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Supriya Dwivedi

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Is International Women's Day an International Joke?

Posted: 03/08/2013 5:16 pm

Today is International Women's Day, and although you might notice the requisite "Let's Empower Women and Girls" op-ed on your social media news feeds, the truth is that this day is more or less a farce. It's a day where society can say they have talked about "women's" issues for a day in order to make themselves feel like they have contributed to the betterment of humanity.

Note the use of quotations. That's because I'm systematically flabbergasted as to how certain facts are perceived to be solely a women's rights issue and not a human rights issue. If any other race, religious organization, or linguistic group were treated in the same manner as women are worldwide the entire planet would be up in arms.

But the fact remains that 48 women are raped every hour in the Congo, global estimates predict that women aged 15-44 are more at risk for rape or domestic violence than from cancer, malaria and car accidents combined, 140 million women and girls have been subject to the barbaric cultural ritual of female genital mutilation, and millions of girls are missing in India due to a societal preference for sons.

There is always the inevitable ensuing commentary from men's rights groups, douchebags and the women who date them, and old white man opinion writers who manage to ask the inane question of why there is no international men's day. (For the record, I suspect these are the very same people who ask why there is no white history month.)

This past year was the year that the President of the United States had to go on television to explain that "Rape is rape," where we all learned what a trans-vaginal ultrasound was, and whereby the Canadian political discourse was hijacked by backbench Conservative MPs in their incessant mission to shove the abortion debate down the public's throat.

Growing up, feminism was never an issue that my mother discussed with me. Its teachings were simply ubiquitous. Whether she was telling me that the archaic notion of women being subservient to men in our South Asian culture was something that I was never expected to adhere to or that I should always speak up if I have an opinion. Feminism's fundamental tenant, gender equality, was omnipresent in my household.

Looking back, I think that is one of the greatest gifts my mother could have imparted unto me. In making the notion of feminism and its values all-pervading I never fell victim into believing any of the negative connotations associated with the dreaded F-word. As an adult, when I tell people I am a feminist I am often met with varying degrees of incredulity and disgust. I suppose this is because the political right did such a good job of vilifying the women's movement that now the mainstream media feels the need to precede the word feminist with militant.

The civil rights movement would have never have happened had Dr. King said, "Well, I sort of have a dream...I think. I guess we should be judged by the content of our character. But maybe it's OK if we all just strive for almost equal. You know, same same but different."

Perhaps it's time we stop allowing for this kind of logical fallacy when it comes to gender parity. Maybe then International Women's Day will be treated with the respect it deserves instead of being the joke that it is. Well, maybe not a joke in the same way that Daniel Tosh tells a good ol' fashioned rape joke. Violent, forced vaginal penetration. Super hilarious, bro.

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  • Child Marriage

    <strong>Of note</strong>: The countries in which underage marriage is common and encouraged include India, Turkey, and Panama, among many others. Marriage under the age of 18 has been correlated with <a href="http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/341/facts.html" target="_hplink">higher rates of dying young, health problems, living in poverty and illiteracy</a>.

  • Female Genital Cutting

    <strong>Of note</strong>: While the majority of countries scarcely engage in this practice, the countries where more than half of the women have their genitals cut include Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Egypt.

  • Son Preference And Sex Ratios

    <b>Of note</b>: Canada, Colombia and Chile, along with other countries, have notably higher rates of abnormal sex ratios, which has been shown to correlate with <a href="http://www.mendeley.com/research/abnormal-sex-ratios-in-human-populations-causes-and-consequences/" target="_hplink">sex-selective abortions and discrimination in care for girls</a>.

  • Women's Physical Security

    <b>Of note</b>: The countries in which women lack physical security -- which is defined as fewer laws against domestic violence, rape, and marital rape, their enforcement, the taboos or norms about reporting the crimes and existence of 'honour killings' -- include Cambodia, Morocco and Peru, among many others in Africa and the Middle East.

  • Trafficking Of Females

    <b>Of note</b>: The countries in which trafficking is not illegal and commonly practiced include Myanmar, Venezuela and North Korea. Studies have found that <a href="http://www.popcenter.org/problems/trafficked_women/" target="_hplink">70 per cent of trafficked women end up in the sex trade</a>.

  • Maternal Mortality

    <b>Of note</b>: Maternal mortality rate is linked with the general health of a society, as <a href="http://consultation.dfid.gov.uk/maternalhealth2010/why-is-maternal-and-reproductive-health-important/" target="_hplink">a lower rate positively affects families and economy</a>. The countries that have more than 300 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births include almost all of central Africa, Pakistan and Bolivia.

  • Discrepancy In Education

    <b>Of note</b>: The countries in which there is a greater than 20 per cent difference between male and female education, as well 'significant' legal and cultural restrictions to it, include Afghanistan, Somalia and Haiti.<br> <a href="http://www.right-to-education.org/node/187" target="_hplink">Educating women has been shown to help improve health, poverty and create equality</a> between men and women.

  • Government Participation

    <b>Of note</b>: The countries in which 0 to 10 per cent of parliament is composed of women include China, Japan and Brazil (despite their female president). A 2010 study by Deloitte emphasized<a href="http://www.deloitte.com/pathstopower" target="_hplink"> the importance of women in government in order to foster equality</a>. They found that a critical mass of one-third of women in government can help societies move beyond 'gender-centric issues.'

  • Discrepant Government Behaviour

    <b>Of note</b>: The countries in which there is virtually no enforcement of laws concerning the <a href="http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/cedaw.htm" target="_hplink">Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women</a> include Iran, Papua New Guinea, and Eritrea, despite the <a href="http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-8&chapter=4&lang=en" target="_hplink">latter two countries' accession to the convention in 1995</a>.


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