On March 8, we will celebrate International Women’s Day, which is both a celebration and lament. A celebration of how far as a society we have come towards equal rights for women, and a lament of how far there is to go both in Australia and globally.
It’s easy to let the statistics roll over you, but each number is a precious person negatively affected by inequality.
Globally, 87,000 women are killed every year just because they are a woman. 50,000 of these are killed by male partners or family members. Of course, our own shocking statistics around partner homicide are included in these numbers.
111 countries have no repercussions for husbands who rape their wives.
2.7 billion women are legally restricted from having the same job choice as men.
14% gender pay gap in Australia which is a contributing factor to older women finding themselves homeless. Of course, there are other factors involved in this gap, including all the unpaid labour that many women do in raising children.
45 countries do not have specific laws against domestic violence.
35% of women globally have experienced sexual or physical violence.
(Statistics from International Women’s Development Agency)
So, as a global society, we have a long way to go. It may be easy for us to think that in Australia we are doing OK. However, International Women’s Development Agency reminds us 'as long as one woman faces discrimination, harassment, inequality or oppression, we all do.’ Whilst this may be targeted towards women, I hope we can take this as a call to our common humanity. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, ‘My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.’
As men, it seems it is easy for us to forget the common humanity we share with women. Every time a woman is put down by a man; every time a woman is denied a job or an opportunity to speak because a man thinks he is better or has a divine right; every time a woman is intimidated into silence; every time a woman’s appearance is more important than the job she does; every time a woman is scared to walk home alone at night; every time a woman fears for her safety and that of her children; every time a woman is killed by an intimate partner; men have forgotten their common humanity with women.
If we are to play an active role in the creation of communities where everyone can flourish, then we need to recapture this sense of common humanity and work together to create places of safety for everyone and especially for those who have felt unsafe, whether emotionally or physically. I wonder what it would take to transform our neighbourhoods into places of welcome where people are greeted with genuine smiles? Where true hospitality, an embracing of difference, is offered and received, and through this, a sense of belonging grows. And in turn, new confidence emerges for those who previously felt they had no voice or contribution. Imagine what our communities could be like!
So where does this leave us? What is the call to action for International Women’s Day 2020? Firstly, to stop and remember our common humanity, our bond of connectedness with each other. Secondly, particularly for men, to reflect on where we might have perpetrated gender violence, from not truly listening and valuing what a woman shares with us, to our own participation in the abuse of women, domestic or otherwise. Once we become aware of these things, we may need to lament, or even make amends. Please don’t hear these things as condemnation, but instead, a plea for us men to become good men, to do our internal work so we can offer light and love to others. And that’s the third and last thing, look for opportunities to share our light and love with those around us, especially the amazing women in our lives.
On this International Women’s Day, let us truly celebrate our common humanity and the amazing things we can achieve together.