AUSTRALIA: Our Cause Matters to Women Everywhere
International Women's Day, observed around the world on March 8, is a great opportunity to both celebrate the achievements of those working against sexism and highlight the continued gender based inequities and injustices suffered by women throughout the world.
What inequities and injustices? Well, for starters, 70 per cent of those living in poverty are female, as are two-thirds of all uneducated children and two-thirds of the world's illiterate adults. Eighty per cent of the approximately 700,000 people trafficked into slavery (including sex slavery) each year are female, and around 130 million women and girls are victims of female genital mutilation. Every year, 500 000 women die during pregnancy and childbirth and 68,000 die as a result of unsafe abortion.
When compared to the struggles of women globally, Australian women are clearly doing very well. Relative physical safety, the right to vote and run for political office, the right to enter whichever profession we choose and the right (although it's constantly under threat) to reproductive freedom make us much better off than our counterparts in most other places.
The fact that we have these freedoms and rights, while women in other parts of the world do not, leads some people to question the work of feminists still fighting gender inequity here in Australia. Wouldn't our energies be better spent on activism on behalf of those in nations where girls and women are routinely oppressed, tortured and murdered for being female?
Well, no, actually.
Women in those countries are already doing that, and don't need someone like me to step in and take over because I've decided I have the solution to their problems.
I'm not for a moment suggesting that first-world feminists turn our backs on women in less progressive countries. I'm not at all suggesting that because they are fighting for their own rights we should just leave them to it. What I'm saying is that these women are not helped by those of us who have it comparatively good deciding our rights are unimportant.
What helps women all over the world is for each of us to, firstly, ensure we stay informed on these issues and never, ever let the fact that women are global second-class citizens be forgotten.
One very important thing women in Australia can do, for starters, is be aware that our government restricts foreign aid being spent on medical facilities or services which advise on or provide pregnancy termination. So in East Timor, for example, any clinic or facility offering advice on safe termination is ineligible for Australian aid dollars. This in a nation with an average birth rate is 8.5 per woman and a maternal death rate 20 times that of Australian women. Lobbying our own government for change in policies that hurt women in other nations is something simple but significant we can all do.
The other very important thing we 'first world' women can do to help women in less prosperous and free countries is work to ensure that women where we live are treated like full human beings. We need to continue to press for more equal representation in politics and business, and for a workplace culture that acknowledges the existence of families. We need to continue to speak out against domestic and sexual violence, and we need to talk back to a mainstream culture that objectifies and denigrates women and girls.
If we drop the equality ball here at home we'll have neither the social and political clout, nor the moral authority to change things elsewhere. If we each fight on our own frontline and send whatever intellectual, practical and financial resources we have to help our sisters and brothers in their battles, the position of women the world over is strengthened.
So to celebrate International Women's Day 2008, here are a few examples (of, literally, thousands) of international organisations working for women's rights. Read up on them, tell others about their efforts, and, if you can, make a donation to ensure they can continue with their vital, world-changing work.
Emily Maguire is an author and commentator on sex, religion, culture and literature. Her latest book is Princesses and Pornstars: Sex + Power + Identity, an examination of how the treatment of young women as fragile and in need of protection can be as objectifying and damaging to them as pornography and raunch culture.
SOURCE: ABC News
AUTHOR: Emily Maguire
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