Some thoughts on International Women’s Day 2016

It has taken me a few days to think through International Women’s Day this year – what it means, what its impact can be, why it still isn’t taken seriously by so many people, whether it reaches those that most need it, and what its place is in the greater fight for women’s liberation.

Like many millennials, I get a lot of my news from links over social media. I was delighted to see so many of my friends celebrating IWD16, sharing their stories, op eds and artworks they’d come across, their hopes for the future of the women’s movement. But in amongst those messages of solidarity and celebration were racist, xenophobic anti-refugee posts, and the news stories of another day under the cloud of patriarchy. There was the heartbreaking case of a 15-year-old girl in India, whose life has been brutally cut short in a way that no woman or girl should never have had to face. There was the banner held from a tiny window at Yarl’s Wood revealing the ongoing human rights abuses taking place on our own soil. These women were not having a “Happy International Women’s Day!! xox”.

While I’m glad that we’re able to celebrate the progress we’ve made over the past 100 years or so – and I think it’s important and powerful that we do celebrate it – it is of the utmost importance that we remember that until every day of the year is for all the women of the world, we have not reached gender equality, and we have not achieved women’s liberation.

The atrocities perpetuated against women, great and small in scale, global (i.e. everyone’s ‘local’) in distribution, did not stop for International Women’s Day.

Our responsibility to the women of the world does not stop at 00:01 on March 9th.

I was moved to read Gal Dem’s coverage of the recent Yarl’s Wood protests, and every day I feel more horrified by the escalating fascist (because where else do we expect this rhetoric to logically end?), not to mention incorrect, “Britain is full” rubbish plastered across the media and our everyday conversations. How can we stand to privilege the pretensions of racist white people over the desperate needs of people fleeing the situations in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, especially when our government created and then quite happily exacerbated those situations? Where do we think these politics are going to take us, and what do we think is happening to women and children inside Yarl’s Wood, and on the long road to Europe? Sunshine and rainbows?

In the UK, we have local elections in May, and the EU referendum coming up in June. In the US, these apparently never-ending primaries will (eventually) bring a presidential election.

These are just some of the opportunities we in the west must seize in order to truly honour the message of International Women’s Day, and the lives, struggles and successes of women everywhere. We must cast our votes in support of poor women, women with disabilities, refugee women, women of colour, women who need or have had abortions, women with caring responsibilities, lgbtq women, Muslim women, women fleeing domestic violence, and the women halfway around the world whom we too often forget, though they produce our food, sew our clothing, and make our comfortable “Lean In” lives possible.

This isn’t necessarily about electing “a vagina” to the Whitehouse (as though women politicians can be summarised by their genetalia (sigh); although, y’know, equal political representation would be nice).

It is about exercising our hard-won voting rights to elect those candidates, those parties, those governments, who will not only fight for but listen to the women in their constituencies, their states, their countries, and, most crucially, those women beyond their individual, local or national purview. It is about holding our representatives to account when they fail to do this. It is about making the compassionate choice, which is the right choice. This is the bare minimum we should be doing.

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