International Women’s Day

As you may know, it’s International Women‘s Day today. Even though I’m not the type to run around and shout slogans, I do think it’s important to have a day dedicated to the celebration of everything feminism has achieved. And of course, to think about the things that still need to be done.

I don’t speak a lot of Dutch anymore so in order to practice I like to read Dutch online newspapers and forums. Today I came across a forum topic which made my skin crawl. It was opened by a woman and her post said something like: “What do we need a special day for women for? It’s hardly an issue anymore, is it?” To my surprise many women agreed with her. Apparently, a day dedicated to women feels superfluous to… women. Why?

One of the reasons, apparently, is that women in the West (whatever that might mean) think feminism has done its job. Of course they’re right, to a degree. An immense progress has been made and at least women in western Europe (where I live) have more freedom than they used to have in the past. But unfortunately, that’s not the case everywhere. Just a quick scan of today’s papers made me aware of Sahar Parniyan and Lul Ali Osman Barake. Sahar is a young woman who has been granted political asylum by the UK after she fled from Afghanistran. The reason: she received serious death threats because she acted in a satirical television series. Lul’s story is even more terrifying. After being raped she went to the police, who jailed her rather than her attacker. She has been released, but the journalist who interviewed her remains imprisoned.

Just two examples, and they show me that there’s still a lot to be done. For me feminism is all about freedom, and as long as women don’t feel safe and are not protected from crime, we’re not done. But okay, let’s play the devil’s advocate for a moment. Sahar is from Afghanistan, Lul lives in Somalia. Now, those countries are far away and have very different cultures, so why on earth should we be bothered? It’s terrible if you’re being raped and jailed, but surely violence against women isn’t an issue at all in the free West? Is it?

Well, just check out today’s Guardian. It features an article on domestic violence with some very simple statistics. Last year, 1.2 million women in the UK were victims of domestic violence. According to a NSPCC survey cited in the same article, 43% of UK teenage girls things it’s normal for a man to behave aggressively towards his partner.

Think about those numbers. Think about them for a while and then ask yourself whether International Women’s Day is indeed obsolete. It isn’t. I wish it was. Yes, a lot has been achieved and many women (including myself) have the opportunity to do things we couldn’t have done, had we been born a century ago. But we’re not done yet. And the great thing about International Women’s Day is that it allows us to celebrate our achievements, and think about the things that still need to be done at the same time.

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