IWD: Celebrating International Women’s Day - because women’s rights are human rights

15 March 2018

People ask why, 100 years after (some) women were given the right to vote, International Women’s Day is still celebrated. The results of Kingsley Napley's survey reveal that 85% of us think the purpose of IWD is to discuss what remains to be done to achieve gender parity. In terms of what does still remain to be done, you simply need to flick through this year’s IWD blog series to get an idea of just how wide ranging the issues are. But since this is the last IWD blog of the year, I wanted to conclude things by drawing your attention to one of Amnesty International’s blogs, which I think sums up the situation pretty clearly - “Human Rights Heroes of 2017”. Whilst reading this, the main thing I noticed was that of the twelve heroes and heroines listed, five of them had been campaigning about women’s rights. This means that, in the opinion of one of the world’s largest human rights groups, just under half of the most significant human rights issues from 2017 related to gender inequality.

Whilst it’s great that Amnesty is celebrating these individuals’ efforts, I can’t help but feel disheartened by this article. Mainly because it highlights the huge extent to which gender inequality is still an issue, but also because the title of the article itself is so glaringly gender biased – what about the heroines?

So, what were the human rights issues that these heroes and heroines campaigned about?  

  1. Women’s March – on 21st January 2017, the day after Trump’s inauguration, up to two million people around the world marched in defiance against Trump’s attitude towards women, and to raise awareness of the issues they considered to be under threat from the new US administration.
  2. Ashton Kutcher’s speech to the US Senate – in February 2017, Ashton Kutcher spoke to the US Senate about his technology company ‘Thorn’, and the work it does to protect children from human trafficking and sexual exploitation. As Alecsandra Manning-Rees mentioned in her blog, these are two issues which, by their very nature, predominantly affect women, and which continue to disproportionately affect those women who later move away from sex work with the aim of making a better life for themselves.
  3. Malala Yousafzai – in April 2017, Malala became the youngest ever UN Messenger of Peace. Malala accepted the accolade by underscoring the importance of education, especially of girls, in advancing society, and explaining that “[bringing change] starts with us, and it should start now”. In 2012, 11-year-old Malala was shot in the head by Taliban militants for the ‘crime’ of turning up to school.
  4. Stella Creasy – in June 2017, the Supreme Court upheld a decision meaning that Northern Irish women must pay for abortions in England and Wales - even though, as UK taxpayers, they have already contributed to, and are therefore entitled to, NHS treatment. This Supreme Court case was fought between Jeremy Hunt, who introduced the right to charge NI women for abortions out of “respect” for the Northern Irish assembly, and a young NI woman, who was forced to travel to Manchester and pay £900 for an abortion. In retaliation to this decision, Stella Creasy MP introduced an amendment to allow NI women access to free terminations, which threatened a Tory rebellion and later prompted the equalities minister to announce a change of stance. Since then, a UN committee has found that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws are a “grave and systematic breach of the rights of women in NI, and on International Women’s Day 2018, the Irish government agreed the wording of a national referendum on abortion which will be held at the end of May 2018.
  5. Tarana Burke -  in October 2017, Tarana launched the infamous #MeToo campaign in response to the Harvey Weinstein sexual misconduct allegations. As Claire Hastie explained in her blog, within 24 hours, 4.7 million people across the world engaged in the #MeToo conversation, highlighting just how widespread sexual harassment still is – no matter how ‘casual’ it may seem.

Add to this list the multitude of other issues that have been raised in this year’s IWD blog series, and you really start to see how women are still the ‘subordinate’ sex. In a world that is so advanced in so many ways, it’s astonishing how much progress still needs to be made to achieve gender equality. To quote one woman who attended the Women’s March in Paris in 2017 - “we don’t want to subjugate you, we just want to be equal. What’s so scary about that?”.

Whilst I don’t want to be all doom and gloom, and applaud the amazing progress that has been made to advance women’s rights, as we have said in our previous blog, we can’t make any further progress without continuing to point out these persisting inequalities. This means talking about them, blogging about them, marching to raise awareness, pulling people up on their casual sexist comments, querying the waitress/waiter about why they’ve automatically handed the card machine to your boyfriend without even asking who’s paying the bill… and of course, using the power of the hashtag to #PressforProgress.

Women’s rights are human rights. And until gender inequality is stamped out in all its forms, IWD will continue to be celebrated. What’s so scary about that?

IWD is an opportunity to build on the progress that has been made towards gender parity and to celebrate the achievements of women on a global scale. This year, #PressforProgress.

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