Women: Everything is ok and nothing needs to change
Tomorrow, 8th March, is International Women’s Day (IWD). “Oh, but why does there need to be an International Women’s Day?” some may wonder. Well, really. When I hear questions like that – or, heaven forfend, questions like, “Why isn’t there an International Men’s Day?” – I don’t know whether to laugh or let my blood boil.
As far as I’m concerned, at least, IWD is needed as a focus-point, an awareness-raising event to draw attention to the daily, lived experiences of women in this world: whether it’s discrimination in the workplace; whether it’s politicians equating rape with media coverage of their public lives; or whether it’s murder, mutilation, torture, rape and other violations of women’s most fundamental rights.
IWD is needed to highlight the achievements in obtaining equality between women and men. IWD is also needed to highlight the ongoing forms of oppression of half the human population, for reasons solely of their gender. IWD is needed because women’s liberation or emancipation never happened and is still a live issue. The oppression of women in predominantly patriarchal societies continues, and feminist activism is needed more than ever.
Feminism, as far as I see it, is based on the fundamental principles of equality, solidarity and human rights. Feminism in practice, therefore, is required to benefit both males and females in society. Notions that feminism is somehow anti-male is absurd – and, frankly, my view is that anyone (male or female) who uses feminism as a way of attacking men doesn’t know what feminism really is.
This year is the 15th anniversary of the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. In 1995, the UN convened the Fourth World Conference on Women. The outcome of the Beijing Conference was the Platform for Action, an agenda for women’s empowerment.
Perhaps 15 years is too short a time to expect to see real, tangible change in the situation of women in the world. Well, it has been over 100 years since International Women’s Day was first marked in 1909. Its following gained momentum in 1911. The global centenary of IWD is being marked next year, 2011. Moreover, The Beijing Platform, a 132-page document, set out actions to be taken to ensure fundamental changes by the year 2000. The world is still waiting.
Here are a few reasons for continuing to observe IDW and for continuing to actively ensure that feminism is a reality in politics and society:
- On 3rd March, the difficulties affecting women in particular, or disproportionately, in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haïti was highlighted. The problems include trafficking and exploitation of orphaned children, especially girls; increased risk of sexual violence and the lack of institutional structures to address it, as well as the lack of services for women survivors of violence; the fact that over 40% of households in Haiti are headed by single women, and that women play a key role in providing for their families and caring for dependents, means that lack of adequate food, shelter and security affects women disproportionally.
- On 4th March, The Economist reported on “Gendercide: The worldwide war on baby girls.” In China, where the state enforces a one-child policy, the value attached to male children over female children is reflected in the high rates of infanticide of female infants. The rates are so high, and the population so severely affected, that it is estimated that China in 2020 will have 30m-40m more men of age 19 and younger than young women. There are many other nations – such as India, those in south-east Asia, and former Soviet states – with no one-child policy to speak of, where similar trends can be seen.
- In January, Ireland’s Minister for Arts, Sport, Culture and Tourism, Martin Cullen, compared media intrusion into his life as “like waking up every day and being raped.” The Irish Times political correspondent, Déaglán de Bréadún, in his blog stated that Cullen’s remarks were “unfortunate and inappropriate” and commented that objections to Cullen’s use of words were a “disingenuous and opportunistic pursuit of a political agenda against Cullen” in the context of privacy.
- In December, at a sentencing hearing in a court house in Listowel, Co. Kerry, dozens of locals shook hands with a man, Danny Foley (35), of Meen, Listowel, who had been convicted of sexual assault of a woman in the town. At the hearing, a parish priest, Fr Seán Sheehy, provided a spoken statement to the court in support of the convicted man.
- In the UK, the BBC reported on a survey of members of the public in relation to their views of rape survivors: “More than half of those of both sexes questioned said there were some circumstances when a rape victim should accept responsibility for an attack. The study found that women [respondents] were less forgiving of the victim than men.”
- The Guardian newspaper in January wrote about a report on men who pay for sex. A quote from one of the report’s respondents: “Prostitutes are un-rapeable.”
- In February, it was reported that in Turkey, a 16 year-old was murdered by being buried alive by her family members. The reason for her killing (described as a so-called “honour killing”) was that she had been talking to boys. “The girl, who has been identified only by the initials MM, was found in a sitting position with her hands tied, in a two-metre hole dug under a chicken pen outside her home.”
- In Utah, both houses of the legislature passed a bill that effectively criminalises miscarriage. “Perhaps the most troubling part of the bill is a standard that could make women legally responsible for miscarriages caused by so-called “reckless” behavior. Under the “reckless behavior” standard, an attorney only needs to show that the woman behaved in a manner that is thought to cause miscarriage, even if she did not intend to lose the pregnancy [sic].”
An impressive 186 States have ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The near universal ratification of this key international instrument for women’s rights is a reason for celebration on the occasion of its 30th Anniversary. Violence against women, a critical area in the Beijing Platform for Action, has been increasingly recognised as a key priority in all regions of the world. Many countries have adopted or strengthened legislation on domestic violence, and initiated programmes, policies and awareness raising activities addressing both old and new forms of exploitation and violence against women and girls.
Yet old challenges in the protection of women’s rights remain, such as multiple forms of discrimination. In addition, new challenges have emerged in conjunction with phenomena like the global financial crisis, political violence, displacement and migration, and the acceleration in environmental degradation. The continued use of brutal violence against women, including sexual violence, as a weapon of war in conflict situations also remains a pressing concern. At the domestic level, lack of implementation of laws and other commitments to secure women’s rights, and the lack of gender sensitive budgetary policies, remain chronic problems.
The areas of critical concern for women identified in Beijing such as the economy, the environment, armed conflict, poverty, decision-making and political participation, as well as violence against women, to give only a few examples, appear more pressing than ever in our current economic and political context.
- Rashida Manjoo, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, 5th March 2010
(Incidentally, there is an International Men’s Day.)
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