March 8 marked the annual celebration of International Women’s Day. More than a hundred years ago, feminist movements emerged all over the globe, with 1911 being the first year to bring more than one million people together. The motivation behind this tradition is rooted in the deep gender inequality that was prominent in the harsh reality of twentieth-century life.
Women demanded political equality, specifically the right to vote, and stood up against sex-based discrimination. In the UK, the Suffragette movement was of significant impact for the women’s rights community. It was popularised in modern media, and through films such as Mary Poppins, which quite famously featured the “Sister Suffragette” song, the issue reached a larger audience. However, lines such a “though we adore men individually / we agree that as a group they’re rather stupid!” are indicative of criticisms commonly levelled against feminists. After being accused of wanting to suppress men, feminists were, once again, in the position of having to defend their aims.
Today, women do have the right to vote and gender diversity seems more present than ever before. So what is the sense in being a feminist, you may ask? Hasn’t everything that was campaigned for such a long time been successfully achieved? No, it has not. According to the Gender Inequality Index numbers of 2017, the UK is still amongst one of the EU countries to have made the least improvement when it comes to gender inequality. Only a quarter of women are represented in leadership positions and this stagnation proves that there is always more room for improvement.
Feminist activism is not about suppressing men in order to make women stand out. 8 March merely serves as a celebratory day to highlight women’s achievements, whether they are of political, economic, or cultural nature. For the last couple of years, International Women’s Day has had an annual aim and this year’s campaign theme, #BalanceforBetter, advocates fora more gender balanced world. This is not just this year’s pressing issue, but has been on the minds of activists for an extended period of time.
Five years ago, Emma Watson delivered a speech on gender equality at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. “It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum [and] not as two opposing sets of ideals,” she emphasized. This statement sets the unjustified accusations feminists have to face straight: feminism and the existence of International Women’s Day do not aim to value women above men; the activism is still about achieving equal rights — in every aspect of life.
This past Thursday, 7 March, a poetry slam was organised by LitSoc and Edinburgh Global Partnerships in order to support a female empowerment project in Zambia. Even though the event has already passed, you can still help them reach their goal of raising £9,000 to help the local community in Zambia.
Whether you marched along on the Edinburgh International Women’s Day March last Friday or not, the one thing you can take away from this article is that empowerment does not stop after International Women’s Day has passed: it’s the whole year of 2019 that aims to achieve #BalanceforBetter.
Image: Hannah Robinson