• Sat. Jun 22nd, 2024

What are we facing in 2023?

ByPatricia Kohring

Mar 12, 2023
Women's march in Chicago 2018

This week’s publication is undoubtedly a celebration of women’s contribution to society, both throughout history and today. However, the edition should also remind us of the continued emphasis we must place on gender issues. Despite the immense progress we have seen in women’s rights over the last century, gender equality must not be taken for granted either in the UK or globally. 

According to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (or UN Women), we are off track regarding the fifth Sustainable Development Goal, the objective concerning gender equality. This means that the overall realisation of the UN’s 2030 Agenda is being delayed since SDGs cannot be achieved without gender equality. In an opening statement to the First Regular Session of the Executive Board in 2023, Sima Bahous, Executive Director of UN Women, announced their estimate that “equality on the current trajectory is 300 years away”. If you find this prediction shocking, good. It should be.

In this article, I hope to bring to light some of the challenges we are facing in 2023 and should continue engaging with going forward. 

When we consider progress in gender reform, we must not forget the wake-up call our world received two years ago. Since the Taliban swept back into power, women in Afghanistan have been deprived of every right we understand to be inherent to gender equality. The ruling party in Kabul are committing humanitarian violations on a mass scale, and women are suffering most immensely in the withdrawal of their rights to freedom, including (but not limited to) restrictions on employment, education, public interactions and access to justice. 

Though there are, of course, bounds to what we ‘can do’, we should not disengage in these issues and, in doing so, be complicit in silencing female voices in Afghanistan.

Equally urgent is the situation in Iran. Over the last year, Iranian women have faced severe persecution for protesting against hijabs. On September 16 2022, Mahsa Amini was killed in custody following police brutality. Right now, investigations are ongoing regarding the recent poisoning of dozens of Iranian schoolgirls. The Iranian parliament’s health commission confirmed that the poisonings were intentional, and there are increasing speculations that these instances of ‘biological terrorism’ were in retaliation to the ongoing hijab protests. 

Iranian human rights activist, Masih Alinejad, appeals to “women across the globe- especially schoolgirls” to “call on leaders of democratic countries to condemn this series of poisonings” and to ensure that we continue strengthening our recognition, accountability and protection of women’s rights on a global scale.

Climate change is my next point of departure. Historically, climate scientists have failed to recognise the link between social inequality and climate change. In her 2018 essay, Johanna Oksala notes that the “historical and conceptual association between women and nature is understood to be politically significant because it has formed an important justification for patriarchal domination” and that “the feminization of nature and the naturalization of women are two aspects of a single historical process that has functioned as an ideological requisite for women’s and nature’s ensuing subordination.”

As we begin to understand the complex interconnections between social, economic and ecological regimes, we must enter more informed discussions about the disparate impacts of climate change and its relation to women’s empowerment as well as effective global climate action. Because of the disproportionate impact women experience of climate change, structural change needs to work towards equality of all kinds. Diversification of the hegemonic, gendered lens must be demanded to gain a holistic approach to environmental policies and programmes.

Another imperative issue is the erosion of our reproductive rights. The significance of the US Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade last summer cannot be undermined. Women’s rights to choose to have an abortion are no longer constitutionally protected in the US. This February, it was reported that Americans could face additional limitations with the potential reversing of federal approval of ‘mifepristone’, a drug which, according to the Guttmacher Institute of sexual health and reproductive rights, aids in more than half of pregnancy termination nationwide. Though little media coverage on the topic in the last week might suggest a low risk of such an outcome, we should be wary of disregarding its potential.

Finally, we must look up to female leaders today who do invaluable work in their positions and towards social equality in general. It’s disheartening to see women like Jacinda Ardern critiqued for stepping down as PM due to occupational burnout or to hear expressions of disappointment regarding Serena Williams’s retirement, which she chose in order to expand her family. Let’s not judge women for the personal decisions they make. Rather, let’s celebrate their strengths while realising the challenges we still face in 2023.

On that note, I’ll leave you with the rest of this fantastic edition. Student voices are as valuable as ever in addressing issues of gender equality, so if you have a few minutes to spare, exert your attentive energies accordingly.

Image Credit: “women’s march Chicago 2018” by Candid Characters is licenced under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 .