By Sarah Makse
March 8th, was the globally devoted day to the celebration of all women. Born in the 1900s to celebrate the anniversary of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union’s, New York shirtwaist strike. The workforce of predominantly female labourers beginning their strike in 1909 returning to work a year later with vastly improved hours, pay and conditions.
In 1975 the United Nations adopted International Women’s day as a way to salute the generational struggle for women’s rights and the vast distance yet to scale in the journey for total gender equality. International Women’s Day was a day to reflect on the trials and tribulations of all of the resilient women before us who’s activism laid the foundation of rights we take for granted today. This year’s theme was #BeBoldForChange urging everyone to stand up for equality through our convictions, speech and actions.
The day was also a time to recognise that the fight for total equality for everyone is far from over. Feminism in theory is simple; the total political, economic and social equality of the sexes. However, it is a deeply layered issue and it is vital to realise that every person who identifies as a woman has a unique experience of gender. Men are also not exempt from this goal for equality. They should not be limited by dated and oppressive views of masculinity and should be free to express their emotions, thoughts and sense of self, free from the restraints of societal expectation and prejudice assigned by their gender.
Although you may feel liberated and exempt from some issues it is important to assess your privilege and realise that other women depending on their religion, sexual orientation, geographical location, economic status, identification and ethnicity face different issues, some far more oppressive and institutionalised than others. It is everyone’s duty (both men and women) to strive for intersectional equality recognising the overlap of many of these social issues. As highlighted by Audre Lorde, “I am not free while any women is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
The current state of equality in Australia is enough motive to be #beboldforchange every day. Although female empowerment and equality has drastically improved for some, there are still deep institutional and social changes to be made. In Australia for example, although most women in urban areas have access to health care women in rural areas or Indigenous communities struggle to receive adequate resources. Women must pay tax on sanitary products when condoms are GST free.
Pay is continuing to be imbalanced with women needing to work 66 more days a year to generate the same level of income as men under the 18% wage gap. In addition to this, Indigenous Australians face an unemployment rate of around five times that of non-Indigenous Australians according to Australians Together, 2013.
Domestic violence in Australia continues to be distressing, prevalent and a widespread issue affecting woman of all socio-economic tiers. According to the World Health Organisation 1 in 3 women experience domestic violence, with 90% of cases of domestic violence against Indigenous women going unreported entirely. Transgender males and females continue to experience high rates of physical and verbal abuse.
These statistics highlight that being bold for change should not be contrived to one day. Advocacy and social change are not limited to any age, gender or geographical location. Social media has the ability to magnify individual voices that are altering the discourse and representation of individual experiences silenced by the media or ignored by politicians.
Teen activist, actress, director and writer Amandla Stenberg uses her platform to be a beacon and source of power for women of colour whose experience is often silenced by mainstream feminism. She uses her platform to draw attention to the prevalent #BlackLivesMatter fight and celebration of #blackgirlmagic. Seventeen-year-old Bangladeshi American student Ziad Ahmed founded his website Redefy to fight racism encouraging teenagers to share stories about racial discrimination and celebrate the stories that defy bias.
Next time there is a protest against the detainment of refugees in Australian detention centers or fighting for rights of the LGBTQ community, get involved because the women in those communities need your help too. Continue the #BeBoldForChange initiative and make conscious efforts to redefine marginalizing discourse in regards to gender, race, sexuality or identification. Question why there are not more diverse women in power and support those striving for change. Learn and engage in conversations about experiences different to your own and push these voices to the forefront.
Rewrite the discourse, lead by example and be bold enough to correct others when their speech is gender bias, racially bias, homophobic or transphobic. Every single women’s struggle is different. Every single experience is unique filled with different obstacles that may be in addition to already present social injustices. As feminist icon, Gloria Steinem states, “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.”
Advocacy for human rights should not be limited to a single day but should be a constant priority. Recognise that the road to equality is still under construction and it is the duty of everyone to be a champion for equality even if it may not directly affect you. Be an ally for all people suffering from inequality and seek out information on issues that may not affect you directly. In the current political climate in which the powerful are amplifying differences through fear mongering and alternative facts, the unfaltering voice of truth must be celebrated and shared. So educate yourself, assess your own privilege, take action, inspire productive dialogue and don’t back down. As remarkable activist Malala Yousafzai explains, “We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.”
Here are a few causes you can get behind today:
• Share the Dignity: 44% of homeless people identify as female and do not have access to feminine hygiene products. Share the dignity collects sanitary items that they distribute to homeless women across Australia. Consider gathering sanitary items ready for the April and August collection drives.
For more information visit: http://www.sharethedignity.com.au
• The Esther Foundation: The Esther foundation provides support and rehabilitation services for women suffering from abuse, mental health issues, family breakdowns or addiction. The Perth-based charity strives to provide care for vulnerable women from all works of life.
For more information visit: http://www.estherfoundation.org.au
• Girls Not Brides: 15 million girls are married before the age of 18 every year due to factors such as poverty and low levels of education. Girls Not Brides aims to assist girls to reach their full potential and work towards ending child marriage.
For more information, visit: http://www.girlsnotbrides.org
Statistics via Vice Australia, Header Image via For All Womankind