Friday, March 07, 2014

Why Do We Need an International Women's Day?

Tomorrow, March 8, marks International Women's Day, a yearly campaign started in 1911. This day gives voice to the social, political and economic advancements that women have made over the years and is an opportunity to challenge people all over the world to advocate and work toward the rights and dignity of women. Remember last year when I kinda, sorta, almost met the First Lady of Tanzania?

This morning I ran across this piece over at The Guardian, where several gender-equality campaigners (dare I say, feminists*) voice their opinion about why we need such a once-a-year campaign. I thought I'd take this opportunity to voice my own opinion on the matter.

Being the skeptic that I am, in my own mind I often find myself beginning to question the logic and the usefulness of one-day campaigns like International Women's Day. Don't get me wrong, this "skepticism," as I'll call it, definitely does not derive from me questioning the fact that women still haven't achieved equal status or whether there needs to be campaigns championing the cause of human rights. I have been working in the human rights field for almost 15 years and have countless examples of why humans are not yet equal in our world. No, instead I sometimes question whether a one-day campaign makes any difference when I know that in order for us to have a more just, equitable world for all the issue of human rights has to be an everyday thing. These issues have to be at the forefront of our daily lives until the issue isn't an issue anymore because it's just become a new normal way of life.

If you look at any calendar, each year is littered with awareness days and special months-Martin Luther Kind Day, Veteran's Day, Earth Day, Women's History Month-even religious holidays and Holy Days-Lent, Hanukkah, Eid al Adha-which serve as a reminder of something and/or remembrance of special events or people of the past. We humans like to band together for community, for unifying purposes, for remembrances and celebrations. We seem to inherently recognize the importance of these days and they do, indeed, make a difference in our lives. Same is true, then, for International Women's Day.  It's a day when people who believe in global equality for women and girls can stand together, remember how far we have come, challenge our present barriers, and plan a map toward further future change. And, so in this way, I can see the need to have a day such as International Women's Day.

International Women's Day coincides each year with the UN's Commission on the Status of Women. This commission examines those everyday things I mentioned above as being important that are being done to help bring about a more just world. You can look here to see what improvements have been made toward meeting Millennium Development Goals. Even though we are way behind in achieving the MDGs and I know a lot of countries are just giving lip service to them, I also know from my experience here in TZ that improvements have been made and that it wouldn't have been done without the UN or various commissions such as the one that convenes this month. International Women's Day is a great opportunity for voices around the world to unite and influence discussions during the UN's Commission. It can be sort of like a litmus test for what is happening around the world, both in terms of progress as well as needs going forward.

I noticed on CNN that they will be having a live Tweetchat today on how to bring about gender equality and build a better future for all women. It's in like an hour from when I'm typing this, so I guess I should hit publish soon. If it weren't so late here in TZ I'd really like to join in to hear (read) what people are saying. I think it's kinda cool that there are forums like these to discuss this issue. If International Women's Day is the instigator for such discussions, okay then. Let's just continue it all throughout the year.

*I hate that the word feminism has become such a taboo word, like with its mere mention, people conjure up an image of a man-hating radical who wants to live in a society where women dominate. Rather, a feminist is someone who advocates for the social, political, economic and legal rights of women so that men and women can BOTH be respected for their differences, while at the same time being treated as equals. The mere fact that people shy away from using this term (how many times have you heard someone say something along the lines of, "I mean...I'm not a feminist, but I believe women and men should be treated equally"?) shows how far we have to go in this campaign to change social views of women. As Pope Francis says in his book, The Joy of the Gospel: "Diversity must always be reconciled by the help of the Holy Spirit; he alone can raise up diversity, plurality and multiplicity while at the same time bringing about unity."

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