Thoughts for International Women’s Day

8 Mar

Given the day that’s in it I wanted to pause for a minute to make a wee tribute to women. It may not always be blindingly obvious due to the rather light nature of my posts but I consider myself a feminist and a general lover of women (platonic of course). International Women’s Day gives us an opportunity to celebrate women- both the ones in our own  lives; the hilarious, kind, creative, exciting friends and family that we are lucky to know, and the far away ones; the activists and writers , politicians and entertainers that are out there succeeding in what’s still a pretty hostile environment for a lady.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/audio/2011/mar/08/focus-podcast-international-womens-day

I’d also like to give a thought to women who aren’t having such a  great time. The majority of women in the world do not enjoy the the same human rights and freedoms as men. They are valued less by their societies, even viewed as property. I could give you all kinds of heartbreaking examples of the way women are being dehumanised all over the world as we speak. This does not apply exclusively to developing countries either. In developed countries too we are vulnerable to the dangers of complacent attitudes with regard to women’s rights. Films and advertising consistently demonstrate that we are still holding onto stereotypical ideas about the role of women and their value in society and these are not going to disappear over night even though recognising that they are sexist and need to be eliminated is a start.

And yes you might be reading this and going oh Jesus she’s of those…but you know i’m pretty proud to be a feminist. It’s important that we recognise that equality isn’t just going to be handed to us. If we don’t actively engage in changing attitudes about women the way our mothers and grandmother’s generations did then the kinds of amazing progress that they made won’t happen, we’ll become stagnant, we may even go backwards. Women’s rights should not be a flavour of the month issue, it needs to be something that is always in our minds because it isn’t some trifling little issue, it concerns half of the population. The continued prevalence of human trafficking, prostitution, rape and domestic violence starkly demonstrate that misogyny is alive and well. Until attitudes change an awful lot of women are actually in danger and living lives filled with pain and humiliation.

In developing countries women face different issues. We forget in the west that not every country operates from a  liberal tradition and that our way is not necessarily the right way or the only way. The example of women in Muslim societies springs to mind.We see pictures of these women on the news hurrying around in burqas and we become convinced that they need our help. We need to rescue them from the paternalistic societies oppressing them. I’m not arguing that these women aren’t oppressed, rather that focusing on the oppression is missing the point. These women are capable of addressing these issues. It’s brilliant that they have our solidarity and support, but what the news often doesn’t report on is that these women are often at the forefront of political activism in these countries. These women are winning victories every day, spreading ideas of human rights to their communities. When it comes  changing society’s perceptions of women women themselves are the most well placed  to innovate opinion. Legislatures may be dominated by men but for human rights measures to be effective they need to reflect the values of the people and its women, involved in grassroots movements who are getting people to question their own values and examine their consistency with human rights values. People in other societies may not always share our views on human rights issues. Some things we might consider oppressive or strange, burqas springing to mind again as the example, do not hold the same meaning for them. A burqa can be empowering, women wear them when they are outside their homes, involved in civil societies and it allows them to be seen simply as people with voices, instead of sexual objects. As much progress as we have made in the West we struggle to get beyond placing value on women proportionate to their appearance.

We need to be reminded of the agency and activism that these women are responsible for sometimes. We hear so much about the other side of things, the adversity and cruelty so many women find themselves up against, and when you tune out the progress that’s being made (as the media often does) the situation can seem so hopeless. It’s important to remind ourselves that things are getting better all the time, for women everywhere.

For any woman or girl who might be reading this (and I realise that in my home time zone women’s day is drawing to a close) maybe take this moment to appreciate  yourself. Being a woman is a huge part of who we are and I know it can seem like hard work compared to being a man but I feel like sometimes thinking of it in those terms makes it seem as though being a member of our sex is a burden when it’s actually a privilege. I could give you an example like Mary Robinson or Leymah Gbowee to illustrate  how women are worthy of our admiration, and what we can aspire to but I actually don’t need to look that far to find inspiring women in my life. I am lucky to have a sister, a mother and a whole heap of friends who amaze me all of the time and each of them make me proud to be counted among women.

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