by Keava O’Loan
“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist, nor to any one organization, but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”
Last year, a campaign called Women Against Feminism gathered steam. It was originally set up in July 2013 by women who rejected the label of ‘feminist’. These women would upload a selfie to Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, or other social media platforms where they held up a sign beginning with ‘I don’t need feminism because…’, followed by their reason. Some of these included: ‘because only the weak-minded buy into cults’, ‘because I’m not a man-hater’, ‘because I already have the same rights as men’. It seems that when the cause needs support more than ever, more and more people are rejecting feminism; reluctant to identify themselves with the movement. It is so easy for people in the Western world to argue that because women in our societies now have the vote/can go to university and obtain a degree/do not need to quit their job as soon as they marry, that we now have equality. Unfortunately, this isn’t true. Not even close.
Think of the last time you walked home alone; maybe late at night or through a secluded area. Were you constantly looking over your shoulder, listening out for footsteps? Did you cross the road if there was a man walking towards you? Were you on the phone to make sure someone knew exactly where you were, and so they could hear if something happened to you? Did you have your keys clutched in your fist, ready to use them in self defence if someone attacked you? If you are female, you probably answered yes to at least one of these questions.
Gender based violence is ranked as the top public health crisis for women today. Females aged between 15 and 45 are more likely to be maimed or killed as a result of male violence than they are from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. In fact, more girls have been killed worldwide in the past fifty years, simply because of their gender, than men were killed in every war during the twentieth century.
Gender based violence can take many forms, and unfortunately, there seems to be no limit to the ugly creativity put into punishing women. Acid attacks, honour killings, female genital mutilation, bride burnings… women worldwide are suffering in ways more brutal and grotesque than we ever thought possible, and it’s not stopping. In fact, it’s on the rise. It is estimated that over 135 million girls and women alive today have undergone genital mutilation, a painful procedure known to be carried out on babies as young as five months old, which carries huge risks of infertility, HIV, and a host of mental health implications such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is, of course, if you are lucky enough to survive the procedure in the first place. Around three million more girls are at risk of genital mutilation every single year. 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not outlawed. A staggering 2.6 billion live in countries where rape within marriage is not a crime. In Afghanistan, a woman can be imprisoned for being raped. In the time it took someone to write out the reason they don’t need feminism, take a selfie, choose a pretty filter, and upload it (around four minutes), four women died while giving birth; eight little girls were trafficked for sexual exploitation; nearly 100 women in America alone were abused.
Sometimes these acts of violence and sexism can seem so far away – because we don’t know anyone who has been a victim to one of these attacks, or because we simply can’t imagine it ever happening to us, the statistics don’t quite hit home. To try and make it more relatable, I set up a survey about sexism, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape, which I shared with my friends on Facebook. Everyone who took part is from the UK or Ireland, and the majority of participants are aged 18 to 25. These are the type of girls and women who are your friends, your girlfriends, your sisters. The results showed that 93% of them have experienced sexism. Almost 65% have been sexually harassed. 21% have been sexually assaulted or raped. To think that this is happening to girls I personally know – girls whose homes I have been welcomed into, who I have gone to school with, who I have grown up with – was so upsetting. The fact that there is such a stigma attached to this type of harassment and violence, that so many suffer in silence, made it worse. We live in a society where it is considered more humiliating and shameful to be raped than to be a rapist. This has to change.
The world we live in treats women differently to men. You only need to glance at the YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter, where users share stories of misogyny and violence against women, or The Everyday Sexism Project to see that something is drastically wrong with the way women are treated in society. You only need to see the data showing that when it comes to online dating, women’s greatest fear is being matched with a serial killer. Men’s greatest fear is that their date will be fat. We teach girls how not to be raped, instead of teaching boys not to rape. We ask women why they stayed with an abusive partner, instead of asking why that person was able to be abusive for so long. It is crystal clear that there is still a huge gap between the sexes, and it needs to be closed. At best, females are treated unfairly; at worst, they are killed. This is not a world I want for my friends, my family, myself. I don’t want to raise a daughter in a world that dictates she is a second class citizen. I don’t want to raise a son in a world that teaches him superiority and entitlement. I don’t want that world for anyone.
These tweets may be eye-opening to men. They are very familiar to most women.
This International Women’s Day, the theme is Make It Happen. It hopes to encourage action to advance women’s causes; recognising not only the struggles that women have overcome, but the progress that still has to be made. The first step is to remove the negative connotations associated with the term ‘feminist’. I don’t think we need to rebrand feminism or give it a new name. I think we just need to better educate people as to what it actually stands for – equality between the sexes. When girls and women everywhere are no longer viewed as less important because of their gender; when we are no longer vulnerable to becoming the victims of gender based violence and everyday sexism; when feminism becomes a global way of life instead of a movement, we can truly celebrate. Until then, those of us who have a platform, who have a voice, must continue to speak out on behalf of those who cannot. Until then, we need to keep trying to #MakeItHappen.