International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 8. While its existence has done much to raise awareness for gender equality, the fact that an international day for women exists proves the issue still exists.
In the settlements around the north Indian city of Meerut, small groups of women from traditionally poor castes have broken from tradition and searched for work outside of their villages.
Despite their best efforts and frequent attempts to involve municipal and state authorities, these women have been ostracized merely on account of their sex. In addition, they are often violently forced to give up their jobs. Dr. K. Srinath Reddy of the Public Health Foundation of India noted although Indian women are gaining representation in a variety of fields, they still live within a deeply patriarchal society that condones violence against women.
Perhaps this is not news. The western world is used to hearing a lot about other nations who fall short of industrialized standards, and very little about their advancements and successes. Nollywood (Nigeria’s booming film industry) actress Stephanie Okereke Linus wrote, directed and starred in Dry, a depiction of a young girl living with a fistula, an injury resulting from genital and anal mutilation, and the doctor who treats her.
Meanwhile in the United States, a girl under the age of 18 may be married with parental or judicial consent, but no state currently has any legal measures in place to ensure that the child has not been coerced. National Public Radio (NPR) reported in their #15Girls series that 3,499 children (their sex was not recorded) got married between 1995 and 2012 in the state of New Jersey alone.
To say that the role of women in the 21st century is simply “better” is a simplification. Countess Matilda of Tuscany, living in the 12th century, used her keen military sense to maintain a firm hold on her extensive landholdings. One may point back to the medieval period and remark how few heiresses managed to ascend to the heights of Matilda of Tuscany or the more famous Eleanor of Aquitaine, or argue that the above statistics show how child marriage is falling out of favor. Yes, we have made advances. Our species is indeed inching closer to equality.
However, we cannot assume that gains for women’s rights —which are simply human rights — will automatically accumulate as time marches on, or that developed nations have a monopoly on progress.
We need the current discussion happening inside the United Nations and within two-minute talk show segments to flood our daily collective consciousness, unless we are willing to let these challenges fester for another 900 years.