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Why International Women’s Day matters

March 8th, 2011     by Anastasia Szakowski     Comments

This morning I woke up to an unsurprisingly inaccurate column from Margaret Wente aimed at Western privileged women, in which she argues that “the war for women’s rights is over. And we won.” Right. She writes:

People who persist in looking for systemic discrimination against women in (name your field here) seem more and more desperate. They might as well complain about discrimination against male kindergarten teachers. We are finally learning that equality can also mean the freedom to make different choices.

Funny that Wente should base her column on the freedom to make choices, given the persistence of rampant sexism in the West. Here are just a few examples from now and a few years back:

  • Charlie Sheen, a man with a most appalling history of violence against women, was recently fired from Two and Half Men and is benefiting from endless media coverage of his clearly troubled behaviour. He gained the most Twitter followers in the least amount of time, memes popped up everywhere parroting his phrases like “winning” and “tiger blood,” and ad agencies have jumped all over his “branding.” Did you know you can be paid to be Sheen’s intern? So let’s give him a record-breaking unfollow today, yes?
  • Indigenous women in Canada still face atrociously high rates of violence, being 5 times more likely to die from it. They’re also 8 times more likely to be killed by a spouse after separation. The worst part? Most missing women are never found and their disappearances are poorly investigated, if at all. From Rabble:
    According to research conducted under the Native Women Association of Canada’s (NWAC) Sisters in Spirit program, over 580 Indigenous women have been murdered or gone missing, most of them over the last 30 years.
  • Conflict and the rape crisis in the Congo continues. Hundreds of thousands of women have been raped since 1996, and it goes on and on.
  • The Catholic Church in Rome admitted that priests from at least 23 countries have been sexually abusing nuns, mostly in Africa, to avoid the transmission of HIV.
  • A Manitoba judge said a survivor was to blame for her rape because “sex was in the air,” since she was wearing a tube top without a bra and suggested skinny dipping. (Wente argues that not one person agreed with this judge, but um, the fact that he exists is proof enough, yes? Also, have a look at the comments on that article. There are many who agreed with him.)
  • A shocking number of media sources blame Lara Logan for her sexual assault, leading to claims that female journalists shouldn’t report in war zones.
  • Linda Franklin, an active duty U.S. Marine sergeant, was beaten and strangled in 2007 by her then-partner, a staff sergeant. A year later, she found herself reporting to her attacker.
  • During a recent student election at University of Waterloo, posters were placed over those of female candidates. The posters depicted Marie Curie and read: “THE TRUTH. The brightest woman this Earth ever created was Marie Curie, the mother of the nuclear bomb. You tell me if the plan of women leading men is still a good idea.”
  • Toronto law students are given the following advice from a police officer on how to avoid being raped: “Don’t dress like a slut.”

And how about that war on reproductive rights?

  • Last year, an unprecedented number of people gathered at Parliament Hill in support of Harper’s decision to not include contraception, family planning, or abortion in Canada’s foreign maternal health plan. I feel it necessary to note that children were bussed to this event.
  • Virginia passed a bill that requires abortion clinics to comply to hospital standards such as: parking spaces for every patient, hallways through which two gurneys can pass simultaneously, etc. 17 of 21 clinics in the state will have to close.
  • Faith2Action, a pro life group, is being allowed to have a fetus testify against an Ohio abortion law.
  • South Dakota passed a bill requiring women seeking abortions wait 72 hours and submit to counselling that encourages them not to.
  • Also in South Dakota, a bill is under consideration in the Mount Rushmore State that would make preventing harm to a fetus “justifiable homicide.”
  • If you want an abortion, you better be rich! The House Judiciary voted in favour of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. Oh! And by the way, the House also wanted to redefine rape as “forcible.”
  • Planned Parenthood, a.k.a. that awesome place to get contraception and counselling, has been defunded.
  • A Georgia representative proposes that all “unsupervised miscarriages” be treated as crime scenes. Send him your pads/tampons/Diva cups, y’all.

Due to time and length restrictions, I’m limited in what I can include, but there is much, much more. And yet, here’s another doozy from Wente:

In the West, International Women’s Day doesn’t mean much any more. It’s little more than a marketing opportunity for businesses, or an excuse for the last remnants of women’s grievance groups to keep griping.

In urban Canada, it’s easy to look around and agree with this. Women are working in high-paying professions (I’d like to see where she got the stat that we make as much money as men, though), we can vote, our voices can be heard. At least, if we’re white, cisgendered, middle to upper class, and heterosexual. Oh, and if we manage to not get sexually harassed or raped.

But the importance of International Women’s Day is to address what’s happening internationally. Stephanie Nolen wrote an excellent column addressing this, writing:

The silent majority of the world’s women know nothing of International Women’s Day; they remain mired in the struggle for the most basic freedoms… There is a universality to sexual harassment, to sexual violence, to the struggle for reproductive rights, and to the more quotidian question of how to work and care for children and older family members. Women in the developed world see this. I think the thing we don’t see, though, is how the same system that has lifted us up and brought so much progress on these fronts is connected to the system that keeps these women [the world’s majority of women] down.

I’d like to end this post with a video produced by We Are Equals featuring Daniel Craig and Judi Dench, which highlights many persisting gender inequalities internationally. What I love about this is that it appeals to more mainstream audience and shows that men have a role in battling inequality.

So um, yes Wente, the war on women exists. All of my griping and whining matters. And everything we do here at Shameless matters. And that’s what International Women’s Day is all about.

Tags: media savvy

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