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Marking International Women's Day

8 March 2006

Today is International Women's Day; a "celebration of the economic, social, cultural and political achievements for women" around the world. A quick scan of international headlines reveals how the anniversary is being marked by individuals and institutions across continents from the now-annual men only rally in Dhaka, Bangladesh protesting acid violence against women to the release of Eurostat figures on women's involvement in the EU.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is delivering a keynote address at UNESCO headquarters and in Norway there is celebration over the landmark ruling to force companies to appoint women to 40% of board positions or face prosecution.

At the same time, the BBC reports that in Malaysia, the prime minister's daughter has claimed women "suffer apartheid" in her country, and in the US the South Dakota ruling on abortion has pushed the Roe vs Wade debate to the forefront once again.

In the openDemocracy office, some of us asked: why only one day? These are ongoing issues that should be continuously addressed, not confined to a single day's headlines. If so, should we even have an International Women's Day, or does it simply ghettoize women and gender awareness? Below, Alexandra Matine sets out her impressions.

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When I read in the newspaper this Wednesday was International Women Day, I turned to my 3 male flatmates and told them that on Wednesday, they should be even nicer to me than usual because it was a day of celebration of women around the world, of recognition of our potential and of our equality with men. One of them turned to me and said: “When is International Men’s Day?”, “everyday”, I replied.

Then it occurred to me that indeed, what other “International Days” have we added to our calendars in the past years? World AIDS Day, World Water Day, The World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, World Day for Safety and Health at Work, World Day of Peace, Universal Children's Day. The list is long.

A closer look reveals that these days aim to raise awareness towards the poor, the endangered, the weak. Do women fit in these categories? The recent political events around the globe certainly allow us to doubt women’s weakness: Michelle Bachelet, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Angela Merkel, Maria do Carmo Silveira, Luisa Diogo, Tarja Halonen, Helen Clark and Portia Simpson-Miller are good examples of women’s empowerment and their experiences brighten a feminine future darkened by companies’ policies on pregnancy or wages that let women wonder if they could ever be treated equally.

What’s the need of an IWD then? If women can be elected by the people as heads of state, doesn’t it mean that people around the world don’t question gender equality anymore?  

But if in some countries, women fight for gender equality, defend their rights to abortion and want to be the equal of men without having to reject their femininity in any way, in other countries, women do need the global awareness we promote for the sick, the children or the hungry.

Being a woman has always been despised since ancient times and in all parts of the world. Religion has prevented women from being proud of who they are, making them to be weak beings, naturally-born victims of the tyranny of men. Philosophers themselves, no matter how progressive their minds and ideas were, often complied to misogynist views; the most famous being Nietzsche who once said “Woman was God's second blunder”.

It can seem like the hardest part is done since society appears to be changing its views; and that stopping sex traffickers and banning abusive laws, is more a matter of international justice that can be solved by the international community than a matter of changing long-established mentalities. But a day like IWD is here to remind us that there’s still a long way to go and that not so long ago in the most developed regions of the world, women couldn’t wear trousers, publish books, vote or be recognised for their work. Even in my own country, France, women did not achieve the right to vote until 1945.

Women deserve their place among the abused and the weak just as much as they deserve their place next to men in society, everyday life, religion, and work. 

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