Monday 8 March marks International Women’s Day, with this year’s theme being ‘Choose to Challenge’.
The day has existed across the world in some form for over a hundred years, with every year since 1996 having a different theme.
Its main aims, according to the official website, are “to celebrate achievements; raise awareness about women’s equality; lobby for accelerated gender parity and fundraise for female-focused charities”.
The International Women’s Day organisation states that “a challenged world is an alert world” and calls for people to decide to take responsibility in “choos[ing] to challenge” gender bias and inequality.
Encouraging statistics have been released this week demonstrating that a third of board positions in the UK’s 350 top listed companies are currently held by women, a 50 per cent rise in the past five years.
There is also good news for women’s health, as women may soon be able to use ‘at-home’ smear tests, hopefully encouraging more women to take part in regular screening for HPV related illnesses.
Yet despite the positives, the past year has been challenging for women globally, as the pandemic has been linked to a rise in issues surrounding gendered violence and inequality.
The United Nations found extensive disruption to women’s education, with two thirds of young women not currently in education, employment or training.
They state that “evidence from past epidemics shows that adolescent girls are at particular risk of dropping out and not returning to school, even after the crisis is over.”
Moreover, school closures and stretched healthcare systems have increased the burden of unpaid work.
The UN suggests this has particularly affected “essential workers and lone mothers”, while “discriminatory social norms are likely to increase the unpaid work-load of COVID-19 on girls and adolescent girls, especially those living in poverty or in rural, isolated locations.”
The University of Edinburgh Feminist Society recently held a panel on domestic abuse, finding a 20 per cent global rise in recorded cases.
Compared with the same period in 2019, the UK saw a seven per cent rise from March to June.
Edinburgh itself saw a 55 per cent increase in calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, with calls 80 per cent higher in June alone.
The Student approached the society to ask how they are engaging with International Women’s Day this year.
Part of their events include a fundraiser for the charity Saheliya, which helps BAME victims of domestic abuse.
Their panel welcomed a speaker from the charity, including in their discussion how “minority ethnic communities experience the impact of violence differently.”
They noted that women of these communities often have limited English skills, making it difficult to get the essential help and support, while ‘divorce taboo’ in some cultures can cause difficulties in escaping abusive husbands.
With the pandemic causing many International Women’s Day events to move online, The Student asked the society how they have been affected by this transition.
They believe that “it’s so important during these isolating times that we create connections and show solidarity” and have organised “a range of dynamic events and projects, showcasing feminism at its finest”, as well as a number of “collaborations to make this IWD even more meaningful.”
“We are also part of the International Women’s Festival collaboration with the Students’ Association Women’s Officer, Lucy Da Costa and Edinburgh RAG” and will be hosting a range of collaborative events in the second week of March.
The Society stated that running during lockdown has posed challenges, but they are determined to ensure they continue to provide diverse sources of support and education.
“The lockdown has put up so many barriers to activist movements, making it much harder to get people engaged and motivated, but it’s vital that we continue to provide support networks for those left behind in this crisis, so we just need to be more creative in solutions to these problems.”
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