women and men working together for equality, as well as women uniting together themselves. All of that may sound crunchingly obvious and a bit hippiefied, but if internal or external divisions prevent unity within a group or organisation, both potential and actual power is lost.
Also on the subject of equality, unity and working together as feminists and feminist allies alike, I was struck by the Undomestic Goddess’ definition of feminism in her interesting blog post for IWD:
“So what, exactly, do equal rights look like? First, let me define feminism as I see it. Yes, it’s equality between the sexes, but we all know that the definition of “sex” is not always black and white, so we also must embrace gender identity and orientation. We must embrace equality between sexual orientations; of races, ethnicities, economic statuses, physical and mental abilities, and so on. Since women (both cis and trans identified) make up half of all oppressed groups, it is the responsibility of feminists to fight for those rights on behalf of all women. It is up to the privileged, the ones with the voices, to speak for the less privileged and the voiceless. So when we talk about equal rights for all, we’re also talking about duty, about action, and not just about problems and what “should” be done”
I very much agree with this – success and achievement for any disenfranchised or oppressed group comes, in the most part, from their unity; because unity brings strength and empowerment. And unity must indeed involve inclusiveness, not exclusion, and action, not just arguing.
Feminism still needs to exist and I would rather be part of a feminist movement where one fights for all and all fight for one; no matter who I am, where I am from, or what my background, identity and orientation are. I would rather unity than division.
So, this International Women’s Day, as it should be every day, I celebrate both our differences and our unity – and our unique talents as women.
And it is particularly pleasing to report that this year, amongst the many inspirational and talented women out there, we can also celebrate the cultural achievement of film director Kathryn Bigelow, who last night became the first woman ever to win the Best Director prize at the Academy Awards ceremony, having already picked up the same award at the BAFTAs earlier this year. Here’s hoping her success inspires more women to get involved in film. Congratulations Kathryn!