Celebrate International Women’s Day by doing something for equality.

I hope you’re enjoying International Women’s Day. I’ve spent more time than my employer would be happy about this morning online reading great articles, listening to interviews, looking at photographic exhibitions and reminding myself of why it is so important that we engage with a movement focused on “equal rights, equal opportunity and progress for all”. A day like this sharpens your focus and nudges you from a place of irritation or anger at the sexism around you, into a place of affirmation that it is OK to to speak out, to be visible and to make feminist claims.

I hate sex object culture and the mainstream acceptance of porn. I can’t stand the idea that every stag party should involve a visit to a strip club and women who consider it a betrayal are boring prudes. I’m so horrified that primary school aged girls want Playboy branded duvet sets. I’m frightened by the fact that teenage boys are ‘learning’ about sex on the internet. And the reason is inequality.

I’m appalled that 2 women a week in the UK still die at the hands of a violent partner or ex-partner. It enrages me that, because of the ‘no recourse to public funds’ policies this government operates, asylum seeking women in abusive relationships are forced to stay in those relationships as they would be unable to provide for themselves should they leave. I want to scream every time I see reports of victim blaming attitudes in the public and the courts to women who have been raped. And the reason is inequality.

I’m frustrated that women are so underrepresented in public life in Northern Ireland. Reading the newspaper on my lunch break regularly puts me in a bad mood as I am reminded of the acceptability of sexism in our media and other cultural and political institutions. I still feel a little sick when I think of how the UK govt shafted our last decent chance of abortion law reform playing political games with the lives and futures of so many Northern Irish women. And the reason is inequality.

Poverty, female genital mutilation, the pay gap, denial of rights to travel, be educated, own land, obtain custody of children, the acceptability of marital rape…there is no doubt that the dominant dynamic when it comes to global gender relations is one of enduring inequality.

So where do we start when it comes to the idea of doing something? As the first meeting of our little group of Belfast based activists drew to a close the Thursday before last, I noted that it is perhaps a little difficult to generate the kind of urgency around this movement that would come more naturally in other parts of the world. The oppression is sutble, the parameters of choice less clear. The strict control of women’s bodies and sexuality in some countries is an obvious outrage but somehow the exploitation of our sexuality is less important. It’s not like women are dying because of lads’ mags.

Well no, but women are floundering, suffering and dying because we live in a society that reduces women to sexual objects significantly more than it does men and the result is a culture of inequality, where women’s choices are limited by how their value is perceived, their sexuality is owned by someone other than themselves and their personal safety and autonomy is vulnerable to being exploited by violent or abusive men who are unable to comprehend that a woman has equal value to them as a human being. That’s what the recent Home Office report concluded about the harmful effects of the hyper-sexualisation of girls, that’s what we all understand when we protest against degrading representations in the media and that’s why the women’s movement is stronger than it has been in years.

It’s great to celebrate the progress that has been made for women in many parts of the world and to mark the ‘firsts’ that are amazingly still only happening so late in the game. (Well done Kathryn Bigelow!) It’s even better if we can be inspired by that progress to push for more. Saturday’s Million Women Rise March in London looked extremely inspiring. (Below is a clip of OBJECT reps marching and speaking about their work.) We may not have a million women to march with in Belfast this week but we do have 2 hours on Tuesday night to talk about the movement we want to be a part of right here.

Come along to Charlie’s Coffee Shop, 58 Bradbury Place, Belfast on Tuesday 9th Feb from 7-9pm and join the conversation. (Charlie’s are kindly opening late especially for us so it would be great to see as many people along as possible – bring your pocket money for lots of tea and buns.)

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