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Why I Struggle With International Women’s Day

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While I Think International Women's Day Is A Tremendous Thing, There Are many Reasons I Struggle With It.

International Women’s Day is here. Rather, as I type this, it’s a day away. I’ve just driven down the coast for a mini-break and during the drive, took a deep-dive into my emotions surrounding this important day.

I realised after a couple of hours that while I believe International Women’s Day is a truly wonderful event, I really, really struggle with it. Big time. The thought itself shocked me to my core, until I picked it to pieces and put it back together.

Please don’t mistake me. I totally understand the need for International Women’s Day. Women all around the world are subjected to horrific abuse, poor working conditions, lack of reproductive health care and so, so many more unspeakable acts. And of course, there are myriad powerful, brave and inspiring women of all generations, race, employment and passions that we need to – and should always – celebrate.

However for me, International Women’s Day also serves as a reminder of how little progress we have made as a society, and how far we still need to come. It also reminds me of my own past traumas, and that how, decades later, I still don’t feel safe in my own home, or walking down the street at night, and I’m still scared to enter a relationship because of aforementioned past trauma. And because what happened to me from the day I was conceived, is still happening to women across the globe.

This isn’t a feminist rant. I love men and respect them and I know there are so many bloody great guys out there. This is merely an observation and an opine about why I wish we didn’t need International Women’s Day.

My point really is that every day should be International Women’s Day. Why do we need a special day to remind us that half the population deserves equal pay, proper healthcare and the right to feel safe walking down the street, or in their own home? Why do we need one day each year to remind the world that women have the right to reproductive decisions over their own bodies? Why doesn’t this happen every day, of every year?

In much the same way as Morgan Freeman denounced Black History Month, saying that black history is in fact American history, I long for a time we are all treated with equal respect, without the need to mark an occasion to make that happen. And as it stands, it seems to me we draw attention to so many horrors that women experience on International Women’s Day, but then they seem to be forgotten for the rest of the year, in place of news of sporting prowess, Tiger Woods’ latest car crash, Mars landings, or global pandemics. Side note: the mistreatment of women is a global pandemic.

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Morgan Freeman

International Women’s Day – A Brief History

The very first International Women’s Day happened in 1911. According to UN Women Australia, “In 1910, Clara Zetkin, the leader of the Women’s Office for the Social Democratic Party in Germany tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day at the second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen. The proposal received unanimous support from over one hundred women representing 17 countries.

“The very first International Women’s Day was held the following year on March 19th. Meetings and protests were held across Europe, with the largest street demonstration attracting 30,000 women. In 1913, IWD was moved to March 8th and has been held on this day ever since.

“Australia’s first International Women’s Day was held in 1928 in Sydney. Organised by the Militant Women’s Movement, women called for equal pay for equal work, an eight hour working day for shop girls and paid leave. The next year the event spread to Brisbane. In 1931, annual marches were launched in both Sydney and Melbourne and both marches continue to be held today.

Since these early days, International Women’s Day has continued to grow. It is a day to celebrate women’s achievements and both highlight and work to address barriers that continue to perpetuate gender inequality.”

I truly believe this is fabulous. However, what I struggle with, is that after March 8, the powers that be seem to cease to acknowledge the hard work of those who wish to make serious and important change.

As far as I can see (and I am happy to be corrected, if I am wrong), we have only earned the right to vote. We still do not receive equal pay. Rape culture is alive and well, and as it appears, thriving. Domestic violence continues to climb. Why can’t we carry the ethos of International Women’s Day right throughout every day of every year?

International Women’s Day is magnificent, but dare I say, I think it is simply tokenism for the powers that be.

Let’s start with domestic violence

I was conceived into a world of violence. I say conceived, as my father kicked my mother across the floor of our living room when she was six months pregnant with me. I found out about this after my parents’ divorce, with both my Mum and my brothers explaining in detail what he did.

I never thought it affected me. After all, it was simply a story that I heard, that I did not remember. However, one day a very intuitive kinesiologist whom I had never before met nor told about this incident, stopped mid-treatment with a sharp gasp and asked, “what happened to you in the womb?”

