It’s the global centenary of International Women’s Day. One hundred years of struggle, many rights have been gained, but there’s still a long long way to go.
When I was the coordinator of the local feminist center, people would ask me what the difference was between other women’s organizations, many of whom provide a variety of services for women, and a “feminist” organization. I would answer that many groups say “This is the status of women today. The situation is bad. Here are tools to cope with it and survive.” But a feminist organization says This is the status of women today. The situation is bad. Here are tools to change it.”
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be coping and surviving. It means we have to change the situation so that we no longer need all those tools and energy just to cope. If there’s a boulder on the path that women are tripping over and getting hurt in the process, it is not enough to sit and wait beside the path with a box of bandaids. We’ve got to join forces together to get the damn boulder out of there. Without leaving any more dangers in the path. (And still make sure there are bandaids available.)
What’s the boulder? To quote singer/songwriter/activist Annie Lennox, in her article Feminism shouldn’t be an F-word published today:
The statistics are sobering. Across the globe, gender-based violence causes more deaths and disabilities among women of child-bearing age than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. Even in the war-ravaged Democratic Republic of Congo, it’s safer to be a soldier than a woman. Women do two-thirds of the world’s work for a paltry 10 percent of the world’s income and own just 1 percent of the means of production.
From Milwaukee to Malawi, women are being short-changed on life chances. From India to Illinois, women face violence just for being female. Of the 1.3 billion people living in extreme poverty worldwide, the vast majority are female. For many, just getting an education is a real struggle, major decisions such as who to marry and when to have children are made for them by others, and without economic independence or a say in their own future the chances of women escaping the poverty trap are virtually non-existent.
Despite the fact that women are the majority in the world’s population, this is still constantly seen as a “minority” issue. Even in so-called progressive societies.
During the many years I worked at battered women’s shelters and rape crisis centers, we spent long hours trying to educate and change attitudes in the public. Often, in between emergencies, we would simply grab a folding table and some boxes of printed material, find a central location on a busy street or a crowded mall, and talk to people. I lost count of the times men would shrug and say “Oh, that’s a women’s problem,” and keep walking. (When I would ask those men if that’s what they’re willing to tell their daughters, many paused and came back to listen. Asking about their wives or sisters, or even their mothers, usually didn’t work however. Just sayin’.)
The problem belongs to all of us. It affects men just as much as it affects women. Yet women are the ones who are pushing to change it.
The global theme this year for IWD is:
Equal access to education, training and science and technology:
Pathway to decent work for women
In Glasgow, Scotland, a collective of feminist artists have organised a wonderful event: Loop – 100 Events for The 100th International Women’s Day. A lot of knitting has gone into this event!
The best source of information is the IWD website, which lists resources and over 2000 events around the world. For an hour or more this morning, it was impossible to access the website, as it was under a massive hacker attack to prevent users from reaching this global hub of the day’s activites. It was countered, and then a second attack hit. According to the website, the situation is being monitored closely.
We’re even being attacked virtually.
At work today all the women received a gift. The card states that this is in recognition of our status and contribution as women who successfully balance a family and a career. The gift itself was purchased from an organization for women that provides aid and education to women in distress. And what did we get?
A collection of cosmetics. And I don’t think they even realize the marvelous irony.
Now, there’s some really nice stuff there, hand and foot cream, body butter, other goodies. All things to take care of and pamper ourselves. Which I’m all in favour of. But I’m a feminist from the 70s. When we looked at cosmetics’ role as supporting the second-class status of women, making us mere sex-objects who must waste time with cosmetics, or insecure about how we look and desperate to find ways to cover up any “imperfections.” Not to mention that I seriously doubt a company would give a gift of soaps and creams to men in the company, men usually receive some gadget or pen or disk-on-key, or something else connected with work. With the not-so-subtle message that for men, what they do is important, and for women, how we look and/or feel is important.
Maybe I’m over-reacting? I do appreciate the gesture and recognition. And it’s more useful than giving us flowers.
At least it’s for a good cause.
And that bag looks perfect for a knitting project bag.
Life is rich with contradictions.
Kidlet called as she was walking to her first class, to wish me a “happy holiday”. She knows that this is one day I would never overlook. It totally gave me a boost. Despite all the teenage turmoil, and rebellion, there are some things I know I’ve taught her right.
Celebrate women today by thinking about what we’ve achieved. And what we still have to do. Together.