Saturday, March 08, 2008

International Women's Day

March 8 is International Women's Day.

International Women's Day Website

It began in 1908, when 15,000 women in New York City marched in a protest to demand shorter hours, better pay, and voting rights. By 1910, at a Socialist International meeting in Copenhagen, International Women's Day was proposed, as a way to assist in achieving universal suffrage for women. It was a meeting of 100 women from 17 countries. It was a beginning.
By 1911, more than one million women and men attended IWD events and rallies in various western European countries, campaigning for women's rights to work, vote, be trained, hold public office, and more.

To read more about the history of International Women's Day, check out the the IWD timeline on the IWD site.
Or the fairly good Wikipedia article.

Some other interesting links:

Timeline of Women's Suffrage

History of Women's Suffrage in Canada

The Famous Five

While we highly educated 20-somethings or 30-somethings, of privileged economic background, in middle class, suburban Canada may have suffrage, the right to work, relative safety in our workplace, and at least some institutionalized support if we face violence in our homes (though it can never be enough), we are the few. And we can't sit back and feel satisfied that our work is done. In Canada, 51% of women have been assaulted in some way. In Nova Scotia, 1 in 12 women is abused by someone with whom she is intimate - a partner, husband, or boyfriend. Gender-based violence is rampant. A study in the USA found that 83% of girls in grades 8-11 in public schools reported having experienced some form of sexual harassment.

This week, Amnesty International came out with a report on girl's access to safe education throughout the world, and a petition for safe schools for girls.

The report includes shocking statistics, including the one above, and this:

"In a survey of girls in Zimbabwean junior secondary schools, 50 percent of girls reported unsolicited sexual contact on the way to school by strangers,and 92 percent of girls reported being propositioned by older men."

and this:

"According to a 2006 study of schoolgirls in Malawi, 50 per cent of the girls said they had been touched in a sexual manner “without permission, by either their teachers or fellow schoolboys”.

and this:

"According to Tanzania’s Minister for Education and Vocational Training, Margaret Sitta, more than 14,000 primary and secondary schoolgirls were expelled from schools between 2003 and 2006 because they were pregnant. She cited poverty as a factor pushing girls into the hands of unscrupulous men, as well as rape, lack of proper parenting, early marriages and distance from school as causes".

"My teacher last year scared me because he put pressure on me to have sexual relations with him.... When I told my parents, they didn’t do anything against the teacher. They didn’t even tell the principal. They are scared of teachers. They think they are inferior to teachers. Now I am scared at school, and I miss class often".
A student in Benin (quoted in B. Wilbe, “Making School Safe for Girls: Combating Gender-Based Violence in Benin”)

Attacks on women are, increasingly, being used as a weapon of war in armed conflicts. The rape of women and girls as a means of tearing apart a community, and of dehumanizing its people.
This must be stopped.

The conflict in Darfur has led to massive human rights violations. Women have been deliberately targeted by all parties to the conflict, and thousands of women and girls have been raped by members of militias and armed groups. Countless others have been abducted, forced into sexual slavery, tortured, and forcibly displaced. Women and girls are at risk while fleeing the conflict, and have been victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence during their flight.
This must be stopped.

In Canada and the USA, Indigenous women face gender and race based violence at every turn. "For Indigenous women, gender-based violence is shaped not only by gender discrimination within Indigenous and non-Indigenous arenas, but by a context of ongoing colonization and militarism, racism and social exclusion; and poverty-inducing economic and “development” policies. While stopping or decreasing the impact of (these practices)… will help reduce Indigenous women’s risk of …violence, the single greatest risk factor for gender-based violence is the systematic violation of their collective rights [eg. rights to maintain and pass on to future generations Indigenous languages and traditions and the recognition of traditional and collective rights in lands, territory and resources.].” Mairin Iwanka Raya
This must be stopped.

In Burundi, between 2004 and 2006, an average of 1,346 women a year reported cases of rape to Médecins sans Frontières (MSF). However, these statistics only represent the tip of the ice-berg. Information provided by the media, human rights and health organizations only include those women who are able to reach medical or counselling centres. Countless others suffer in silence.
This must be stopped.

1 million children in Canada have witnessed violence against their mothers.

1 in 3 women worldwide is a victim of beating, rape, torture, or attack.

Yet the beauty of International Women's Day is that, even amidst all this horror, there is beautiful solidarity and support that is possible.

Grandmothers from Canada have travelled to Swaziland to march with the incredible African grandmothers who have taken on the task of raising the entire generation of AIDS orphans on that continent. This is part of a special educational and solidarity-building visit to grandmother support projects funded by the Stephen Lewis Foundation (SLF) in Uganda, South Africa and Swaziland. The grandmothers return to Canada on March 11 to begin a year of public speaking and community outreach to increase support for Africa’s grandmothers and the children in their care.

Whether you march, write letters, sign petitions, support your local women's shelter, support the Stephen Lewis Foundation, support Médecins sans Frontières, the Red Cross, Amnesty International, or any of the other organizations working to improve the lives of women. Whether you teach your son to live in a non-violent way, and to respect the equality of his sisters and women everywhere. Whatever you do, it is something. It is a step forward. And each step has brought us a long, long way in the last 100 years. Let us hope and work to ensure that it does not take another 100 years to bring and end of to all of the travesties mentioned here, and missed here.

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