Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day — a day with socialist roots that has since been adopted by the UN and subsequently by individual countries as well. It is a moment to celebrate the women in the world and in our lives who have shown courage, strength, and love. But, during this time we also have to open our eyes to what women still go through on a daily basis, all over the world.
In the West, we often get complacent about how far we have come when it comes to women’s rights and women’s liberation. But the fact of the matter is that there are most definitely still gaps in women’s equality and liberation, even in the most progressive countries on the planet. In Europe, The Netherlands has one of the shortest maternity leaves with new mothers only getting 16 weeks of paid leave, and new fathers getting as little as a week. The United States has legal child marriage in certain states, has the worst maternal death rate in the Global North, and has no guaranteed maternity leave. In addition, black women have a maternal mortality rate that is three times higher than that of their white counterparts. To add insult to injury, famous black women, from Beyoncé and Serena Williams to the Duchess of Sussex , who celebrate their pregnancy — with all the risks involved in mind — are often criticised and in some cases even accused of faking their pregnancies. Women in the West still face a gender pay gap. Violence against women and girls (VAWG) is still a pervasive problem. Period poverty is somehow still a thing, and gender bias in science is leading to the underdiagnosis of conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and stroke in women.
However, many Western women and men alike, will state that we have the vote, the liberty to marry who we want, to work outside the home and plan when we have a child, so there is nothing for us to worry about. Even if an individual woman has never experienced sexism and misogyny, it is important to remember that that does not diminish the institutional and structural nature of it, nor does it diminish the experience of other women who have experienced it. To put it in the words of Audre Lorde: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
In the spirit of Lorde, let us look further afield and remember how different shackles look around the world. Years ago we learnt about Malala Yousafzai’s plight — of her being shot by the Taliban simply for wanting to go to school. Just last year Nadia Murad won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in raising awareness to the plight of Yazidi women who are being sold as sex slaves by Daesh, and the genocide that has been perpetuated against Yazidis at Daesh’s hands. A couple of months ago, Rahaf Al-Qunun fled Saudi Arabia’s repressive guardianship system that renders women perpetual minors, and after harrowing hours at a Thai airport found refuge in Canada. Nimco Ali has been fighting to end female genital mutilation in the UK, Christine Schuler-Deschryver has been aiding women in finding power and strength, and facilitating therapy, after they have experienced being raped as a weapon of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Indian nuns have spoken up about the abuse they faced at the hands of priests and the institutional protection the perpetrators have been granted. These are the people we are aware of and whose names we hear and stories appear on the news. But let’s not forget the women still fighting to get an education, the Yazidi women who are still fleeing Daesh, women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia, such as Loujain Al-Hathloul still being jailed for fighting for women’s rights, women in South Sudan are being raped as a weapon of war, female genital mutilation is still happening both locally and abroad, and female victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church are still coming forward.
There are women fighting across the world whose names might never be known by all of us. The news we hear surrounding health, war, and science often affect the most vulnerable in society most, and most often those include women. Being Western feminists it might be easy for us to become comfortable and take our education, right to vote, and freedom for granted, but these were things fought for by our ancestors who have, at times paid the price with their blood. While we fight for and support women in our midst who are married as children, undergo FGM, fighting for equal pay, fighting for substantial maternity leave and affordable childcare, fighting to be heard and listened to so they don’t have to die in childbirth, and to end violence against women and girls locally, let us also remember our sisters who are jailed in Saudi Arabia, raped as a weapon of war in South Sudan and Syria, prevented from going to school because they’re girls, the fight for liberty and justice for Yazidi women, and fight for our health to be taken seriously in the medical and scientific communities. Let’s listen to women throughout of the year, not just on March 8. Lest we forget that none of us are free when any other woman is unfree — even if her shackles are different to ours.