I totally lost my shit and I am fairly sure I used several boxes of Kleenex clearing up my ugly crying mess. Everything came to the surface, and I realised that I had such violence and ugliness inflicted on me at a time when I should have enjoyed the blissful safety of my mother’s womb. For no other reason than my disgusting coward of a father was so mentally diseased he felt it was OK to put not just his wife’s safety at risk, but that of his precious unborn daughter.

Aside from telling the kinesiologist, this is the only time I have spoken of this incident. Because you just didn’t. And really, you still don’t, without appearing a victim, which I am far from. I am a survivor.

Life in our family was a rocky road paved with egg shells, with all of us dreading hoping Dad backhanding my eldest brother, or throwing my other brother’s 8th birthday cake to the floor, or trying to throw our Mum out of the window of our 13th floor apartment. He did all of this, and more. On the regular. We all wore bruises, that he was clever enough to place where clothes would hide them.

Now, admittedly, this was in the 1970s, where domestic violence was just not mentioned, or indeed acknowledged. People simply turned a blind eye.

However, years later, as a 21 year old young woman, I met a young man who I thought was simply a dream. We’ll call him Sam. Sam was the perfect boyfriend for a few months, until we moved in together. From that day on I endured regular beatings. I had hard objects thrown at me. I was pinched when people weren’t looking. I was held down while he pretended to be a disabled person trying to force himself on me sexually (I still can’t believe I am writing these words, to be honest). He even tried to strangle me in the shower.

And here we are, 49 years after my conception and a good 20 years since I left Sam, and the rates of domestic violence in Australia are still soaring. Covid-19 lockdowns appear to have made these figures soar higher, or at the very least, put an increasing number of women in danger.

Despite International Women’s Day highlighting the need to fix this global pandemic of violence, nothing much seems to change. So many women are not safe, even though we have had incredible females such as 2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame and 2015 Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty work ingtirelessly to end this pandemic. According to Women’s Agenda, four women in Australia have already been killed by the partners this year alone. Just one year on from the shockingly brutal and unfathomable murder of Hannah Clarke and her children in Brisbane.

grace tame
Grace Tame is an Australian activist and advocate for survivors of sexual assault. Tame was named 2021 Australian of the Year

Why is this happening all year, every year, with authorities seemingly turning a blind eye?

Let’s Move On To Sexual Assault

When I was 12, I was held down by a group of boys from my school. I can’t remember how many boys were there, but there must have been at least six, as there was a boy holding each of my arms and each of my legs, while the others took turns digitally raping me. They only let me go when someone approached and saw what was happening. That stranger kept walking, turning his head. He didn’t stop them. He didn’t ask if I was OK. As I walked home in shame, the guy who I surmise was the leader of the gang yelled out to me, “don’t tell your dad.” Of course, I didn’t tell my dad, I was terrified of him. What if he thought it was my fault and he beat me? What waited at home was almost as fearful as what I had just endured.

The following week at school the same group of boys spat on me. They spread rumours about me. The ring leader king hit me on the back of the head on the bus. He and his friend also each grabbed one end of my winter scarf and tried to choke me. The bus driver didn’t intervene. All the teachers knew. Nobody did a thing. I was too frightened to say a thing. I simply asked to change schools. Thankfully my parents complied.

My experience has left me scarred for life. Now, this was back in 1982. And guess what? 39 years later, it is still happening. The exact same scenario is playing out with the current scandal of parents pulling their children from private schools because of a tsunami of sexual assault allegations. At least now, it is getting air time. I wonder how many others in my school community suffered in silence, as I did.

And also in 2021, we now have three rape allegations against members of parliament. One so hushed up that it is only coming to light now, after 30 years, and when the alleged victim has committed suicide.

How can this be? Why do we only listen to the plight of women on International Women’s Day? Why can’t we be heard and acknowledged every day? Why was it so hard for me as a 12 year old to get adults to help me in such a diabolical situation? Why is it so hard for teenagers to get help now? Why can’t we apply the ethos of International Women’s Day to every day of the year?

