Happy International Women’s Day.
I write this as I sit in a coffee shop, breastfeeding my youngest daughter. When feeding my daughter I do not use a cover. This coffee shop is on the campus of the university I study at. My eldest daughter is at nursery this afternoon so that I can work. We are here by ourselves, I am attempting to write while my younger daughter naps after her vaccinations this morning. Soon, I will have completed my dissertation, which I will submit in my name. I have included many sources that were written by women, and my subject matter is closely related to children and mothers. I wear trousers.
Just 100 years ago I would not have been able to do many of these things. In many places around the world right now, some would not be able to do many of these things.
Women the same age as I am may not be literate enough to write these words. They may not have the opportunities to attend university, or to be able to go out by themselves – as a woman – and feel safe, or respectful.
Women just like me might not have had access to a safe birth place for their children, or adequate support through pregnancy.
Women just like me may have struggled to breastfeed, and never received the help that would allow them to do so. They may feel ashamed to breastfeed in public, particularly without a cover. They may feel ashamed to breastfeed at all, because their breasts have been sexualised by a society that does not respect them.
Women just like me may be unable to publish texts, or write using their own names. They may have no female role models other than their mothers. They may not have had the choice to have children or not, and they may not be able to choose who they marry.
Girls like my daughters may undergo genital mutilation, which will endanger their lives, and restrict their pleasure from sex, and increase the risks of childbirth. They may not be in a position to receive vaccinations because they simply live in a country where it is too expensive for vaccinations to be given to all children.
Girls a little older than my daughters may be unable to attend school because they are menstruating or because they simply have to attend to matters other than education. My elder daughter might be expected to look after her sibling so that I could work, robbed of her childhood and opportunity to learn, because she is female.
Women just like me may not be able to wear the clothes that they would choose because it is considered inappropriate. They may live in fear of exposing themselves in some way. Women elsewhere might also feel shamed by their choices to cover themselves – it is equally unfair that the woman who chooses to remain covered is told this is wrong too.
My list could go on.
I am privileged; I am lucky that I have the opportunities I do. Not every woman or girl is so fortunate. But even I am scared to go out alone at night sometimes. I have been catcalled and harassed in the street. I’ve been sexually abused and emotionally manipulated. I’m likely to be paid less than my male peers. I get constantly judged on my clothes and my choices. Some people would frown at my use of contraception and the fact that I am open about my sexuality, my body and pleasure.
It is for all these reasons and a thousand more, that International Women’s Day is important. I am not here to devalue the experiences of men, but it is important that we continue to recognise the situation of women everywhere. You may not think feminism has relevance any more. You may not feel it is appropriate in a Western context. It does, and it is. Women in developed nations have different battles to fight than our sisters elsewhere, but we must fight for them too.
Celebrate today. Celebrate your mothers, grandmothers, your sisters, your daughters, your friends. Celebrate yourself. But remember that this world is not equal until my daughter is treated with the same respect and given the same opportunities as all the other sons and daughters around the globe. Celebrate International Women’s Day for the future generation of women.