As we spend International Women’s Day 2021 praising women for their selflessness and markings of history, we must also remember how far there is to go.
Women’s Day was born in the USA in 1909, one year after New York City saw 15,000 women marching for shorter working hours, better pay and the right to vote. Following the suggestion from a woman named Clara Zetkin, women were celebrated internationally from 1911.
This day commemorates all the achievements made for women’s rights and reminds us how powerful our history is. But don’t let that fool you. There are women all over the world still fighting. There is still a great deal of inequality and oppression for females, let alone intersectional ones. Here are just some of them:
Domestic Abuse and Gender Based Violence
Through COVID-19 lockdowns, Amnesty International has exposed a particularly high number of domestic abuse against women. The ONS reported a 7% increase of domestic abuse in the UK between March and June 2020 compared to the previous year. The BBC reported that domestic killings have also increased during the last year which includes children too. In the UK and Wales two women are killed by their partners per week.
For migrant women, who are in the country with spouse visas, leaving their husbands would mean risking deportation which, for some, is just as dangerous as the mental and physical abuse received at home. There’s no question why migrants are scared to speak out against their perpetrators when FOI requests showed that 60% of police force in the UK report victims’ immigration statuses to the Home Office. Therefore, what Amnesty International and organisations such as Step Up Migrant Women are calling for is for the government to update the Domestic Abuse Bill so migrant women are not excluded from protection.
In South Africa, Amnesty International said that women who dared to speak up on rape or violence from a man, risked rejection from society as they are blamed for not conforming to gender roles – A.K.A obeying men, being financially dependent and having little to no aspirations.
When it comes to gender-based violence, it does not only refer to domestic cases but also to discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics. This violence can come in many forms such as forced marriage. Another form is female genital mutilation (FGM) which has its own international awareness day. FGM is when female genitals are cut or changed and there is absolutely no medical reason for this but rather a belief that if it is not done, a man would not want to marry her. It tends to be carried out before the age of 15 which makes it child abuse. It is illegal in the UK but still takes place behind closed doors and is legal in other countries. It causes severe pain, excessive bleeding and in the long-term has incredibly harsh consequences on sexual, reproductive and mental health. The UN have an action plan striving to end FGM by 2030 which includes better education for girls around the world.
Sexual violence is also widely accepted as a norm and is known to even be used as a weapon of war, completely objectifying women. Amnesty International has documented this ‘strategy’ used by Nigerian military to women who fled the attacks from Boho Haram in Nigeria, for example.
In Zimbabwe, Amnesty International found that there was a lot of confusion for women and girls around sexual consent and access to sexual health services, leaving them vulnerable to unwanted pregnancies, HIV infections, discrimination, child marriage, economic hardships and barriers to education. Furthermore, in Jordan, there is a ‘guardianship’ system which allows a man to have full control over a woman’s activities and freedoms. Women can easily be subjected to humiliating virginity tests through being accused of leaving the house without permission and/or having premarital sex.
‘Corrective rape’ and ‘honour killings’ are also a large-scale problem and are due to discrimination. Corrective rape is a hate crime used in an attempt to stop a person from identifying as LGBTQ+ and ‘cure’ them. An honour killing is the murder of a family member due to the belief that they have brought dishonour or shame on the family by violating gender or religious principles.
The #MeToo campaign is also a movement that proves that misogyny, discrimination, and sexist abuse continue to be significant in society. It shows that “even the most privileged white women, stars of Hollywood, were vulnerable to abuse and shame” (O'Brien, 2019). The movement was also an example of why the term ‘rape culture’ is important in feminist activism. The term was introduced in the 1970s to define that men being sexually aggressive was nothing out of the ordinary and was bound to happen to every woman, while being acceptable (Herman, 1978, as cited in, Keller et al, 2016). The ‘boys will be boys’ attitude is what allows for sexual assault, “including rape jokes,
sexual harassment, cat-calling, sexualized ‘banter’; the routine policing of women’s bodies, dress, appearance, and code of conduct”, to be the fault of the victim as the offender believes they were receiving signals from the victim to suggest that they wanted these acts to be done (Mendes, 2015, as cited in, Keller et al, 2016) – hence, women’s fear of speaking up only to be blamed. Donald Trump was accused of multiple sexual assaults and admitted to aggressive sexual behaviour but threatened to sue the women who accused him (Blumell and Huemmer, 2019). Despite these facts, Trump went on to become president, proving that a privileged white man is more powerful than any woman and their rights and sexual freedoms.
In November 2020, the Independent wrote an article on the gender pay gap in the UK. Although the Equal Pay Act was introduced in 1970, equal pay has still not been achieved. Recent figures stated by Amnesty International show that women earn roughly 77% of what men earn for the same job. 18 countries require women to have permission from their husbands to work outside their home, 59 countries do not have any laws in place to protect workplace sexual harassment, 75 countries have restrictions over women inheriting property and 104 countries do not allow women to work in certain jobs, all according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
It took activists and reformers almost a century to win the right to vote and thanks to this, women’s suffrage is a right under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979) (CEDAW). Although the movement was spread worldwide, in Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan political engagement and voting have been made difficult to impossible for women and so Amnesty International are currently campaigning for all women to have their say in how their government is run.
What is a Feminist?
It is far from a complicated term. Feminism is the view that women are entitled to the same rights as men politically, economically and socially. It is the belief that women should not be treated as less because of their gender and should be able to grab the same opportunities as anyone else. It is the thought that females should also be able to decide what they can do with their bodies, including reproductively, without being judged or risking criminalisation.
It is also important to realise that feminism is only feminism when it is intersectional. Race, sexual orientation, gender identity, economic class, disability, along with all other groups, should not make any difference to how hard equality is fought for.
Feminism isn’t just for women; it is for everyone who cares about the freedom of their mothers, sisters, daughters or neighbour. Women’s rights are human rights, and we are all stronger when we put our heads together.
“Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is not just a goal in itself, but a key to sustainable development, economic growth, and peace and security” – the UN.
So, join Amnesty International in fighting, empowering and educating. Sign their petitions, ask questions and even analyse your own behaviour.
We have achieved so much and there is so much hope for the future. How will you get involved with making history?