Why is International Women's Day held on March 8, today a national holiday in the Russian Federation? Scroll down. This year the worldwide theme of this day, set by UN Women, is the empowerment of women as part of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, which aims at gender parity, and an end to gender violence and discrimination.
The key words are equal opportunities and equal participation in all spheres, and this comes with legislation enshrined in the Sustainable Development Agenda, an extension of the 2000 Millennium Development Goals.
How can women gain equality and achieve empowerment when the playing field is levelled against them from birth, just because they are born with the female gender? In general terms, women achieve lower levels of education, although they are better students; at work, women's wages are lower than those of men; the percentage of women sitting at board level on top-listen companies remains under 25 per cent; up to half of our mothers experience some form of workplace discrimination - some are even fired for becoming pregnant and others are not hired because they might ("you aren't planning on starting a family, ARE you?!); domestic violence continues to be the leading preventable cause of death or injury for women; one in three women have experienced some form of physical or emotional violence in the last five years, and up to seventy per cent have experienced this in their lifetimes.
According to the OECD, around 70 per cent of aid goes to causes which have nothing to do with gender equality, while around thirty per cent does.
And now for the media. Women account for around 25 per cent of main stories; almost half the stories reinforce gender stereotypes and just six per cent challenge these stereotypes. This is a reflection of the bias that has existed for thousands of years.
Once upon a time, many societies were matriarchal, ruled by women, the religion controlled by women, often the priestess/curer who used a symbol of authority, showing her power to cure the worst of all ills, the snake bite and/or to ward off the symbol of evil, the snake (from the Garden of Eden). What do you see outside your pharmacy today? The staff with a snake wrapped around it? That was the symbol she used.
The Moon was the Goddess who appeared at night, accompanied by the owl (white). What gender is the Moon in all the languages you know? Feminine. In Russian it is Luna (-a termination is feminine, research other languages). The color of death was white, like the owl and stone owl-like effigies were buried with the dead, with multiple waves engraved on the stone, these being evocative of the feathers but also of water, the symbol of eternal life and the place from where life appeared.
We are speaking of maybe five thousand years before the Christian era, we are speaking of numerous cultures around the world which were matriarchal, before a Big Change took place. The Moon Goddess gave way to the Sun (what gender is the Sun in your language?), and the Priestess was replaced by the Priest. The color representing death became black. The female cloak of darkness which swathed people and comforted them at night like a Mother became evil, something sinister, negative. For some reason. The Goddesses only know why.
And societies have highlighted the supremacy of the male since then. God is referred to as He and Him, masculine takes preference over feminine in grammar (he, she, it; in Russian он, она, оно, where н = n).
Why did Mary not have the right, even, to have a normal birth, as a woman? Why did it have to be the Holy Spirit to make her pregnant? Could she not celebrate her own sexual reproductive facilities? Why did Mary Magdalene, almost certainly the partner of Yeshua (Jesus) not have the right to be consecrated as his wife, or partner, and why was she relegated to the status of a prostitute?
Why was Eve the beginning of evil in the Garden of Eden? Why did she "betray" Adam and collude with the serpent (remember the serpent on the staff which disappeared)? Why was it Eve who ate the forbidden fruit? To justify fantasies of male domination and the right to beat a woman who starts misbehaving and steps out of line?
In modern times, the woman was considered too hysterical to form a logical opinion and was therefore denied the right to the vote until less than one century ago. Ηυστερικοσ (Hysterikos) in Greek, means "suffering in the womb", meaning in turn that a hysterical woman needed "a good (you-know)" to become calmer.
History of International Women's Day
International Women's Day started in the United States of America, and was launched by a declaration of the Socialist Party of America on February 28th, 1909 using as a basis the need to guarantee women's rights in an increasingly industrialized society and was taken up by the international community at the first International Women's Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1910. The horrific and inhumane conditions at the New York Triangle Shirtwaist factory which caused the deaths of 140 garment workers (mostly women) in 1911 provided an added impetus at a time when women were pressing for the right to vote and demonstrations in Russia prior to the 1917 Revolution were the first signs of women's emancipation in that country, culminating in the declaration by Lenin of a Women's Day on March 8th; in 1965 it was declared a public holiday by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet.
Why March 8th?
Women had been demonstrating for their rights since pre-Classical times (e.g. the sexual strike called by Lysistrata in Ancient Greece, the March on Versailles by Parisian woman calling for "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" in the 1790s). Copenhagen had chosen 19th March for the celebration of an International Women's Day but in 1913, Russian women chose the last Sunday in February (following the Declaration by the Socialist Party of America in 1909) as the date for their International Women's Day to call for peace on the eve of the First World War. As Springtime and local customs to give the first flowers to women combined, the end of Febuary/beginning of March began to be the time of year observed by the feminist movements, until in 1917, Russian women called a strike on the last Sunday of February to protest against the War (23d February) in the Julian Calendar; 8th March in the Gregorian.
It is a telling statement that after 100 years, we are still faced by glaring and shocking statistics regarding women, such as: Women own one per cent of the world's property, earn 10% of the world's income, yet perform 66% of the work, produce 50% of the food; Women have to work longer hours than men to receive the same income; there are 5,000 honor killings every year; women can be raped for studying if they are the wrong caste, over one hundred million women are living with the scars of female genital mutilation; 20 per cent of our women experienced sexual abuse when they were children.
What can we do?
Report gender violence, take part in initiatives launched to empower women and girls, practice policies of gender equality, make things easier for women to perform their role in society as full members, not as part-time workers while they are full-time housewives practicing "good housekeeping" policies such as having the husband's slippers ready for him in an outstretched arm with her spine curved into subservience after reading gossip columns on "How to look pretty". Another area of action is in confronting those who engage in everyday sexism, such as wolf-whistles, cat-calling, beeping a woman from a car as she is walking along the sidewalk, groping or touching without permission. In the Iberian Peninsula, in 2015, the "Piropo" or "male compliment to a woman" was criminalized.
The UN Women site has information on worldwide initiatives implemented across the globe with information on how men, as much as women, can get involved to create a civilized world with gender parity.
*Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey has worked as a correspondent, journalist, deputy editor, editor, chief editor, director, project manager, executive director, partner and owner of printed and online daily, weekly, monthly and yearly publications, TV stations and media groups printed, aired and distributed in Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Portugal, Mozambique and São Tomé and Principe Isles; the Russian Foreign Ministry publication Dialog and the Cuban Foreign Ministry Official Publications. He has spent the last two decades in humanitarian projects, connecting communities, working to document and catalog disappearing languages, cultures, traditions, working to network with the LGBT communities helping to set up shelters for abused or frightened victims and as Media Partner with UN Women, working to foster the UN Women project to fight against gender violence and to strive for an end to sexism, racism and homophobia. A Vegan, he is also a Media Partner of Humane Society International, fighting for animal rights. He is Director and Chief Editor of the Portuguese version of Pravda.Ru.
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