International Women’s Day: collaboration not separation

“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights” Gloria Steinem

International Women’s Day was first marked as long ago as 1911, inspired in part by the first national Women’s Day, which took place in America in 2008. Initially its aim was to promote equal rights including suffrage for women. For many years it was predominately celebrated in communist countries, only really taking off in the West after the United Nations General Assembly asked member states to set aside March 8th as the day for Women’s Rights and World Peace.

I’m slightly in two minds about having special days to mark special things. I think if there are problems we should be constantly mindful of them, always striving where possible to try and make things better. That is, I admit, a counsel of perfection. Nevertheless, specially designated days do risk attracting as much negative as positive feelings. Just as certain expressions have been twisted, or formalized, to mean things they were never meant to mean. ‘Human Rights’ is a case in point, where so often fairness, justice and common sense go out of the window. And the people whose rights are being trampled on go on being abused, tortured and trampled on.

All that said there are some issues that are just too important to ignore. While International Women’s Day celebrates achievement, its greater role is to highlight issues that cry out for change. Themes such as displacement and poverty have been chosen in previous years. This year, 2013, the UN theme concerns violence against women. The International Women’s Day theme is gender. I can’t really see why there can’t just be one theme; it does seem a bit odd. Not that both themes are not crucial, but two? Doesn’t say a lot about unity.

Funnily enough, my thoughts about both these themes have to do with unity. Which is why the Gloria Steinem quote is at the top. There is absolutely no doubt that attitudes towards women have changed for the better. However, women are still not paid equally, they are not represented proportionately in business or politics, in so many situations here and abroad they are most definitely treated as second class citizens or as chattels, not even citizens. Many cultures are abusive towards women. I run out of words to express the anger and impotence I feel when I read about some of the sickening and obscene treatment that is meted out. Nevertheless, while we have a better record than many, we have absolutely no reason to be complacent. One woman in every four in the UK will experience domestic violence. One in four. More than two women in the UK are killed by partners or ex-partners every week.

Of course most of these acts are committed by men against women. Without in any way diminishing the suffering of individual men, it’s still women in general who bear the brunt of it. Nevertheless, while I’m a great believer in supporting and advocating the cause of women, I don’t believe in man-bashing either. Rather I think we should welcome those many men who are on our side. When I think of all the gentle, kind, intelligent and thoughtful men I know. My brother, my nephews, my friends, my in- laws and outlaws (once in our family, you are always part of our family!) When I hear people going on about men, talking against men, I wonder how those men must feel. The good ones. The ones who would never harm anyone. The ones who love women.

What must it be like to be regarded as the enemy? Of course they are not the enemy, but it must sometimes feel like that. We mustn’t let them feel like that. Feminism got a bad name because at times it became strident and maybe that was necessary then. Now we are in a different place. A place where hopefully we can collaborate. Not because we women are too weak to do it on our own. Of course we could and can do it on our own. But why do it on our own when we can do it together.

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