FOR THE QC
Today is International Women’s Day (IWD). This day, celebrated on March 8 of every year, aims to honor women globally, as well as work to achieve women’s rights and address the obstacles that stand in the way of gender equality.
The first International Women’s Day was celebrated in 1909, although it was not until 1975, during International Women’s Year, that the United Nations (UN) began celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8. UN Secretary-General António Guterres has stated, “On International Women’s Day, let us all pledge to do everything we can to overcome entrenched prejudice, support engagement and activism, and promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.” This day is a time to reflect on how far we have come in advancing women’s rights worldwide and to celebrate the women who have made impacts on our lives. The day is also a time to call for change by addressing the current gender disparities that plague the fight for true equality of the gender. Despite the numerous advances for global women’s rights, helped by the global women’s movement, women continue to face discrimination and violence around the world.
Did you know that the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report found that gender parity is still over 200 years away? 217 years and eight months, to be exact. Which is why the theme for International Women’s Day 2018 is “Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives.” IWD 2018 is a time for everyone around the world to turn the global movement for women’s rights into action. There are so many ways to celebrate and all the encompassing intersectionalities that come with identifying as a woman.
IWD has transformed into something different to me, though. For most of my life, I have chosen to see IWD as a celebration of the progression of global women’s rights, and a day to empower others to fight for the progression of gender equality. However, IWD 2017 forced me to acknowledge the many different forms of violence women face every day throughout the world. It wasn’t that I hadn’t acknowledged it before, but that I chose to see IWD as a celebration rather than another day of pointing out statistics regarding women’s subordination to men in every aspect of global society. I didn’t want to only focus on the discrimination and violence women face every day of their lives until I had to.
Unfortunately, last International Women’s Day, I went to the hospital to get a rape kit done. The irony of having this done on IWD was outlandish, yet, there I was, at the hospital, talking with police officers about one of the most traumatic events in my life. All this, on the same day I was supposed to be celebrating powerful women and taking action to advance women’s rights. However, I was stuck in an empty hospital wing, talking to nurses and police officers.
The irony of this is almost laughable. I mean, what better way to celebrate IWD than by having to get a rape kit done? Especially since the World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that one in three women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. If 120 million girls worldwide (a little more than one in ten) have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives, isn’t it only fitting that on International Women’s Day I’m reporting the rape I survived just days prior?
There is evidence that suggests there are certain characteristics such as sexual orientation, disability status, or ethnicity and humanitarian factors such as humanitarian crises, including conflict and post-conflict situations that make someone more vulnerable to various forms of violence. Additionally, it is shown that, of the countries with available data, 40 percent of women who have experienced violence seek help of any sort, with only 10 percent of women going to the police for help. Last year, on International Women’s Day, I was one of those 10 percent seeking help through medical and judicial means.
It is representative of the plight of women all over the world, as many women and girls have had their lives defined by violence. Often, women lack the resources and knowledge that they desperately need when they experience violence. The most common response is silence. I am lucky that I had the means to receive quality health care at no cost to myself following the violence I experienced last year; however, this is not the fate of all women on a global scale. It is evident that, globally, laws are failing to protect women and girls from violence. I was lucky that the Violence Against Women Act combined with Title IX protections allowed me to receive the medical care and resources I needed following what happened to me. However, many women worldwide don’t have access to these resources. I had difficulty accessing the resources available to me simply because I was not aware of how to use those resources. Even so, I was one of the lucky ones.
Ultimately, my story is just one of millions of women and girls that face gender-based violence. What this clearly demonstrates is the necessity of International Women’s Day, not just as a celebration of past successes, but as a call to action to address the issues that continue to plague women and girls globally. There is still more work that needs to be done before full gender equality is reached globally. These issues raise the question that, until all women have power in the world throughout different spheres, how far have we really come? We can celebrate the past, but when we do so, we must do it to motivate ourselves to push forward even further, to build upon the foundations set before us. We must keep pushing forward and let International Women’s Day 2018 serve as a time to reflect on the progress we have made for global women’s rights. But, we must not stop until women everywhere are able to fully exercise their fundamental human rights.
Happy International Women’s Day, everyone.
Let me end with one of my favorite quotes: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” – Audre Lorde.