Saturday, April 20, 2024

No “Happy” International Women’s Day While My People Are Dying

I still hate International Women’s Day. And with every passing year, I hate it even more.

I’ve written this same blog for years. I had no intention of regurgitating the same thing this year — especially not this year — with the tragedy that continues to unfold in Palestine. But I was asked to reshare it by someone who said that we need a reminder — now more than ever — that the roots of this day are RESISTANCE.

So let’s get this going. Again.

Why do I hate this day? I hate the one-day-every-year that we are supposed to remind ourselves of how far we’ve come — and how far we’ve got to go for equality. Did we need reminding?

But also… why is this day important? In 1911, women — and men — took to the streets to demand rights for women to work, to vote, and to hold public office. And so this day was born.

But here we are, in 2024, and we’re not equal anywhere. Not in a single country.

And every year, on March 8, we’re told “Happy International Women’s Day.”

As your resident feminist killjoy, I refuse to be happy about this day. When we’re equal, I’ll be happy about that.

I’ve written a bazillion pieces talking about how things are for women around the world. And nowhere in the world are we fully able to participate in all aspects of social, economic, and political life. How do I know this?!

Here are a few of the bazillion reasons:

The gender gap is real — and it is real big. A recent report by UN Women estimates that it will take a staggering 286 years for us to close the gender gap, to achieve equality. Dig me from the grave when we’re there.

But surely there’s some good news? OK, yes. Education is closer to equality. There are now fewer girls out of school than boys. However, 122 million girls remain uneducated, and that’s 122 million too many. And, the majority of people who are illiterate are women — over half a billion women and girls cannot read or write. And, school isn’t even safe. Roughly 60 million girls are sexually assaulted on their way to or in school every year.

The political gap is widest. Women are dramatically under-represented in positions of power and decision-making. 134 countries have never had a woman head of state. Today, only 16 countries are led by women as head of government — out of 195 countries in the world. At the parliamentary level, only 6 countries have achieved a gender balance. At lower levels of parliament and in single houses, the global number of women parliamentarians sits at only 26.5%.

The economy also discriminates against women, who do the majority of unpaid care work. When women are paid, they still earn less. 77 cents to every man’s dollar. And far less for women of color. Only 26% of companies globally have a female CEO — and she’s still referred to as “the female CEO.”

One in three women and girls will experience some form of violence in our lifetime. An underestimate of reality, I think. And 81% of women have experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime — verbal or physical.

So, there’s a lot of work to do. And we all should be doing it — every day.

What pisses me off about today is the flood of events, conversations, campaigns, and consumer opportunities that have depoliticized this day. Today is not the time for corporate charades or feigned interest or 24-hour activism.

This year, the UN’s theme for International Women’s Day is “Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress.” This theme is aligned with the conversations taking place right now at the annual convening of the Commission on the Status of Women.

How are we accelerating progress when we are quite literally moving backwards? There’s irony when we’ve having themed days and bazillion-person conferences while there’s an elephant in the room. As I write this, more than 8,400 women have been brutally killed by Israeli Occupation Forces in Gaza since October 7, 2023. This violence has left another 6,327 wounded and without access to healthcare. And that’s just the numbers we know. So many more women are listed as missing and are currently facing catastrophic levels of hunger as (Israeli and American) man-made famine rages across northern Gaza.

It is not a day to celebrate. It is not a day to have elitist conversations behind closed doors in inaccessible halls of power.

Last year I wrote this piece on the Commission on the Status on Women. One seasoned feminist asked: “Where is the accountability? This event needs to be reformed. If women are coming in to discuss, then what is being discussed? What actions are being taken? And how will it be measured and reported in the following year?”

I ask us all this same question as discussions of all “women’s stuff” begin — again. Will Palestinian women be at the table — or on the menu?!

Either today is for all of us, or it’s nothing.

It’s not just Palestine. I’m howling for women everywhere. Why aren’t we talking about Afghan women and girls who are being erased from public life and denied every single right and fundamental freedom?! Why aren’t we talking about Sudanese women and girls whose bodies are being used as weapons of war? Why aren’t we talking about Congolese women and girls who are — quite literally — dying for our iPhones?! Why aren’t we talking about Iranian women and girls and their right to protest the now-compulsory hijab?! Why aren’t we talking about the systematic abuses and sexual violence of Palestinian women at the hands of the Israeli forces over decades?! And so many more forgotten women, worldwide.

Well… we are talking about them. Sorta. Just talking. But what does the talk amount to?!

Where is the action? Where is the anger? Where is the RESISTANCE?!

If we need reminders of what resistance looks like, check out Palestinian women. They’ve been on the forefront of it for decades. Maybe we can use this “women’s day” to listen, learn, and amplify the voices we often fail to hear.

Today is not a day of performative activism and charades of solidarity. Feminist movements are built on grassroots grit and political power. This is an entire movement, not a PR moment. My previous blogs have lamented the Hallmark-hollow that this day has become, with some recommendations for corporations committed to genuine change. But I can’t repeat that this year. Without collective liberation — ALL WOMEN — changes will be cosmetic cover-ups rather than substantive change.

I am not saying we should not celebrate. Women — especially feminist activists who, quite literally, do this every single day — have reason to celebrate all the time. Even the smallest progress is still progress. And we know how excruciatingly slow this work is.

The difference here is this: I do not accept a day that recognizes some women, and not all of us.

As I’ve said before, Palestine puts our feminist commitment to the test. Do we really care about all women and girls, everywhere?! We should ask ourselves this question today. So far it rings rather hollow. Meanwhile, my feminism is questioned for speaking about Palestinian women. Ironic. I question everyone else’s feminism for not doing so.

“There is no liberation without the liberation of women under occupation,” wrote journalist and author Dalal Mawad.

“It’s not happy International Women’s Day without women’s liberation from all forms of occupation. I cannot speak and celebrate our fight for equality, for equal economic opportunities, for equal political power, for equal civil rights and equality at home, when women and girls are seeing their entire families wiped out, their homes destroyed , when they are victims of war crimes and occupation at the hands of a state that claims to be “democratic” and “progressive.” Justice seems more elusive than ever…”

Justice, equality, rights, feminism must be for all of us, or they are for none of us. Now is the time to remember what International Women’s Day really is… rise and resist!

This article first appeared here, and is republished with the author’s permission.

Author profile
Dr. Lina Abirafeh

Lina AbiRafeh, PhD is a global women’s rights expert with decades of experience worldwide. She is a writer, speaker, and advisor with a 25-year track record in creating positive change for women in over 20 countries around the world – Afghanistan, Haiti, Central African Republic, Papua New Guinea, and more. She serves a range of organizations in a senior advisory capacity, and is a member of several international boards of women’s rights organizations.

 

Lina publishes on a range of women’s rights issues. Her second book, “Freedom on the Frontlines” is due in early 2022. She speaks frequently on global stages and has been featured on CNN, BBC, TEDx, and Good Morning America, amongst others. Lina has been recognized as the Gender Equality Top 100 worldwide, a Vital Voices Fellow for outstanding women leaders, a Women’s Media Center Progressive Women’s Voice, and a Women in Power Fellow. 

 

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