International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time on 19 March, 1911 after an all-women conference with 100 representatives from 17 countries convened in Copenhagen, Denmark. Its idea was to promote equal rights for women, such as suffrage.
IWD’s roots were in the Socialist Party of America, and it was mostly celebrated in communist countries from the U.S.S.R. after 1917, communist China from 1922, and so on. The United Nations would not celebrate IWD until 1975, the designated ‘International Women’s Year’. Various themes have been introduced by the UN since 1996, and the 2017 theme is “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030.”
In his message for IWD 2017, the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, stated that “empowering women and girls is the only way to protect their rights and make sure they can realize their full potential.”
But what does this mean for us? Many of you may stomp your feet and cry out that we’ve come so far, surely women are at least equal to men, if not surpassing them in rights and attitudes? Surely with all the government mandates and millennial slogans, it’s #notallbad for women, right?
Well, I have my own message for you.
As a woman, I am thankful for all the little privileges I have in my life. These vary greatly and include free and reduced drinks in bars, being able to wear makeup and style my hair without being judged, and getting strangers to trust me more easily when I travel, i.e. getting invited into homes, getting information from passerby, and so on. And, you know, the whole ‘carafe of human life’ potential-thing could be pretty great, too.
But it’s hard to balance these small bonuses with all of the day-to-day hardships involved with being female, and I’m not talking about the multitude of biological woes and concerns. I’m talking about getting passed over for a promotion or for a specific job opportunity because ‘women don’t do sports reporting’.
I’m talking about spending an extra 30 minutes getting ready for work, for a party, or just leaving the house, wondering if the tightness of my jeans or cut of my top will invite lewd comments or stray hands from perfect strangers.
I’m talking about getting railroaded in conversations by men who don’t even realise they aren’t taking me seriously, and about being disrespected by sexual partners for being direct about what I do (or don’t) want.
I’m talking about having to put a smile on my face and go along with misogynistic or rape-y jokes in public or professional spaces, knowing that if I say something, I’ll either be called an uptight bitch or just asked if I’m on my period.
All of this, obviously, does not include the experiences of transgender women, or people who present as nonbinary, or even women of colour. It doesn’t include the women who live in areas where they are not only restricted by cultural or societal norms, but also by the very laws they live under. It doesn’t include refugee women, or trafficked women, or women who struggle to help themselves and their families to survive in the face of disease, famine, or war.
I can’t speak for you. I can only speak for myself.
The struggle is real. It is universal. And however far we’ve managed to come in the last hundred years, I hope we don’t take another hundred years to progress even further. Even more, I hope we do not regress.
So happy International Women’s Day. Instead of just changing your Facebook picture, retweeting the UN, or posting a cute selfie on Instagram, fucking do something to empower the women in your life. Do something to empower yourself.