In case you’ve been living under a rock, last Thursday was International Women’s Day. The news was overflowing with stories of inspirational women and international marches, and people took to Instagram to celebrate the women in their life. Of course, the ‘why isn’t there an International Men’s Day?’ comments were unavoidable, providing an ample opportunity to educate, as well as to retort that there actually is one – November 19th. It seems that with the rise of the #MeToo and Times Up Movements, this year is already the year of the woman. But whilst we should and have used International Women’s Day to celebrate our progress, we need to remember what we still have to overcome to achieve full equality. In this era of Trump’s America and rising far-right populism, International Women’s Day matters more than ever.
One of the first executive orders that Trump issued during his first week in office re-instated the Global Gag Rule, a case in point for his stance on women’s reproductive rights. This policy prevents international organisations who receive US monetary aid from offering family planning services, which includes not only contraception and abortions, but bans the provision of information about them. Furthermore, Republicans’ many attempts to repeal ‘Obamacare’ (the Affordable Care Act) have consistently included policies which would dramatically affect women’s healthcare. The latest failed bill, Graham-Cassidy, would have prevented lower-income women on the Medicaid programme from accessing Planned Parenthood services for at least one year, and would have restricted abortion coverage for those who receive tax credits to buy health insurance. Significantly, according to the National Women’s Law Center, 2/3 of the women who stand to lose their health insurance are women of colour. These are undisguised attempts to prevent women from having autonomy over their own bodies.
The huge response to the #MeToo movement has brought the problem of sexual harassment and assault, especially in the workplace, to the world’s attention. Civil and gender rights activist Tarana Burke coined the phrase in this context in 2006, which was then popularised on Twitter by Alyssa Milano in October 2017, in the wake of the countless allegations against disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein. According to Rape Crisis, approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped per year (again, in England and Wales), but in 2016 there were only 5,190 convictions. Society continues to perpetuate the belief that women who have been sexually assaulted were ‘asking for it’, a dangerous, victim-blaming mentality which prevents them from speaking out against their abusers.
Worldwide, 1 in 3 women has been the victim of sexual violence. In the spirit of International Women’s Day, we need to remember that this is a global problem, and that many women with fewer legal rights than us have no system on which to rely on for protection.