RE-DEDICATE: Fighting the Backlash this International Women’s Day

CW: femicide, sexual assault, suicide

I begin this piece by acknowledging the many Indigenous women of this land and others who, for so many centuries have spoken out and written for the rights of women and their communities.

International Women’s Day is a movement founded on the backdrop of protesting exploitation, condemning laws and subverting traditions which maintain oppression and resisting simplified cultural narratives fed to us during our formative years in both our formal and social education. For so many of us, International Women’s Day  begins and ends with a love react to an inspirational quote, an overpriced breakfast event or awards night, and a photo pose with some commercial, artificially symbolic semblance.

2020 is a significant year for women’s rights. It marks 25 years since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which set out the blueprint for achieving women’s rights and the 5th anniversary of the Sustainable Development Goals. So how far have we come?

In the last decade, we’ve seen an increase in women’s participation in economic activity, an improvement in the field of women’s health, an increased representation of women as peace-builders and leaders, an increase in women’s participation in sports, and roles which are historically male gendered; and the rise of social movements against femicide, sexual assault and harassment, greater access to hygiene products and much more. Despite this, there has been an observed roll-back on many of these wins. That is, there are still significant structural, systematic, cultural and economic barriers to achieving gender equity and enabling all women and non-binary people to access their entitlement to human rights.

2020 AND 20+20 PROBLEMS:

To catalyse gender equity a collective approach is needed to defend how far we’ve come and to make the conversation about equity a 365-day agenda. At a macro-level:

there is entrenched overt and subtle discrimination across our institutions;
neo-liberal economic policies which exacerbate the exploitation of women globally;
a global refugee crisis which has increased the incidence of human trafficking and rape for more than 10 million women and girls;
a climate crisis which is negatively impacting health and economic outcomes for women impacted;
an increase in incarceration rates for Indigenous women;
a rise in femicide.

In Australia alone, 1 in 2 women will experience sexual harassment in their lifetime, one woman is murdered every week by a current or former partner and the highest proportion of people living in poverty are women.

In light of these challenges, #eachforequal calls on us all to reflect on what we can each do individually and what we can do collectively to affect positive change in all facets of life. It calls on us to keep our perspective intersectional – to recognise the experiences and aspirations of women and non-binary people across the spectrum.

MAKING IWD MORE THAN A ONE-DAY AFFAIR:

Check Your Privilege: Privilege describes access to liberties by virtue of membership to a particular identity or group. Ableness, financial wealth, belonging to a group with more power due to religion or ethnicity, being heterosexual are all examples of privilege. Being privileged is not inherently a bad thing, most people have one or more sources of privilege. In the context of systems of power, it describes aspects where you have power or access to benefits over an oppressed group. Understanding and acknowledging your privilege(s) is important in using that same privilege to dismantle oppressive systems rather than perpetuate them.

Unlearn and re-teach: We all inherently have biases moulded by social conditioning and individual experiences. It’s up to us to continually evaluate the rationality of these reflexive biases and to identify mass-mediated representations and how they affect how we view women, gender roles and women and non-binary people within the intersections.

Support the movement to end misogyny: Supporting the movement for equality can be done in many ways: you can shift your consumption of products and media away from those which exploit women and girls, and perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes. You can also support authors, artists, scientists, producers and charitable organisations for gender equity outcomes.

Make space for diverse women closely affected by certain issues: The word make, as a verb, means to “cause (something) to exist or come about”. Making space for diverse women means forming a space even when one hasn’t historically or culturally existed. These women and non-binary people  are the experienced navigators of their lived experiences and are best placed to give voice to and lead change on issues which affect them.

Have a voice: Speak up against norms and saying and hold others accountable when and if you feel safe to do so. Consider how you can use your talents and passions to affect positive change within your own family, communities, at uni or on a national or global level.

Do it again and again and again

THE POWER OF WORDS:

Vocabulary is powerful in opening dialogue and articulating your perspective, here’s a summary of useful terms:

Feminism: Feminism is recognising the systematic historical oppression of women through various modes of discrimination and social norms, such as patriarchy. Feminists recognise that all genders suffer, and that breaking down the patriarchy and gender roles will benefit everyone.”

Patriarchy:  a system of male authority which legitimises the oppression of women through political, social, economic, legal, cultural, religious and military institutions.

Misogyny: Feelings of hatred towards women and the belief that men are better than women

Misandry: Feelings of hatred towards men, and the belief that women are better than men

Internalized sexism: When the belief in women’s inferiority becomes part of one’s own worldview and self-concept.

Transmisogyny: the intersection of transphobia and misogyny, which manifests as discrimination against “trans women and trans and gender non-conforming people on the feminine end of the gender spectrum.”

Sex positive: An attitude that views sexual expression and sexual pleasure, if it’s healthy and consensual, as a good thing.

Intersectional feminism:  the understanding of how women’s overlapping identities — including race, class, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and disability status — impact the way they experience oppression and discrimination. 

Commodity feminism: A variety of feminism that co-opts the movement’s ideals for profit. 

Eco-feminism: a movement that sees a connection between the exploitation and degradation of the natural world and the subordination and oppression of women

Compassion fatigue: The cumulative physical, emotional and psychological effect of exposure to traumatic stories or events when working in a helping capacity, combined with the strain and stress of everyday life.

Emotional labour: Expectations that one should manipulate either their actual feelings or the appearance of their feelings in order to satisfy the perceived requirements.

ARE MEN WELCOME TOO?

The high suicide rates among men is a feminist issue because the idealisation of traditional masculinity plays a role in men being silent about mental health struggles. The fact that male suicide rates peak during financial crises is a feminist issue because of the societal and institutional barriers placed on women’s economic empowerment.

The overrepresentation of men as victims of violence and simultaneously, the overrepresentation of men as perpetrators of violence is a feminist issue because the socialisation of aggression and stoicism contributes to violent behaviours and manifests in cases of familicide, femicide and domestic violence.

The stigma against men’s participation in courses historically gendered for women is a feminist issue because patriarchal notions of work and the value of work normalise the perception that certain occupations are for women.

Dismantling damaging stereotypes, norms, thoughts and institutions to achieve gender parity is important for both women and men. 

Summary

At the core of what is now a commercialised observation is a movement which resists damaging stereotypes, norms, thoughts and institutions. Most liberties we enjoy today were not granted but taken by force; this is more reason to rededicate ourselves in a 365-day effort for equity.  Despite how mammoth the challenges we’re facing today appear, it starts in simple conversations, in classrooms, in workplaces, at the shops and it weaves into a collective effort to fight the backlash on International Women’s Day and the 364 days which follow.

~ Pauline Chiwawa

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