When I woke this morning, March 8th, 2018, I found myself in a somewhat cynical mood. It was International Women’s Day, a day utilised by activists, organisations, governments, movements, civil society and individuals all over the world to celebrate and highlight the achievements of women and girls.
My cynicism emerged at the obvious point – how is it that we still need a single day to commemorate the achievements of more than half of the world’s population? To me, and to many all over the world, this is completely absurd, especially when the day is routinely commemorated by men merely by treating the women in their lives to a nice dinner or a bouquet of flowers, as if it was some other capitalist driven romantic excuse like Valentine’s Day.
That same cynicism subsided, however, when I began to reflect on where we’ve come since IWD2017. Since then, entire industries have risen up and called long-overdue attention to the incessant harassment faced by women in the workplace, to the pay gap between women and men all over the Global North and especially in the Global South, to the lack of representation of women in leading film and television and the inclusion rider clause that holds a renewed possibility of bringing much-needed diversity. There is a renewed wave of activism, of mobilisation, and even – dare I say it – hope for revolutionary shifts in the treatment of women in the workplace, gender parity, and acceptability of violence against women in all its forms.
When Donald Trump assumed (read: stole) the presidency early last year, his ego-fuelled inauguration was dwarfed by the outpouring of support for women’s rights in Women’s Marches around the globe. “Enough is enough”, the world seemed to be crying out. The rise of Trump’s nationally endorsed sexism was not to be taken as a norm that represented the will of the American people, and millions of women and male allies have taken to the streets time and time again in the ensuing 14 months to show that the era of patriarchal oppression must come to an end.
No longer would predators like Trump, Weinstein, and an ever-growing list of offenders in positions of power be immune to public scrutiny and impunity for the assault and predation of women and girls. No longer would these women and girls feel forced to idly accept their fate as an oppressed class and lack the outlets necessary to speak out. No longer would hate-spewing politicians and celebrities be able to rise to power through admission and braggadocio about their blatant mistreatment and abuse of women.
The subsequent #MeToo and #TimesUp movements (along with a growing list of global articulations including #YoTambien, #QuellaVoltaChe, #BalanceTonPorc, and #Ana_kaman) have added fuel the fourth wave feminist fire, bringing about a full-scale revolution to improve the lives of women and girls around the world and bring equality and justice to the forefront of every conversation. Intersectionality as a concept is rapidly being lifted from the obscure recesses of academic rhetoric into public dialogue, recognising the multi-layered oppressions found at the intersections of sex, gender, race, class, sexual orientation and ethnicity. Today, the headlines give accounts of domestic strikes, protests, demonstrations, powerful speeches and colossal marches filled streets and public spaces around the world. The time truly is NOW.
I have had the distinct pleasure of working with bold and unwavering activists in both urban and rural spheres of the Global South, learning from a vast network of feminist leaders in Uganda and across sub-Saharan Africa, and am now beginning to learn from the movement’s leaders across South and Southeast Asia. I have lived alongside the tireless mothers, aunties, grandmothers, sisters and daughters of rural Uganda and Tanzania who work the fields, clean, cook, buy and sell at the market, fetch water, not to mention birth and raise the children, send them to school, help them with their homework, all while blazing a trail for fair treatment and political representation. As an aspiring male ally (always aspiring to remain accountable to the changing needs of the feminist movement), I am overflowing with gratitude and appreciation for what these women and girls have taught me through their courage and perseverance. And there is still so much to learn.
We all have a part to play – women, girls, men, boys…all of us – in lifting ourselves out of the archaic ashes of an oppressive past and fighting for what is right, for equality, for equity, for inclusion, for non-violence, for progress, for peace. There is so much we can do: raise your voice, support one another, share the workload, get involved, educate the next generation, know your rights, join the conversation, give to the cause. In whatever way you can, be a PART of this. The world is about to change in unprecedented ways, and you can be on the right side of history.
It’s easy for our cynicism to get the best of us, but this International Women’s Day, the more I look around, the more I see a relentless onslaught of causes for optimism. The world’s longest-oppressed class, comprising half of the world’s population, is ushering in a new era of human evolution, one in which we all work together to keep this species moving forward as one. This year, skip the dinner and the flowers…the revolution is here. Join it.