As we approach the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day (IWD) (8th March 2011) I have been reflecting on what this means and how I can better assist my fellow sisters in Australia and around the world. I recently saw “Love, Loss and What I Wore” – a play written by women about women. It did a brilliant job of pointing out that we actually have more in common than not. We have all had female friends and relatives suffer from incurable diseases, had our hearts broken, made stupid decisions, lost loved ones, and suffered from wearing painful shoes. ;) To me, IWD is about focusing on those common threads that all women share, about reaching out and providing compassion to others even when we aren’t directly affected by what they are going through. It’s about celebrating the triumphs of the generations of women who came before us and acknowledging their losses as well, for they affect us all today. I was involved in two upsetting incidents recently that I’d like to share. They reminded me that we have a long way to go in supporting one another as women. The first, in December, was sparked by some press coverage about a Sudanese woman being beaten for wearing pants. Highly upset by this, I started a discussion on Twitter about it, and over the course of the conversation was told “feminists do not care about Muslim women”. Now, I have always considered myself a feminist, based on this definition: of or relating to or advocating equal rights for women. I hadn’t realised that there are factions within this definition that only serve to break us apart and actually hamper the overall cause (equality). Sometimes, when fighting for what they think is right, women can get caught up in judging others. My view is that we need to stand up for one another, not judge.
One of my favourite quotes is by Paul Williams from the cult classic “Das Energi”, “Don’t think you know what’s right for other people. They may think they know what’s right for you”. I was 15 years old when I first read this and I felt it in every cell in my body, it rang that true to me.
The second incident I experienced was more upsetting, as I was directly involved and it took place in my local park. I was there with my children on a beautiful day. There was another mum there with her two young children. She looked to be of middle-eastern descent. A third woman was sitting on a bench just outside the playground area. Without any provoking the woman on the bench started saying awful things to the other woman. I’m not going to repeat them but she was basically telling her to go back to where she came from and included a number of highly offensive racial comments. I was appalled. The Australia I had known (and especially my beloved inner city suburb) is so tolerant and accepting of others. I’ve read about this racism in Australia before but had never directly witnessed it. When I heard this woman’s comments, the hair on the back of my neck stood up and I was aware my children were listening as well. I stood up for the other woman. My heart was racing and it bought me back to the time I was in 5th Grade and was called out to fight by a bully in the playground. I was scared, but stood up and told her off anyway. And I reminded her that her ancestors came from another country as well. I don’t think I changed her viewpoint but I know the woman I stood up for appreciated it. She smiled very broadly at me when she left the park. These two experiences made me realise that we ALL need to stand up for our sisters, especially if the person we are standing up to is a woman as well. By focusing on those threads of commonality that all women share we will get to the place that we call Equality far quicker. And we may even make some more friends along the way. Celebrate International Women’s Day at UN Women’s (formerly UNIFEM) Breakfast in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth the week of IWD (1st – 8th March 2011). Visit the UN Women’s website for bookings and more details.