Let's Not Allow Men to Hijack International Women's Day Anymore
It is high time women took back this day.
For times immemorial, any female uprising against their oppression has seen attempts to crush them. Some of these attempts were more visible, like arresting the Suffragettes for pamphleting. Others, more subtle, such as legislating to stop women gathering or deny them political representation. In socialist circles, when people talk about revolution, it’s common for women to hear from their male comrades that, when we win against the ruling classes, we will be able to fight for women’s rights. Or, even more naively, that women’s rights will come “automatically.”
Since its creation, International Women’s Day could be considered a ruse. In the 1990s Brazil, when I was a young adult, March 8 was a day when women would walk down the streets, and shop staff would be on the pavements, distributing little pink bags with goodies: make up, vouchers for waxing or a hairdo, bookmarks, flowers and a “happy women’s day” message of some sort. It was barely to celebrate women’s achievements, and mostly to keep imposing impossible beauty standards by placing our worth in our looks. There hadn’t been a structured women’s rights movement in Brazil up to that point, which could also be said about the next decades.
At some point, 20-odd years ago, this changed. Women started saying that International Women’s Day was a day for fighting. This baffled me, because I grew up under the impression that women had already achieved equality. We could vote, wear trousers, divorce… However, other women saw it differently. They said that they didn’t want just flowers. They asked for equal opportunities, the end of male violence against them, political and economical independence, and bodily autonomy. This caught the attention of the country's political parties, where women’s groups were created to plan IWD gatherings and marches. After the MeToo movement, Brazilian women even started raising their voices with their own slogan: “My First Sexual Abuse.”
But this took another turn later. When the political organizations pitched in, IWD became almost meaningless again... For over a decade now, female members of political parties taking part in the organization of March 8 demonstrations, have had similar complaints: they couldn’t use slogans about women’s struggles. Every year, women organizers complain how difficult it is to include demands for abortion rights, affordable childcare, against obstetric violence, domestic violence, in a manifesto supposedly about women’s struggles.
Instead, they’re always forced to “fight against poverty/corruption,” the establishment, to save our health system, create more jobs, or save the environment.
Such a dilution of women’s demands does not only apply to Brazil. On February 22, 2022, while Pakistani women were preparing their March 8 protests, they learned that their government intends to completely obliterate the day with the plan to make March 8 International Hijab Day. Mandatory veiling has been highly criticized by many women’s rights activists and in many countries, women have been executed, beaten or arrested for removing their veils.
Developed countries have had their fair share of female erasure on International Women’s Day as well. In the last five years or so, on March 8, men who are claiming that they have a “female identity” have been demanding to be included and celebrated on IWD. Human rights organizations like Amnesty International and United Nations Women all seem to agree that these men are more vulnerable than women and girls.
“Fight for men, too. Don’t be a men-hater. Men's rights are human rights. There are more issues than “only” women’s rights. What about men? We’ll fight for your rights when we win the revolution.” When men in power insist that their own demands be included in the fight for women’s rights, International Women’s Day becomes meaningless.
It is high time women took back this day. Let’s make it worthwhile again by raising and amplifying women’s voices and women’s struggles. Don’t let this day be hijacked anymore by men’s agendas. Women are half of the world, and there are real struggles we deal with on a daily basis.
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