Letter From the Editor – International Women’s Day

Dear AfterEllen Readers,

Happy International Women’s Day. By reading this, you are already doing something to support women, and I thank you for that. Thank you so much for visiting this site, and reading the voices of your female peers. Even if we don’t always agree on every issue,  or we quibble over language or politics or simple semantics, there is still one thing that unites us:  we are women, and we specifically are women who love women, so I hope we can keep that in mind on this day and every day.

I won’t beat around the bush. I see a lot of division among women when it comes to women’s issues and the subject of feminism. While it is natural to align yourself with an approach to feminism that makes sense to you based on what you read or what you believe is right, let’s not forget that feminism is not an identity. It is a movement with clear goals and a mission, which is to free women from all forms of oppression and violence and to ultimately achieve full equality.

Feminism is not an identity. It is a movement with clear goals and a mission, which is to free women from all forms of oppression and violence and to ultimately achieve full equality.

Now, because we are a diverse population of women across the globe, it is only natural that we will see things differently, and our priorities will absolutely vary. I’m not going to point out what our differences are because that is irrelevant to my point. What I’d rather do is name the problems we ALL face, regardless of politics. Because what I hear often in conversations about the women’s rights movement is a lot of empty rhetoric about “equality” and “inclusivity” but it lacks this: actually naming the problem.

(Photo by David Fenton/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Fenton/Getty Images)

The fact is that no matter how we align ourselves, the numbers don’t lie. Women are being raped, sold into sex trafficking, denied basic education, forced into child marriage, forced to undergo female genital mutilation, enslaved, and murdered. Yes, largely at the hands of men.  You don’t have to be a “man hater” to acknowledge this reality.

I’m sure most women have been fortunate enough to know and love good men in our lives, but the glaring truth is that men, not as individuals, but as a collective, have instituted this system where women are subjugated solely on the basis of biological sex. Yet, we make up half the world’s population. This is a human rights crisis. As Hillary Clinton once bravely stated on an international stage, women’s rights are human rights. I’d like to share with you a few statistics to keep in mind the next time you find yourself in an argument with another woman whose style of feminism you don’t agree with.

Today, we are seeing a new movement of #MeToo and #TimesUp and those are important steps, particularly in an effort to fight back against sexual assault and harassment. But it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Women’s reproductive healthcare is at stake around the world. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 800 women and girls die globally from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth every day, including unsafe abortions. The defunding of Planned Parenthood here in America will leave thousands of women without access to reproductive healthcare, and that includes critical cancer screenings like cervical cancer, which is deadly if it isn’t caught early.

According to UNICEF, worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children. More than 1 in 3 – or some 250 million – were married before 15. This is a global human rights crisis. And women and girls are the people who suffer.

And then we have sex trafficking. The National Institute of Health reports that there are approximately 800,000 people trafficked across international borders annually and, of these, 80% are women or girls and 50% are minors.

This is a global human rights crisis. And women and girls are the people who suffer. 

Young girls are denied basic educations around the globe. From UNICEF: An estimated 31 million girls of primary school age and 32 million girls of lower secondary school age were out of school in 2013. Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest proportion of countries with gender parity: only two out of 35 countries. And South and West Asia has the widest gender gap in its out-of-school population – 80 per cent of its out-of-school girls are unlikely to ever start school compared to 16 per cent of its out-of-school boys.

When We Rise

In the US alone, domestic violence rates are staggering. Between 2001 – 2012,  more women were murdered by their husbands and boyfriends than US troops killed at war.  If you need a visual to help you wrap your mind around this, Upworthy made a graph.

Women have been conditioned not to speak out against violence and harassment that exclusively affects us because we are so worried about seeming “militant,” “angry” or for fear of leaving someone out. And yes, of course, many minorities are targeted for different reasons. But there is a war on women and it is in EVERYONE’S backyard.

There is a war on women and it is in EVERYONE’S back yard.

To compound the problem, there exists also the reality of women who suffered at the hands of men – in this case the police – and then were outright erased. As Kimberle Crenshaw pointed out in this TED talk, we know the names of many Black men who were killed by police brutality, but not the Black women. They were forgotten. They were women, after all.

None of what I’m mentioning or what Ms. Crenshaw pointed out is  “man-hating,” despite what many people’s knee-jerk reaction seems to be these days. This is naming the problem. This is a calling out of what is an astronomical amount of violence and discrimination against people based on one thing: the female sex. If you watch Crenshaw’s TED talk, she names the problem quite clearly and articulately.

Maybe it’s time to call out the hard facts and to recognize that as women, we face the same struggles to survive and navigate a male-dominated world, regardless of what brand of feminism you hashtag. At the end of the day, a day without women would be a sad day for us all.