Created by the UN in 1975, Tuesday 8th March 2016 saw the 41st celebration of the International Day of Women’s Rights. With the feminist movement at its peak more so now than ever and the incredible reflection on the progress women have made throughout history, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to wonder why we might still need a day to come together and celebrate women around the world. However, the reality of the situation is far from ideal, and although it’s true that women in the West are more fortunate than we were just a few decades ago, IWD gives us the opportunity to reflect on those who might not be so lucky.
“Equality means that you have an equal shot at living a healthy and happy life – no matter what body you were born into.” Holly Bourne, author of How Hard Can Love Be?
Amnesty International recently held an inspiring and eye-opening discussion as to why they believe International Women’s Day is more important now than ever. Below are some key ideas:
Many women and girls do not have access to abortion
Over a third of the world’s population live in a country where abortion is completely illegal, or restricted to cases in which the mother or child’s health would be at serious risk. Countries like Chile and Ireland deny medical access to women in need of terminations regardless of circumstance. Despite the success of America’s Roe v. Wade (1973) landmark decision, Republican campaigning continues to restrict access to abortion in the US. In many countries, a woman is forced to carry the baby until full-term which often results in the death of the mother and usually the baby itself. Active campaigning is currently ongoing in Chile to debate abortion legislation and reform in Ireland.
Girls continue to be forced into marriage
According to UNICEF data, almost a third of women worldwide were married before their 15th birthday, regardless of legality. The Forced Marriage Unit of the UK government has dealt with cases from over 90 countries across Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and North America. When a young girl is forced into marriage it often brings her education to a permanent halt, making it almost impossible for her to even leave the family home. In a society where education is so widely available to all here in the UK, it may be hard for us to imagine being forced into such a thing, and it’s our duty to recognise that this is as much of a problem now as it has been over the past few decades.
Marital rape is not always considered ‘true’ rape
Rape was only declared a violation of human rights by the UN in 1993, and even now marital rape does not stand as a criminal offence in some countries. In Tunisia, for example, sex is considered a marital duty, and recent months have seen author and self-proclaimed “anti-feminist” Daryush Valizadeh regularly posting articles campaigning against rape laws and the growth of feminism, even attempting to organise mass meetings for British men just last month to protest against women’s rights.
Women can be imprisoned for stillbirth and miscarriages
In countries like El Salvador, a woman suffering from stillbirth or a miscarriage is defined as “aggravated homicide” and is punishable by imprisonment in countries where abortion is illegal. 48-year old mother Mirna Ramírez was detained and jailed by police for 12 years after giving birth to her son 2 months early, with an accusation of attempted murder.
The victims of forced sterilisation continue to be ignored
The sterilisation of people against their will has been seen throughout history as an attempt to control the populations of marginalised sectors of society, such as the disabled, mentally ill, poverty-stricken and ethnic minorities. Just last year, the UN raised concerns over Australia’s forced sterilisation of women with disabilities as a breach of human rights. More often than not, these women have no access to any means of communication, and it is days like IWD where we have the opportunity to give them a voice.
Sexual harassment of women shows no sign of slowing down
Sexual harassment is a reality for women in all countries around the world. A UN study showed that 43% of young women living in London were regularly harassed in the street, and 1 in 3 American women between the ages of 18-34 have been harassed in the workplace. These women are often deterred from reporting the crime, leaving it unnoticed and normalising this dangerous behaviour.
And even so much remains here in the UK to be changed. Sex Education has recently been removed as a compulsory part of the school syllabus, the gender pay gap continues to be brushed over as a myth, and women are still now marginalised and overlooked in the world of politics. But let’s make IWD a day of celebration – women’s rights have come so far, and although there’s much more to be done, we can use it as an opportunity to stand in solidarity and continue working together for a better future for women all around the globe.