It’s International Women’s Day, a chance for women all over the world to take a stand for equality, human and reproductive rights. Today, thousands of women will also go on strike for the “Day Without A Woman” initiative, designed to reflect our worth in the workplace, at home and in the wider community. Sadly, it will also drag up the huge challenges we as a gender still face to be seen and treated as equals.
Hands up how many of the men in your lives give you a withering look when you raise the issue of feminism? Perhaps they believe it equates to man-hating, being pedantic and wanting your chair pulled out for you in a restaurant. Perhaps some of your female friends say they aren’t feminists because they “know their place”, believe men should have the same rights as women, or already feel like they are considered equal.
The problem is, none of these are true. We live in a male-dominated, patriarchal society. Even without realising, we are shamed in the streets by adverts telling us the value of our worth is looking good to please men. We are put down by being told we can’t read maps, do math or understand science before we’re old enough to do any of these things. Instead, we’re encouraged to play princess games, wear pink and take up singing while the boys experiment and learn about dinosaurs.
We are paid less than men doing the same job as us. We are underrepresented in Parliament. For years, we’ve been made to take contraceptive medicine that is psychologically dangerous. Then if we do have children, we are discriminated against as mothers at home and in the workplace. We are quietly penalised for taking maternity leave and pushed to one side when we return.
And then there’s the exploitation of women and girls that continues around the world. In the UK, one in four women will experience some form of gender-based violence in their lifetimes. This includes being raped, beaten by partners, sexually harassed and even killed for “disgracing” a religious family. Women are the most highly trafficked human beings of all, sold into slavery around the world and forced to undertake sex work against their will. In many countries, women do not receive the same education as men, if they are allowed to go to school at all. In Saudi Arabia, women aren’t allowed to drive, let alone do any of the above. Many still do not have the right to vote.
If those hard truths don’t work on them, then perhaps try this definition of feminism by Kate Nash:
“Feminism is not a dirty word. It does not mean you hate men, it does not mean you hate girls that have nice legs and a tan, and it does not mean you are a ‘bitch’ or ‘dyke’; it means you believe in equality.”
Still not convinced? From Taylor Swift and Beyonce to Emmeline Pankhurst and Gloria Steinham, here are some of the most empowering quotes about being a woman in history.
“Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with. It’s about freedom, it’s about liberation, it’s about equality. I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it.” – Emma Watson, actress and UN Ambassador For HeForShe
“No woman gets an orgasm from shining the kitchen floor.” – Betty Friedan, writer and activist
“I’m a feminist. I’ve been a female for a long time now. It’d be stupid not to be on my own side.” – Maya Angelou, author
“We have to free half of the human race, the women, so that they can help to free the other half.” – Emmeline Pankhurst, suffragette.
“No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half its citizens.” – Michelle Obama, lawyer
“The idea of being a feminist- so many women have come to this idea of it being anti-male and not able to connect with the opposite sex – but what feminism is about is equality and human rights.” – Lena Dunham, writer and actress
“Do you have a vagina? And do you want to be in charge of it? If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations – you’re a feminist!” – Caitlin Moran, journalist and writer
“Women are still treated as secondary issues. It is still far too easy and accepted for leaders to ignore uncomfortable truths… Women, we know, are the first to be affected by war, and the last to be taken into account when it ends.” – Angelina Jolie, actress and UN Ambassador
“My hope for the future, not just in the music industry, but in every young girl I meet, is that they all realise their worth and ask for it.” – Taylor Swift, singer
“I always say, women have brains and uteruses, and are able to use both.” – Karren Brady, businesswoman
“For I conclude that the enemy is not lipstick, but guilt itself; we deserve lipstick, if we want it, AND free speech; we deserve to be sexual AND serious – or whatever we please. We are entitled to wear cowboy boots to our own revolution.” – Naomi Wolf, writer
“We need to reshape our own perception of how we view ourselves. We have to step up as women and take the lead.” – Beyoncé, singer
“There’s something so special about a woman who dominates in a man’s world. It takes a certain grace, strength, intelligence, fearlessness, and the nerve to never take no for an answer.”– Rihanna, singer
“The best way for us to cultivate fearlessness in our daughters and other young women is by example. If they see their mothers and other women in their lives going forward despite fear, they’ll know it’s possible.” – Gloria Steinem, feminist activist and writer
“When a man gives his opinion, he’s a man. When a woman gives her opinion, she’s a bitch.”– Bette Davis, actress
“In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” – Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO
“Whether I am meant to or not, I challenge assumptions about women. I do make some people uncomfortable, which I’m well aware of, but that’s just part of coming to grips with what I believe is still one of the most important pieces of unfinished business in human history—empowering women to be able to stand up for themselves.” – Hillary Clinton, politician
“The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to result in a more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life for all.” – Aung San Suu Kyi, politician
“Value yourself for what the media doesn’t – your intelligence, your street smarts, your ability to play a kick-ass game of pool, whatever. So long as it’s not just valuing yourself for your ability to look hot in a bikini and be available to men, it’s an improvement.” – Jessica Valenti, activist
“We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.” – Malala Yousafzai, activist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize