International Women's Day 2023

This post  is coming about three weeks late but better late than never! We have a serious IWD series on this blog and we are not about to let it go this year. So on the very last day of Women's History Month, let's talk about it.

One fear I've had in recent times is that our generation has taken to underestimating gender inequality. After all, we have had female leaders, athletes, corporate executives. Women can now vote, work, drive, yay feminism, right? To add salt to the injury of this perspective is the sudden glamorization of everything generations before us fought against. With the rise of younger women on TikTok ostentatiously broadcasting their dependence on ultra-wealthy boyfriends, glossing over clear imbalance of gender dynamics as they feature their latest designer purses in yet another get-ready-with-me video, or as they deliver yet another aesthetically pleasing smoothie to their boyfriends. What is not as apparent to the impressionable [even] younger viewer is how wide this path is to abuse and powerlessness, and perhaps even sadder, how much those who came before us fought against this very phenomenon.  

But the gag is (as the cool kids say), we need advocates for women more than ever. In a world where people falsely believe the differences between men and women are nonexistent, where people believe our work is done, we need louder voices for women. One thing is clear, there are still myriad of biases and barriers that prevent women from pursuing and/or achieving their potential. And I have receipts. 

The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commission reported in January of 2023, that 130 million girls are denied the human right to education. Many girls are still denied the right to an education; the right to the decision of whether and whom to marry; whether they work and earn outside the home; own property; run for office; have access to contraceptives, or the ability and privilege to decide for themselves whether and when to have children. 

Ah yes, contraceptives. Let’s take contraceptives, for instance. An empowering tool often taken for granted by those with unfettered access to it, research has showed that birth intervals are important for perinatal outcomes particularly in low-income nations.  When women in developing countries space the births of their children, there are higher chances of survival for those children. Specifically, a study of children born in two Nairobi slums found that children born within eighteen months of an older sibling are more than twice as likely to die as those born after an interval of more than 36 months. The broader benefits of contraception are beyond a woman’s decision about conceiving. It is central to a woman’s personal wellbeing and welfare including factors like the health of her children and how she parents her children.  In her book, The Moment of Lift, Melinda Gate described contraceptives as the greatest lifesaving, poverty-ending, women-empowering innovation ever created. She is not wrong.

While a lack of contraceptives can catapult women into further depths of poverty, no one seems to be very interested in society’s poor anymore. People demonize the poor and cast them on the margins of the society but stop short at trying to understand why people are poor. Poverty eats deep into women’s lives: they can’t protect their children by providing food; sometimes, they can’t even do something as simple get adequate information to care for their children; they can’t stand up to a culture that insists on burying them; and worst of all, they are excluded. Exclusion seems somewhat farfetched until we realize that anyone can be made to feel like an outsider, and when power is concentrated in the hands of a few, they can choose to exclude whomever they wish. While this exclusion almost always happens on the basis of race and class, it can cut across gender too. It is why rather than exclude people and push them off to the margins, we must come together to solve deep inequalities. 

How do we protect women, irrespective of their nationality, race, creed, or economic circumstance? How do we, in a world where some women are still afraid of asking their husbands to use a condom for the fear of being beaten up, empower women? It is a complicated issue of course, but it must first be named. We must rid ourselves of the myopia that allows us to only view gender issues from the lens of the Western world; the sort of shortsightedness that allows us to elevate the loud echoes of a specific kind of woman to the detriment of all the other women across the world.  Let’s name the issues. 

In Yemen, a woman cannot leave the house without her husband’s permission and women are legally required to obey their husbands. More than twenty countries restrict the types of jobs women can undertake. In eighteen nations including Chad, Niger, Cameroon, and Bolivia, women need their husband’s permission to get a job. In some places, if a woman’s husband dies, she has no claim to her family’s assets. In many others, they restrict what wives can inherit from their husbands. In 113 countries, there are no laws that ensure equal pay for work by men and women. There are seven countries where women are not guaranteed paid maternity leave, and the United States is one of them. This is despite the fact that paid parental leave is associated with fewer infant deaths, higher rates of breastfeeding, and allows mothers to remain in the workforce. 

Our fight is not nearly finished. 

It is also why who is at the helm of policymaking matters. Culture, norms, biases, prejudices do not exist in a vacuum. They thrive in systems that allow them to, that nurture them, that incubate them. If we want a society where all these issues are at the forefront of policymaking, we must elect men and women who uphold these values. We must examine our elected leaders so that only those who value empathy, diversity, equality and equity, and love (yes, love). Melinda Gates once mentioned love, the most underused and powerful force, as the highest qualification a public servant and/or political candidate can have. Indeed, love underpins social justice, and in the words of Richard Rohr, is the only thing that can safely handle power. 

Love and justice are deeply intertwined. Like bell hooks simply put it in her seminal work, All About Love, if there is no justice, there is no love. if we are to be committed to love as the Bible describes, we must be committed to loving our neighbors as ourselves. If we are committed to loving our neighbors as ourselves, then it behooves us to see to it that are neighbors are treated fairly and equally. We must be committed to fighting for the marginalized and the oppressed and speaking up for the voiceless in our society. If public policy and laws were made in the spirit of love, our society would be so much better.

It is true that our patriarchal society rewards and prefers women who conform, the ones who are not assertive, who don’t seek power, who don’t ask for too much, and who won’t speak out. But this this is exactly why must speak out and ask for equality and fairness; and if asking politely doesn’t work (as it rarely does), then we must demand a world that is more conducive to women.

On this International Women’s Day and Women's History Month, let us once and for all, forego mawkish tropes that disguise benevolent sexism and gloss over real challenges women experience. Instead, let us work together to tackle systemic inequality and endearing misogyny.



P.S: If you enjoyed this post, you will most likely also enjoy this

No comments