International Women’s Day : The World is Busy Right Now – by Ayala Emett

International Women’s Day : The World is Busy Right Now
Ayala Emmett

These are busy days for international politics. Putin’s move in Crimea and Ukraine and the European and American responses take up all of the media’s attention. Tomorrow, Saturday March 8 is International Women’s Day. But this is not a good week to promote women’s rights and safety.

It is not exactly surprising that there has been little attention to International Women’s day. There is a history of silencing or ignoring women’s rights or ignoring women who took active part in revolutions and wars and expected to be included. During times of social upheaval women have been told that their equal rights would have to wait for the revolution to be over, or for the war to come to an end. The promise to remember women’s participation in the public sphere (the economy, politics, military) did not materialize. When wars and revolutions were over, women who had been fully engaged were promptly reassigned to traditional domestic roles in places like the Soviet Union, China, and Algeria; in the United States women like Rosie the Riveter were sent home when the men came back from the war.

Women in America struggled for their civil rights for a long time. In the town where I live, in Rochester NY, on November 5 1872, Susan B. Anthony voted and got arrested a few days later. It took almost five decades of struggle for American women to get the vote in 1920. Women found out, however, that voting was just the beginning. They are still waiting for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) that says, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” This human right, the right of non-discriminating is still looking for 38 states to affirm it.

It would be easy to argue that in the 21st century women don’t need the ERA. On International Women’s Day a comparative global narrative can easily be drawn, comparing American women to women in places around the world. Indeed the former First Lady, Laura Bush, talked about the need to liberate women in Afghanistan, where women, she noted were not safe at all. It is quite easy to mention many places in the world where women are exposed to domestic and public violence.

Yet, there are places in America like the military, where women soldiers are sexually assaulted with little recourse to justice. Senator Gillibrand, the senator from New York, made great efforts to pass a bill that would root out the failure of the military to protect its own women soldiers. Yesterday, on March 6, just two days before International Women’s Day, Gillibrand’s bill did not get the necessary votes. Gillibrand is in good company, in a long line of women who fought for women’s human rights. “I made my greatest case,” she said. “I advocated for this position, this reform. The president’s been very clear he wants to end sexual assault in the military. He wants it to be further studied and he wants to see progress on whether it’s been accomplished in the next year.”[Politico]

President Obama, who has been a strong supporter of women’s rights in the past, has yet to support Senator Gillibrand’s bill. Two days before International Women’s Day, American women soldiers found out that they would have to wait another year for protection from sexual assault.

Tomorrow, March 8, we could recall what the day is all about: “International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.” [UN Women]