Today - 8 March - is International Women's Day. First recognised in 1909 in the US (as National Women's Day), for over a century, 8 March has been a day for celebrating womens achievements, highlighting the challenges faced by women around the world, and focusing activism and aid for women-centric social and political endeavours.
A well-meaning male friend asked me recently why there was an IWD when there is no corresponding International Men's Day. (What he in fact meant, when questioned, was that there is no Day that celebrates his particular demographic - ie International Middle Class Able Bodied White Men's Day - because, clearly, this is a very marginalised and unrecognised cohort. /end sarcasm :-)
My answer to him was that, while women in the first world have certainly made great strides in many areas in the past century, there is still some distance to go before women and men are truly equal (or, at least, where biological sex and expressed gender, which may or may not equate, are no longer determining factors in how people are treated, the opportunities they have, and the respect they are accorded). Women do not have pay partity with men, even in first-world economies. Women suffer disproportionately from crimes of violence globally. In many countries, women do not have legal rights that are equivalent to men's, or even close to it. Women are constrained in many ways that men are not, and are subjected to much closer and crueller scrutiny (and not just in regard to appearance, although, certainly, in that area too). Women, far more than men, must deal with an attrition of their social standing and perceived worth as they age.
And even in countries that we are accustomed to regarding as equal, such as the USA, issues of reproductive freedom that have been considered more or less settled for decades - not just abortion, which has never been entirely uncontroversial, but, dismayingly, access to contraception - are suddenly back on the table as debatable rights (debatable, naturally, by men). Women bear the burden of reproduction in a way that men do not and cannot; issues of family planning and choice impact them more profoundly, and interference with a womans freedom to decide her own reproductive life is a very fundamental restriction on a woman's right to be a free human being.
I am a white, reasonably intelligent, able-bodied cis-gendered woman - born into a healthy female body, raised in Australia, a country with good opportunities for women generally and bright white women in particular. I was reared by lower middle class conservative parents who loved me and valued me and encouraged me to pursue an education and a career, but also taught me that marriage, family and child-rearing should be a part of my life (a major part). I have been generally fortunate in my employers and my relationships, but I have been discriminated against, both subtly and overtly, because of my gender, and I have been constrained in some of my choices in a way that I might not have been, had I been male.
For all that, I believe my life has been wonderful - I am lucky in my partner, blessed in my daughters, privileged in my economic status and my career opportunities. I hope my three girls will have even more oppportunities and freedoms than I do. I see a major part of my life's work, insofar as I have a real sense of that, to be in helping them to find their paths and in developing tools to overcome any obstacles; to help them to understand privilege, in its multiple axes, and recognise their place in it (they, like I, are privileged in so many ways); and to become ethical human beings with the committment and capacity to achieve their potential without injury to other people. I have no ambition to raise good women, with all that phrase implies; rather, I want to raise good humans (I would've wished to do the same if I'd had sons!)
I know, however, that many, many women around the world don't have the incredibly fortunate set of circumstances that we have. On International Women's Day, I'd like to draw attention to just three of the many initiatives that are available to let women help other women - to stretch out a hand or a thought to a woman whose life is probably really different to yours, but who deserves no less in terms of opportunities.
1. Good Return
Good Return is an Australian not-for-profit with a difference - instead of soliciting donations, it facilitates micro-loans from people who want to help to people in need of assistance. In March, Good Return is running the Connecting Women, Building Better Futures campaign, aiming to loan money to 200 women-led initatives in the Asia-Pacific region, which will benefit over 1,000 people directly and more indirectly.
The great thing about Good Return is that the money you commit is a loan, not a donation. When the money is repaid (and so far 100% of loans have been), you can keep it, reinvest it into another loan project, or donate it to a more traditional charity, as you think best.
Good Return's website is at http://www.goodreturn.org/
You can start with as little as $25. My daughters and I have decided to contribute to the loan amount needed by Kalpana Poudel, a Nepalese vegetable seller who needs to access a bigger range of wholesale vegetables to enable her roadside stall to support her family and pay fort her children's schooling. The girls are excited that we'll be receiving reports on Kalpana's business and her family's progress towards achieving their goals.
2. Amnesty International's Women's Health, Sexual and Reproductive Rights program
Educating yourself about the issues in this area is important, and Amnesty's multiple programs are a great place to start. When women's reproductive rights are limited or controlled, this has huge impacts for women's health, economic and social status, and ultimately survival. Amnesty's projects in this area are many and varied, and the website offers lots of opportunities to get involved - writing letters, joining groups and organising, as well as donating money.
3. Fitted for Work Australia
One of the key areas of disadvantage for women as compared with men is in the economic area. It can be extremely difficult even for professional, qualified women to maintain careers in the mix of child-rearing and family duties; many women leave the workforce, believing it to be temporary, then find getting back in hard.
This is massively exacerbated for women who have other vectors of disadvantage, to the point that some women mayh never be able to enter or re-enter the workforce without assistance. Fitted for Work gives such assistance in a very practical way - outfitting women with clothing suitable for job interviews and work, mentoring women and helping their transition to employment, and advocating for employment opportunities and access.
Fitted for Work accepts donations of both suitable clothing and money through their website and their locations in the Melbourne CBD and Morwell. I think this is one of the most practical ways to support women that I can imagine in our own community.
So on this International Women's Day, I guess I would just reflect, as that great feminist (not!) Rudyard Kipling wrote, that 'Julie O'Grady and the Colonel's lady are sisters under the skin.' Supporting other women is an imperative for me; an integral part of my feminism and my humanism. We are many and we matter, and let's celebrate that today.
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