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What International Women’s Day means to me

March 8, 2015 by

You may find this hard to believe but I think that International Women’s Day (IWD) might just be my favourite day of the year. Even before Christmas. No. I’m serious. Ever since I first started to show an interest in feminism at the age of 20, I’ve loved how International Women’s Day sees millions of equality fighters from across the world come together to celebrate the achievements of females.

IWD means different things for different people. For some, it offers a chance to celebrate and acknowledge feminism’s triumphs and how far women have come. For others, it’s an opportunity to raise awareness of the various problems that many women still face. For others though, International Women’s Day isn’t such a great day at all. It’s a day to get angry and bitter and feel excluded and resentful. “How come women get a day and we don’t? When is International Men’s Day?” They say. I hope you imagined me putting on one of those really annoying voices that kids do when they’re doing an impression of someone else, just then. Of course, a simple Google search would show that men have their own day on November 19th every year.

I really don’t understand why people feel the need to ruin days like this for other people. If I was to start banging on about how I feel excluded during Black History Month or if I was start a campaign against Gay Pride on the basis that there’s no festival for heterosexual people, you’d think I was crazy. I mean, when is there going to be a MOWO award, for God’s sakes? But anyway, I digress. To mark this wonderful day, I’m going to share with you exactly what International Women’s Day means to me.

My achievements

For me, International Women’s Day is a fantastic opportunity to take note of the things I have achieved, particularly the things I’ve accomplished in the last year. Am I a better person than I was last year? I’ll ask myself. Have I managed to do anything that I’ll look back on when I’m old and feel proud of? Have I stood up for the things that I believe in no matter what anyone says? Basically, it’s a great opportunity for a bit of navel gazing.

The women who got us where we are today

While I like to spend a fair bit of time congratulating myself on the 8th March each year, I know that if it wasn’t for the brave women who fought for women’s rights all those years ago, I probably wouldn’t have been able to achieve any of these things. Thank you to Emmeline Pankhurst, Emily Wilding Davison and the other courageous suffragettes who stood up for their beliefs on behalf of other women.

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If it wasn’t for feminists, I wouldn’t have my own bank account, I wouldn’t be looking at buying a house all by myself, and I probably wouldn’t have my own career. I might not have even been to University. If I found out I was pregnant, I wouldn’t have a choice whether to keep the baby or not. I’d have no option but to give birth to this baby and would then have to stay at home and raise it while my husband (if I had one) was at work. Think we don’t need feminism? Think feminists are just a bunch of bra burning, “comfy shoe wearing”, hairy armpitted man haters? Think again. Take a look at 50 things feminism has done for you. Feminism isn’t about making women better than men, as you’ll see in that list, feminism takes men’s interests into account too.

As a child, I remember my Grandma once telling me that she never misses a chance to vote because women had to fight long and hard for their right to. I remember being shocked when she said a woman allegedly threw herself under the King’s horse in protest at her lack of rights. As I was so young, I didn’t really understand what she was telling me, but as years went on, every time an election came around and I watched grown ups going to vote, I remembered her words.

Suffragette Emily Davison throws herself under at Epsom Derby

It was only when I was 20 that I really started to realise just how lucky we are now. After discovering this 104 year old sketchbook that belonged to an ancestor, I recently started showing an interest in my family history. I went to visit my Grandma for a chat and she spent hours telling me many stories from life when she was young. She told me that when she was young employers would straight up refuse to employ married women, and there were many jobs that women weren’t trusted to do. When the men went to war, women were allowed into factories to take over the roles that previously would have been for the men only. When the war ended, while women were of course happy at the news, some were also upset that they had to return to their ordinary lives in the home and abandon the work that they’d loved.

How much further we have to go

It’s amazing how far women have come, but there is still a long way for us to go. While on the face of it, it may seem that we have the equality that we’ve been fighting for, in reality we really haven’t. We’ve hit some goals along the way, but I fear that equality may not actually materialise in my lifetime.

Rape and sexual assault

Approximately 85,000 women are raped in England and Wales each year, while one third of rape allegations are dismissed by police forces. Over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted each year and one in five women has experienced some sort of sexual violence between the ages 16-59.

Equal pay

It’s widely believed that men and women receive equal pay now, but so many statistics prove this to be untrue. It’s easy to say things like “I’m female and work at Asda and earn the same as my male employees” or “I’m a board member and earn more than hundreds of men in my company” but the statistics show that women are still on average earning less than men. UK income inequality is amongst the highest in the developed world. On average female bosses earn 35% less than male colleagues.

According to the UN, the gender pay gap will not close for another 70 years.

The wage gap is worsened when you take race into account. While in the US white women earn 77 cents to every man’s dollar, African American women earn just 64 cents.

After talking about ordinary women and their low incomes, it may be difficult to show sympathy for the wealth of Hollywood actresses earning less than their male co-stars. It’s easy to dismiss this on the grounds that these women are earning millions more than we are, but do you not think this is worth addressing too? As a matter of principle, why should these women get paid less than male actors? Are they really less talented? Are they really worth less?

Trafalgar Square 1000 women and girls went on a march demonstrating for equal pay with men

Abortion rights

Abortion isn’t a nice subject, and for a long time I was kind of stupid and a little bit unknowingly pro-life. I know. I’m ashamed to say it. I didn’t even call myself pro-life though. I had a different word for it and secretly told myself I was ‘pro-contraception’. Blergh! I hope you imagined that annoying little kids voice saying ‘pro-contraception’ just then too.

Now though, I’ve seen the error of my ways and strongly identify myself as pro-choice as I finally appreciate just how important it is for women to have the right to decide whether or not they have a baby. No matter what.

Whether she was ‘careful’ or not, was raped or not, has had an abortion before or not, or even if she wants to have an abortion to go on a celebrity TV show, she should have the right to choose. In many parts of the world, women don’t have this right. Imagine being forced to give birth against your will. Imagine having to carry a baby that you know you don’t want for nine months.

Abortion is illegal in Ireland, and women have to pay to travel over to England if they want to terminate their pregnancy, because otherwise they face life imprisonment for aborting their baby in their own country. A part of me understands why many people are opposed to abortions, after all, they are standing up for their beliefs. However, it saddens me that while looking out for the unborn foetus, these people, and Ireland’s outdated laws, show a complete disregard for living breathing women who are already on this earth.

Phone hacking

This may seem oddly placed in this list, but while some may think this only affected a minuscule percentage of women, I think it’s a perfect example of one aspect of sexism that women still face. When hundreds of female celebrities recently had their phones hacked and intimate photos taken, thousands of people across the globe went out of their way to seek and share these stolen private photographs.

I think it’s sad that we still have this sense of self-entitlement when it comes to women’s bodies. Famous or not, these women deserve a right to privacy, and should be allowed to take nude photos within their homes as they please. Just because they’re famous does not give us the right to do what we like with their private information.

Do you not think it’s a little creepy that were choosing to look for photos that these women don’t want us to look at? Imagine if you were to meet Jennifer Lawrence in person. Imagine if she asked you whether you had viewed the photos of her. Would you not feel at least a little bit ashamed if you had to look her in the eye and say yes?

There are so many more things I could include on this list, and perhaps I’ll update it a bit later on. For now though, on my quest to be a better woman than I was last year, I have quite a bit of work to do today, so I must get going!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on International Women’s Day (as long as you’re nice) and so please let me know in the comments below. Are you doing anything nice today to celebrate? Are you proud of something you’ve achieved recently? Or is there something that you feel strongly about that you feel we need to address? I look forward to hearing from you

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