Happy International Women’s Day! Today is a day of great importance for all of us. It calls for pause to reflect on the accomplishments of women past and present, across the spectrum of endeavour from everyday work and care-giving achievements, to national and global feats. From civil and human rights achievements to surviving impossible experiences. IWD also raises our attention to current and enduring global human rights failures and abuses, as well as social issues that prevent women from living safe and equitable lives of their choice.  

The beginnings of IWD can be traced back to 1908, when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding better pay and voting rights. In 1975, it was first celebrated by the United Nations, who in 1977 adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed one day of the year by Member States, which currently includes 192 nations.

Today is also about commemorating the past: the hard lives our grandmothers endured, and their dogged commitment to creating a legacy for future generations, such as the right to vote, to work outside of the home and earn an income, to own property and use birth control.  

Many people believe that the battle has been won—it might feel that way from a white middle-class, financially secure perspective, or from the perspectives of some men who believe the current situation is good enough. But if we look further than our own lives and open our viewpoint to other realities, we might observe that in this relatively prosperous nation, thousands of women and children are not safe, live in poverty, don’t have a home, nor any support. On an even more sombre note, it’s widely known that mental illness also has a gender bias, with seriously high rates of women suffering from trauma-related mental health issues, arising from family violence and abuse, poverty, discrimination and socioeconomic disadvantage. 

The social gradient in health is heavily gendered, as women constitute around 70% of the world's poor and earn significantly less than men when in paid work. In many nations women cannot vote, own land or be in control of reproduction. As long as women don’t have equality of power and representation at all levels of society in all nations, we can be sure that we are ‘not there yet’. Most high-level politicians, policy writers and law makers are men whose ‘world views’ do not include women’s rights. And let’s bear in mind the statistics about women who do reach senior management level: their salary will be 25% less than their male equivalents. 

If we look at the international scene and the Trump catastrophe, we see a president who publicly disrespects women. His move to abolish international aid funding for women’s reproductive rights has set off shock waves—what will come next? In 1923, women were granted equal rights in Afghanistan, but in 1993, under the Taliban, their rights were stripped away. Do we really think that our nation is immune from our ‘democracy’ eroding?

I believe we all have a responsibility to be aware of the shifting sands in the international rights context. I fear that if we’re not alert to ‘bigger picture’ matters then we won’t notice when gains made for all human rights have been pulled out from under us. It’s up to all genders to honour our foremothers and be accountable for future generations. We do this best by coming together to celebrate, hold debate and advocate towards equality. We do this even better when we learn to communicate what we know and need in ways that can be most effective—not only for women but for the better functioning of the human race.  

Further reading:
International Women's Day official site
International Women's Development Agency
Women's Mental Health Network Victoria
Australian Government 'Respect' campaign
Victorian Centres Against Sexual Assault

Cassy Nunan
Wellways Consultant for Consumer Advocacy and Leadership