Reproductive health

Back when Sam and I were together, we conceived a child. Today that child would be 30. I wanted that baby more than anything. Sam wanted a termination. Suddenly, I found myself in my mother’s position. I was pregnant, being kicked across my living room floor, in my stomach and back.

It was at that point, I realised I had to leave. I could not be tied to a man who did this, nor could I bring a child into a world where he or she had a father who was capable of such atrocities. I begged him for weeks to reconsider and have the child. In the end, I acquiesced, as deep down I knew that it was my only hope to live a life without violence.

Sam came to the clinic with me, and he brought his mother. They wanted to ensure I got the job done. The women who ran the clinic gave me five minutes of counselling. I was sobbing my heart out and all all I wanted to do was run away and have my baby. Instead, I did what was expected of me. I was given twilight sedation but I was awake enough to have clarity of all that was going on around me. They gave me an ultrasound and mentioned that my baby was 9 weeks old. I remember asking if it was a boy or a girl. They didn’t answer me.

As it turned out, my beautiful baby would not have survived a full term pregnancy anyway. I have Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and several reproductive health issues. Several attempts at pregnancy over the years have failed and my dreams of becoming a mother have never come to fruition. I have made peace with it, and it’s OK. I have a lovely life and there are many ways to be be a mum.

However, I tell this story, as I want there to be more facilities for young women to learn about their reproductive health. I never knew about PCOS or other fertility obstacles until it was too late. Why aren’t our schools teaching us that our reproductive organs are just as important as our eyes, or our hearts or our livers? Even if you don’t want children, you need to protect the health of these vital organs. Sadly, most of us ignore them until we are trying for a family, and this is often too late.

It’s also important to acknowledge the millions of women around the world who simply do not have access to free or affordable reproductive health care. I’m not just talking about third world countries here either. The USA has an appalling track record for female reproductive health and safety. Women’s bodies, their wombs, their decisions what to do with them, are taken from them and given to God fearing men in grey. This simply must not happen and we need to do all we can to ensure this changes – not just on International Women’s Day, but every day of every year.

What Can We Do?

This massive question crosses my mind all the time. I am guilty of thinking just my actions won’t be enough to change things. However, as cliched as it sounds, the actions of one person multiplied by thousands makes a difference.

There are so many things wrong with our world and we can’t fix them all, but we can try to live with kindness and make considered decisions that show those more powerful we won’t accept these wrongdoings.

We can choose where we spend our money. We can refuse to shop or eat at businesses we know are openly homophobic, or support legislation removing a woman’s right to choose. We can vote.

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We can don a rainbow T-shirt at mardi-Gras, but then back it up with supporting gay rights throughout the rest of the year. Because like International Women’s Day, gay rights is a year round issue. We can turn our Instagram profile black in support of Black Lives Matters but we must follow through for the rest of the year, because the issue of racism is around us all the time.

And yes, we can and should celebrate International Women’s Day, but we absolutely must support women every other day of the year. Even if you’re not in a position to make change in the legal system or in your community, you can support your female friends, acknowledge their work and their businesses and let them know it is OK to talk about any trauma or suffering they may experience.

A protester at the BLM march
A protester at the BLM march in Sydney

International Women’s Day is amazing, but it’s not just for the eighth of March. It’s for every single day of the year, as rights for all humans should be.

Where to find help
  • National Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence Counselling Service 24-hour helpline 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732
  • 24-hour Emergency Accommodation helpline on 1800 800 588
  • Safe At Home helpline on 1800 633 937
  • SHE (free and confidential counselling and support) on 6278 9090
  • Sexual Assault Support Services on 6231 1811, or after hours 6231 1817
  • Family Violence Crisis and Support Service on 1800 608 122
  • Bravehearts – Sexual Assault Support for Children on 1800 BRAVE 1
  •  Lifeline on 13 11 14
  • Men who may have anger, relationship or parenting issues, should contact the Men’s Referral Service on 1300 766 491 or the Don’t Become That Man helpline on 1300 243 413

Written by Shonagh Walker

Shonagh Walker is a multi-award-winning lifestyle writer and author specialising in beauty, health, fashions, travel and pets. Her career spans over 30 years, and she can't recall a day during that time, where she hasn't been excited to get to work!

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