Did you know that women in Rwanda enjoy the perks of one of the most equal societies in the world?
After the genocide in 1994, Rwanda was left in tatters; a nation in mourning for many thousands of its men. Two decades on, and women who survived the conflict with both emotional and physical scars have rebuilt their country.
From the ashes of a bloody genocide came the foundations of an equal – and more importantly, peaceful – society with a 64 per cent female majority in government.
Rwanda ranks fifth in the World Economic Fund’s Global Gender Gap report – meaning it is the fifth best country in the world for women to live in, after Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden.
Britain ranks twentieth while Canada came in 35th and America lags behind in 45th place.
Westerners are notoriously high and mighty about gender equality – we look around, gleefully smug, and see women everywhere who are apparently free to climb whatever ladder they chose.
On paper, women have equal rights, thanks to the generations of powerful women who came before us in recent history and protested their second-class citizenship.
Yet, overall, the gap between male and female economic and political participation, health and education in Britain and the U.S proves we are still stuck in the middle ages.
We live in a less equal society than the Phillipines, Burundi, Slovenia, Namibia, South Africa and Nicaragua, to name but a few.
We could learn from Rwanda’s example. Globally women still suffer the consequences of gender inequality: From the gender pay gap to rates of maternal mortality in childbirth, female genital mutilation and limited rights to education.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates 830 women will die every day from preventable complications in childbirth. In other words, 303,000 babies will be born motherless every year because their mothers didn’t have access to medical help.
According to the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, one woman is raped in America every minute.
Working women in Britain are paid, on average, 9.6 per cent less than men. That effectively means women in the UK work for free from November 6 until the end of the year, just because they have a vagina.
In Pakistan, many girls don’t go to school because it is still deemed inappropriate for a woman to travel on public transport unsupervised.
In Ghana, many young women drop out of school – despite their eagerness for an education – because there are no sanitary towel disposal facilities.
Meanwhile, in Egypt, 27.2 million girls under the age of 15 have had their genitals butchered in brutal ritualistic ‘rights of passage’; a crime that is classified as a violation of human rights. WHO estimates 200 million girls alive today have been cut – and that’s only the ones who survived.
In Japan, thousands of underage girls are sexually exploited and trafficked as part of the booming ‘JK Business’, which sees grown men rent school girls for their own gratification. Many have criticised the culture for encouraging child abuse and paedophilia.
Whether in a far-off country or on your doorstep, women still have more obstacles to overcome than men. These obstacles are costly, not just for society, but for the economy too.
The seminal book written by The Economist‘s Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas D. Kristof, Half The Sky, states:
Think about all the major issues confronting us in this century. These include war, insecurity and terrorism; population pressures, environmental strains and climate change; poverty and income gaps.
For all these diverse problems, empowering women is part of the answer. Most obviously, educating girls and bringing them into the economy will yield economic dividends and help address global poverty.
Nearly everyone recognises that women around the world are one of the greatest under-utilised resources.
The adage goes that women ‘hold up half the sky’ – and yet in so many communities, they are not given the opportunity to contribute in any sense other than population growth in motherhood.
Consider the costs of allowing half a country’s resources to go untapped.
According to a research report by Goldman Sachs:
Encouraging more women into the labour force has been the single biggest driver of labour market success… Much more so than ‘conventional’ labour market reforms.
Yet, according to the World Economic Forum, it will be 117 years – in other words, it will be 2186 and we’ll all be protesting sexism on hover boards – until we reach the very gender parity that could solve the global economic crisis.
That seems less like a women’s issue and more like a worldwide oversight.
You might ask: “If we’re really being equal here, why don’t we start an International Men’s Day too?”
Frankly, the answer is simple: The history books document centuries of days upon days, weeks upon weeks, years upon years, when the male sex has been at the top of the pecking order.
International Women’s Day is simply trying to redress that balance. A day celebrating men would serve to reiterate history’s mistakes and the perpetual gender bias that has plagued modern society – mistakes that mean many women today still feel like second class citizens.
Women have battled for the right to contribute to society in whatever way they see fit – and they have been saving lives, advancing technology, winning Olympic gold medals, writing novels, inventing computer programming or Kevlar, and paving the way for other brilliant, bright women ever since.
And yet women only constitute 49 of the 579 Nobel prize winners in history, and just 24 of the Fortune 500. That’s fewer than five per cent. We can talk for days about glass ceilings, glass cliffs, daft inequalities, semantics and the injustice of it all. But the statistics speak for themselves. The world is a harsh place in which to be a woman.
Today, the Women’s March group prove why we still need International Women’s Day once and for all – and why women deserve the respect granted by gender equality.
Participating women have organised a worldwide strike: A Day Without Women, so to speak, to recognise ‘the enormous value that women of all backgrounds add to our socioeconomic system, while receiving lower wages and experiencing greater inequities’.
In the spirit of women and their allies coming together for love and liberation, we offer A Day Without A Woman. We ask: do businesses support our communities, or do they drain our communities? Do they strive for gender equity or do they support the policies and leaders that perpetuate oppression? Do they align with a sustainable environment or do they profit off destruction and steal the futures of our children? We saw what happened when millions of us stood together in January, and now we know that our army of love greatly outnumbers the army of fear, greed and hatred. On March 8th, International Women’s Day, let’s unite again in our communities for A Day Without A Woman. Over the next few weeks we will be sharing more information on what actions on that day can look like for you. In the meantime, we are proud to support Strike4Democracy's #F17 National Day of Action to Push Back Against Assaults on Democratic Principles. This Friday, February 17th, gather your friends, families, neighbors, and start brainstorming ideas for how you can enhance your community, stand up to this administration, integrate resistance and self-care into your daily routine, and how you will channel your efforts for good on March 8th. Remember: this is a marathon, not a sprint. #DayWithoutAWoman #WomensMarch
The fact is, women weren’t always treated differently to men. Historians have acknowledged the presence of matriarchal – or, in other words, gender equal societies – of prehistory.
Cynthia Eller, a doctor of Social Ethics, writes:
This matriarchy was… a worldwide phenomenon that stretched back through prehistory to the very origins of the human race.
These ‘matriarchies’ – often called by other names – were not crude reversals of patriarchal power, but models of peace, plenty, harmony with nature, and, significantly, sex egalitarianism.
We are returning to the ways of old, way back when a person was judged on individual merit, rather than lumped into a category based on their genitals. But there’s still a way to go.
In order to understand the importance of International Women’s Day, you don’t need to be a woman, or a feminist – although I don’t see why you wouldn’t be. You don’t even need to care about any of these issues – although, as they constitute a global humanitarian crisis, you probably should.
You just need to care about one young girl who you wouldn’t want to be kicked out of education, get unfairly paid for her hard work, flee from sexual violence, suffer bodily mutilation or garner less respect than her male counterpart every single day when she leaves her front door. It’s not a female-dominated society we’re after. Just a fair one.
If nothing else, International Women’s Day is an opportunity for everyone around the world to unite in support of each other, driving forward for a better global economy, a more peaceful world and fairer societies everywhere.
Never mind Girl Power – that’s for lip-syncing and disco-dancing. International Women’s Day is the pinnacle of People Power and it’s fucking marvellous.