International Women’s Day: How Far Have We Come?

In All by Cheryl Walker

2016 is a pivotal moment for women all over the world as the UN celebrates International Women’s Day. While strides have been made in recent history, we struggle to retain the ground we’ve gain.

As I write from the US, the Supreme Court hears the Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt case, where thankfully having three women justices on the court, has attempted to level the playing field. The case points to a larger issue in the US of local governments adjudicating the very bodily functions of women and impressing upon them a set of moral and ethical standards that should be left to the individual. On the case of abortion, there is an immense amount of misinformation floating about. The battlefield over information continues to heat up as Obama announced cutting abstinence-only sex education from the budget last month.

Beyond the reinterrogation of sex education and abortion policy in the US, there have been some incredible leaps and bounds in social enterprises that are attempting to address the ways women deal with their periods around the world. Media has recently been circulating the story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, who created a machine that makes pads cheaply after he noticed his wife using old rags because she couldn’t afford pads. He has refused to sell his machine to corporations, noting that the whole point of his creation is to keep pads accessible to poorer women. Another product revolutionizing the feminine hygiene market is THINX panties, made by Miki Agrawal. These promise to be sustainable for the environment and the budget, and could be a game changer for young girls who often have a hard time attending school while menstruating.

But the conversations about women don’t have to stop at periods, abortion and sex. Beyond these undoubtedly important topics is a deep sense of empowerment in a world that is hellbent on keeping power dormant in women. We look to the future as we consider what educating young girls can do. The past year has seen rise to strong voices, like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists, which has had such a profound impact that all 16-year-old Swedish girls will receive a copy of her work.

Where we must go from here is a deep interrogation of the ways policies affect women. How do broader policies affect the female population? For example, how do policies regarding homelessness, in the US affect women who may not be veterans and may not have children? How do our educational structures help or hinder women’s empowerment? How can we recontextualize labor policies that actually recognize the majority of unpaid workers as women? How do we understand that “women” includes marginalized groups like trans women?

Social movements have been at the heart of pushing policies along. In Argentina, protesters are combating trafficking and advocating for sex work to be decriminalized. Issues regarding sexual assault and harassment in universities are also the subject of campaigns around the world. Women are advocating for active involvement in the political process. There are countless efforts around the world to address the myriad issues facing women globally.

At the heart of these issues is the recognition of who is involved in policies, who benefits from them, and why structures require scrutiny in order to consider their impact on real lives. We are indeed at a pivotal point in our history, but a hopeful one too. As we continue to push forward, we should be mindful of doing so collectively with an ear for intersectionality and an understanding that a better world for women is ultimately a better world period.

A few tidbits for further reading: