Over a hundred years ago today – in the late 19th and early 20th Century – many women joined the Suffragette movement, hoping to gain the right to vote. These women encountered imprisonment, hunger strikes, force-feeding, accusations of mental illness, and even – in the case of Emily Davidson, who threw herself under the king’s horse in protest – death. In other words, a whole host of suffering, emotional distress, humiliation, and anguish.
A hundred years later, and votes for women are long since won in most countries – though not all – and the feminist revolution continues. Campaigners fight for equal political representation, an end to women’s poverty, freedom from sexual violence, and – ultimately – for that most basic demand: for women to be treated as human beings.
International Women’s Day is celebrated globally on March 8th every year, and all over the world people now celebrate the amazing achievements that women and girls have made, as well as highlighting the gender inequalities that still exist.
Women like activist Gloria Steinam recognize the importance of this day, by arguing that:
The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.
And American journalist Nicholas D. Kristof highlights just a small number of the many issues that women all over the world still face:
More girls were killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they were girls, than men killed in all the wars in the 20th century. More girls are killed in this routine gendercide in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century… The equivalent of 5 jumbo jets of women die in labor each day… That should be an international scandal.
Since 1945, the UN has helped create strategies and goals to advance the status of women worldwide, and every year on March 8, all ages of women from countries around the world are finding new ways to celebrate women’s achievements throughout history and across nations, and contribute to this age-old struggle, by collectively speaking truth to power.
The movement that gave votes to women still has much to teach those continuing to fight for equality. So, as well as checking out the IWD events in your area on Sunday, what can we take from the Suffragettes and what can we do this year for International Women’s Day?
Ignore The Haters
Anyone who calls themselves a feminist or writes about feminism knows that there can be some nasty responses, but as Helen Lewis, deputy editor of the New Statesman says:
The comments on any article about feminism justify feminism.
She’s got a point…
When the suffragettes were at their height, thousands were imprisoned, went on hunger strike and had to contend with the torturous process of force-feeding. But the suffragettes kept going, despite the opposition and immediate consequences.
Publicity is Power
Be a creative whirlwind, devise new ways to catch the attention of politician and the public.
Don’t Give Up!
With challenges that seem to stretch ahead intractably, it can feel like you’re going to burn out before any progress is made. But think about it this way: women fought for the vote for over a century and – with the campaigners keeping the pressure, reinventing and re-energizing their fight – women were finally granted the vote on the same terms as men!
And remember, men throughout history understand issues of gender equality, too. In fact, Gandhi argued for the equality of women:
Woman is the companion of man, gifted with equal mental capacity…
- Women have been fighting for hundreds of years to attain the same equal status as men.
- The struggle is a long one but remember: It’s a marathon not a sprint – and it ain’t over yet!
- IWD isn’t just about women – it’s about human rights.
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