Why I celebrate international women’s day.
I’ve always celebrated International women’s day – today 8th March. I worked in a women’s refuge in my late teens, and it taught me the solidarity of women and the difficulties many of us face.
International women’s day has always been a time to celebrate, always been a time to honour the women who came before us, the women in our lives, the sisters who will follow. About this time, we also see the same worn arguments begin to surface,
‘Why do you need international women’s day, anyway?
I remember going to see the late Maya Angelou giving a reading in the late ’80s in Lewisham, a minibus of women travelling down to see her, cackling and singing all the way there and back. The energy in the hall was electric, the women of the audience standing, hips swaying, hands held high as Maya Angelou read her ubiquitous poem And still I rise.
I thought at that moment, buoyed up by the energy of women, that we could do anything. The power in that hall, as we clapped and cried, held in the words of this great woman, seemed without end. Young as I was, I thought we were invincible. I thought we would make such changes, tearing down all of the constraints that came before, that things would change, that it would be better.
And it is, better I mean, but then.
I am writing this late at night, waiting for my daughter to text me that she has gotten home safely from a night out with friends. I sit here now, over 30 years since I watched, as Maya Angelou mesmerised us with her words and her energy and I’m wondering how far we’ve really come?
We still live in a world where women are twice as likely to be a victim of domestic violence or sexual abuse than men. Where 1 in 3 women globally is beaten or sexually abused in their lifetime.
Where the police are complicit in the sexual/racial abuse and murder of women.
Where rape is not punished – in 2020 there were 52,210 rapes recorded to the police in Wales and England – 843 resulted in a charge or summons. 1.6%
Where globally 30,000 underage girls are married off each day. Each day!!!! 250 million women alive today were married before their 15th birthday.
Where less than 40% of countries provide girls and boys with equal education.
Where the impact of Climate change, global warming, floods, droughts, storms and forced migrations will kill more women than men, due to unequal access to power and resources.
We still don’t have equal pay, we still can’t walk the streets safely, or stay in our homes safely and with the global pandemic, women are doing even more of the work within the home- 3 times as many hours than the men we share our homes with.
Our access to the world is limited by the constant threat of danger, so ingrained that we think it’s normal, or worse still think it’s just us- that we are oversensitive, or over cautious or just too scared.
I really wanted to be able to present all the gains that we’ve made as women, to celebrate our achievements. That’s what International Women’s Day has always been for me – a chance to celebrate.
I know women are making gains, in education, in industry, in having a voice and having a visible presence in the world. I know with #metoo we are challenging male violence, challenging the stories told about us. I know we are kicking and screaming for change, for an equal share for an equal chance, but this evening, all I can think is,
‘Why in the 21st century am I sitting here, praying my girl gets home safe from a night out with friends?’
This is why we need International women’s day.
Every day is a chance to celebrate the women in your life – but especially today we need to celebrate each other – the women who are teaching our children, the women working in our shops, the women working in STEM industries, the women caring for their families, the women working in our hospitals, driving our lorries and our buses, the women going into space. The women in other countries, in other parts of the world. To all of the women and girls.
Against all these odds, against all this shit. We all still show up, hold each other up, pull each other up.
So, to my sisters, I say thank you. I honour your strength and your courage, your grace and your beauty. Together we are strong. Together we are invincible. Together we rise.
‘Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
Maya Angelou, “Still I Rise” from And Still I Rise. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Ange
If you are able, please donate to a women’s charity today.