This is not just another day, it is a celebration of the work of millions of (wo)men, past and present, who have fought selflessly for gender rights
The right to equal pay, the right not to be the victim of sexual abuse, of harassment, the right to an equal employment opportunity, equal rights in education, healthcare, respect as full members of society, the guarantee of the inviolability of the person, the right to vote. All of these are basic human rights to be enjoyed fully by women and men alike.
Those who ignore basic human rights do not belong among us
Unfortunately, in many societies and in all social classes, not everybody respects these rights, considering the woman inferior to the man, the girl less worthy than the boy, perpetuating medieval mindsets about women being "hysterical" and therefore unable to form an opinion. Or vote. Despite the heroic fight taken up by countless women across the globe, we still do not enjoy full gender equality.
The revolting statistics
Women continue to be raped, beaten, attacked, excluded and silenced through violence or fear. One in every three women experience violence in their lifetime, this horrific statistic not excluding the very young or the elderly; every day 830 women die from an unwanted pregnancy; only twenty-five per cent of parliamentarians are women; the gender pay gap continues as a gaping hole of injustice; women are more likely to live in conditions of extreme poverty than men; 22 per cent of women receive less than two USD per day; over fifty per cent of women and girls in developing countries do not have access to clean water or sanitation facilities, or durable housing.
"A woman's place is in the kitchen"; "Women should be seen and not heard"; "I don't need a washing machine, I have one at home - my wife!"; "She needs a good screwing!"; "She's a witch, drown her!"; "She was raped, stone her!"; "She brought dishonor on this family, set fire to her!"; "You are a girl, you must work in the fields so your brothers can go to school"; "It is time for your excision, your clitoris must be removed so you will not feel sexual pleasure and play around otherwise you will never find a husband"; "You want to join this team? You aren't planning on starting a family, are you?".
15 per cent of women worldwide will be the victims of a completed rape; in Africa only 2 per cent of land is owned by women yet women are responsible for 70% of crop production; women own one per cent of the world's property; women earn ten per cent of the world's income; women perform 66 per cent of the world's work; women have to work longer hours than men to receive the same income.
Across the globe, a minimum of fifteen per cent and a high of seventy-one per cent of women and girls reported sexual violence perpetrated by a husband or partner; the number of women aged 15-44 who are murdered is higher than the number dying from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war; work for women proliferates in insecure jobs in the informal sector; in some countries 40 per cent of girls say their first sexual encounter was rape; every year there are 5,000 honor killings; 20 per cent of girls are sexually abused before they reach adulthood; in India 22 women are murdered each and every day in dowry murders.
In India, many of the 8,030 women murdered yearly in dowry killings are dowsed in gasoline and burnt alive, screaming as their husbands and in-laws look on, giggling; 80 per cent of the victims of human trafficking worldwide are women; between one hundred million and one hundred and forty million girls worldwide are the victims of female genital mutilation; three million girls every year have their clitoris removed; 60 million girls every year are forced to be child brides, many of whom are summarily raped, from the ages of seven, eight, nine upwards; 25 per cent of pregnant women experience rape or violence, such as being kicked or punched in the belly; in the European Union between 40 and 50 per cent of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, while in the USA up to 83% of girls have experienced some form of harassment in public schools. In southern Africa, newborn baby girls can be raped, minutes old, to provide protection against HIV/AIDS.
The statistics are disgusting, shocking, unacceptable and describe planet Earth in 2019, not a medieval slum or torture chamber, they cover all continents and countries, all societies and walks of life, all social groups. These statistics are a comment on all of us and an indictment on Humankind. The Me Too movement is the latest to appear as a counter-measure, a counter-movement in world of initiatives led by UN Women, which launches initiatives to foster gender equality and fights against gender violence. The fight was taken up in the past by heroic women who gave their lives for today's society. Let us take a look at the history book.
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 this 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 fertility rites and 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 (23rd February) in the Julian Calendar; 8th March in the Gregorian.
The history of gender inequality
The role of women through history: The power of symbolism
In pre-classical times, many societies were matriarchal, ruled by women, the practice of religion was controlled by women, the priestess/curer who used a symbol of authority, showing her power to cure the worst of all ills, the snake bite. 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). 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 the Vinca culture in Romania, we are speaking of numerous cultures around the world which were matriarchal, before something happened. 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. Darkness became evil, something sinister, negative. For some reason. The Goddesses only know why.
Societies, through religions as control mechanisms, 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).
What gender was Christ? Mohammed? Moses? David? Solomon? Buddha? What was the issue with Fatima and Ali in Islam? The Christian religion uses the precept of the Virgin Birth, denying Mary the right to conceive naturally through her husband, this right being usurped by the Holy Spirit. And 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? Why was it Eve who ate the forbidden fruit?
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", insinuating in turn that a hysterical woman needed "a good screw" to become calmer.
It is not surprising that such ridiculous notions had become policy under enlightened Governments, when the Scriptures themselves were full of references which place the masculine on top and the feminine underneath.
Maybe we do not need to question our religions, which by and large, set out reasonable benchmarks for codes of behavior and offer routes to Knowledge and Answers. Maybe we should entertain the notion that every man comes from a woman and that every man would naturally defend the honor of his mother. Therefore, why not defend the honor of the mothers of other (wo)men?
UN Women has a benchmark: to reach Planet 50-50 by the year 2030. This means an end to gender violence, this means gender equality across the board. This cannot be achieved only by women. To honor the sacrofices made by the heroes and heroines of the past, and to honor the good work being carried out by countless activists today, to honor the commitment of UN Women, get involved. Report gender violence. No it is NOT OK and it is NOT someone else's problem. Go to the UN Women website and find an initiative you can associate yourself with. Check out women's rights and gender abuse groups and see how you can help.
If we achieve gender equality, Planet 50-50 will bring us greater economic development, a more peaceful world, better healthcare and education systems, better response to humanitarian crises, a better and more sutainable ecological approach and far more importantly, an end to the suffering of millions upon millions of girls and women just because of their gender.
How can this be right in the Third Millennium of the Ciristian Era, the year 1440 in the Islamic Calendar, the year 5779 in the Jewish Calendar? Surely it is time for global values, meaning accountability and the obligation to follow basic practices and norms of decency. Let our failure to act on this be a collective epitaph for Humankind 2019.
Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey works in the area of teaching, consultancy, coaching, translation, revision of texts, copy-writing and journalism. Director and Chief Editor of the Portuguese version of Pravda.Ru since 2002, and now Co-Editor of the English version, he contributes regularly to several other publications in Portuguese and English. He has worked in the printed and online media, in daily, weekly, monthly and yearly magazines and newspapers. A firm believer in multilateralism as a political approach and multiculturalism as a means to bring people and peoples together, he is Official Media Partner of UN Women, fighting for gender equality and Media Partner with Humane Society International, promoting animal rights. His hobbies include sports, in which he takes a keen interest, traveling, networking to protect the rights of LGBTQI communities and victims of gender violence, and cataloging disappearing languages, cultures and traditions around the world. A keen cook, he enjoys trying out different cuisines and regards cooking and sharing as a means to understand cultures and bring people together.