In our current political turmoil, I wonder if we even have time to think of March 8, International Women’s Day.
Today is the 45th anniversary since the UN began celebrating this day. But it all began in Soviet Russia on that day in 1917 when women gained the right to vote. Fifty years later, the date was captured by the feminist movement.
Yet a recently released UNDP 2020 Human Development Perspectives (March 5), Tackling Social Norms – a game changer for gender inequalities contains some appalling news.
It shows that nearly 90% of men and women hold some sort of bias against women in areas such as politics, economics, education, intimate partner violence and women’s reproductive rights.
In other words, the oppression of women by men and women alike, is as pervasive and chronic as ever. Just what do we celebrate? What difference has women’s right to vote made?
We pass laws but then we fail to enforce them.
Intimate partner violence is a monstrous problem in our region. About 25% of women report sexual violence and some 30% experience physical violence. Worse, more than 5% of women experience violence during pregnancy.
How serious are we about addressing these matters?
This year is the 25th anniversary since we passed the law that made access to abortion more broadly legal. But what advances have we really made?
How enthusiastically has the Ministry of Health, our public hospitals or the professional medical and nursing bodies acted to educate and serve the public?
The truth seems to be another source of pain.
The law permits for mid-level health personnel to perform non-surgical abortions. The ministry disagreed with this view. We went to court and won.
Even with that clarification, midwives, nurses and pharmacists have done precious little. In practice, abortion providers remain sadly restricted to doctors, predominantly men. Again, women lose.
Although the law makes explicit provision for minors to have access without the burden of parental consent, the training manual at the GPHC specifically instructs doctors to seek parental consent.
That is unlawful.
Our problem is not the law, but with ourselves – the values we hold, our prejudices and our biases, conscious and unconscious. We accommodate domestic violence and we stigmatise abortion.
Men’s need for power and control prevent the advance of equity and fairness for women.
We should aim to celebrate women – our mothers, sisters, wives and daughters – not just on March 8, but every day in the year.