An ear infection got in the way of me being able to make this post as good as I hoped for it to be. Take what’s here and learn from it though. There is so much more to this issue.
March 8 is International Women’s Day. The international theme for this year is “Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum.” So what is the Gender Agenda and who sets it?
International Women’s Day is not some holiday of bra-burning extremist-feminists. Besides the fact that bra-burning is generally a myth, let’s be honest: most feminists I know still wear bras…except for the ones who are men. Women’s Day is just a day for people (men, women, the transgendered, everyone!) to appreciate women and re-rally in the march towards gender equity.
Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank released a statement for International Women’s Day identifying three priorities for a global agenda on women’s advancement:
- Ensure that women have the basic freedoms they deserve.
- Enforce laws that jail rapists and those who abuse women.
- Significantly increase women’s political voice.
These are global issues and also come off as daunting goals to the common individual. If this is the Gender Agenda, how am I supposed to do anything to help? These three priorities require a lot of other steps to be accomplished and also are just priorities. They are just steps on the path of progress. These three steps, however, are some of the most important on the path to progress that can be taken. When women universally have civic agency, a lot can be accomplished and a lot will have already been accomplished.
The reality is that the Gender Agenda is far more complex than these three steps. For one, the real Agenda has to include not only women’s position in the civic sphere, but also their position in social spheres, family spheres, and economic spheres. It has to go also beyond women to see that men’s position changes as well. This is not a zero-sum game. Improvements for women do not mean declines for men. Men and women have to adapt together. Also important, and unfortunately often forgotten, is the position of LGBT-Q individuals. Many cultures don’t even consider LGBT-Q positions in political dialogue. Others consciously and deliberately suppress LGBT-Q positions.
The Gender Agenda needs to be about development and equity. In addition to these points about enabling voice, freedoms, franchise, and protection, individuals and organizations also need to do the “little” things.
Under normal circumstances, I would bore everyone with some developmental data and charts about the state of gender worldwide. Since I’m already late with this post, I won’t take that time. Also, the discussion from that would not be fruitful since it doesn’t cover all the parts of the gender agenda. But to throw some facts out there, people should know these things:
- Maternal mortality is decreasing in all nations around the world except one: The United States. This is extremely concerning for such a developed nation and shows a major flaw in the healthcare system.
- Primary and secondary schooling for both sexes is of the utmost importance. In these schools, gender studies should begin to be taught for people better to understand and respect people of different genders or sex. Violence towards women and homosexuals persists around the world.
- Alcoholism among men around the world is a serious issue and often overlooked. Pressures of expectations of masculinity and a misguided understanding of “independence” might be big causes for this. This alcoholism severely affects families and leaves many women essentially widowed and left to work multiple jobs to support their families and their husbands’ habit.
- The double-burden of homemaking and labor market work needs to be better shared by men in two-earner families.
These are just a few points that come to mind at the moment, and they only scratch the surface.
The Rant and a Rally Call
As much as some might hope for it, it doesn’t appear the College of Cardinals has chosen to celebrate Women’s Day this year by changing the rules and electing a female pope. Nor will this day mean that when millions of women pick up their paycheck this Friday that a bonus will be included compensating them for years of pay discrimination. Progress is going to have to come one step at a time, but that doesn’t mean some steps can’t be faster than others. It also doesn’t mean that Muslim women in many nations will be allowed to go to noon prayer at their local Mosque today. It doesn’t mean that female circumcision will stop from tomorrow. It doesn’t mean that sex trafficking will stop or even take the day off on Sunday. It doesn’t mean that high schoolers across the world will stop referring to males they believe inferior as “faggot” or “pussy.” It doesn’t mean that next week we will stop calling women who go for their goals “sluts” and “bitches” while we congratulate men who do the same. It doesn’t mean that every nation in the world will recognize homosexual unions as equally valid to heterosexual ones. It also doesn’t mean that tomorrow it will suddenly be okay for grown men to cry or that they will no longer feel pressured to be the “sole provider and protector” of their kin. This day will not mean that suddenly clean public toilets open up for women around the world or that young women will feel safe to travel alone on public transit. It doesn’t mean we are going to reconsider giving our daughter’s dolls and our sons Tonka Trucks for their first toys. It doesn’t mean that tomorrow I won’t be given dozens of subtle privileges just because I have a Y-chromosome.
What this day DOES mean is that we can take time to look at gender from different lenses and understand the need to change our cultures. We can change some issues through public policy: legislating away the wage gap, creating “family friendly” labor policies, requiring gender studies in schools etc. However, change has to come in the way we choose to educate our children about gender and sex. We need to teach them in a way that respects all individuals and encourages the celebration of difference in gender, not subjugation based on these differences. This has to be a discussion that happens EVERY DAY, not just once a year.
From here on out, stop thinking of March 8 as International Women’s Day and start thinking of every day as International Gender Equity Day. The Gender Agenda doesn’t stop being relevant on March 9.