Monday, March 08, 2004

Women of the world, take over... 

It's International Women's Day. I believe that the date, March 8th, was picked in memory of women's protests around the world against the First World War, which seems an excellent choice. But I may be wrong about that. To mark it, here's a link to Amnesty International's Women's Campaign.

Searching for interesting articles on the subject, I came upon this piece from The Times of India by someone who thinks that IWD is 'an appalling trivialisation of the issue [of women's equality]'. She argues that days which refocus attention on 'beleaguered minorities', such as World AIDS Day, are good and important, but that women are not a special interest group and women's interests are not so trivial as to require a 'day' for us to focus on them.

Of course, I disagree. To say that IWD trivialises women's issues, is to say that things like World AIDS Day or, say, Holocaust Memorial Day, are okay because what they commemorate is already trivial. This is far from the case. Such days exist to remind the world that these issues are really important. I understand, and to some extent sympathise, with the point that women aren't at all a minority and to allot only a day to women suggests that we can safely ignore them for every other day of the year. This is a danger, I guess, but surely the only people who would happily ignore the pressing issues of gender equality are people who wouldn't particularly care whether or not it was International Women's Day either.

We need International Women's Day because, while women are not a minority in the world, and are not a 'special interest group', they are unequal. In the West people are abandoning the cause of feminism long before it's achieved its aims, and all over the world women are taught to feel themselves inferior to men, to feel themselves suited only to certain roles in life, and are treated as unworthy to make their voices heard. IWD is important, like so many other 'days', because it is intended to show how much we still have left to do.

To some extent it is a day for those of us who are already converted to the cause and of course it's by no means enough. But it is not a bad thing. It at least reminds people of the work which others do throughout the year, and to celebrate the achievements which have been made, no less than marking out what's left to be done. It's no time for complacency - the article marks out terrible problems in India, and all over the world we face problems from unequal pay to death by stoning for suspected adultery, or simply for demonstrating a shred of independence. But while women's and human rights groups labour on, often unrecognised, to highlight these problems bring these issues onto the agenda, IWD provides an institutionalised reminder, which the establishment is forced to recognise. It cannot simply be discarded as the 'feminazis' whining on. Sure, it may only result in a few token articles in the liberal press, but in a time when so many women deride the cause of feminism, and when apathy has made any sort of 'cause' unfashionable, we need to take whatever we can get.

International Women's Day serves a purpose. I wish it didn't, but I don't foresee it becoming unnecessary at any time in the near future, and for that reason I'm happy to celebrate it with millions of other women, and men, from all over the world.

UPDATE: The BBC has the International Women's Day in pictures.

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