x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

What women really want is equality

On International Women's Day, it shouldn't need to be said: Women should be treated with justice and dignity

Another International Women's Day has just been celebrated across the world. Since the first national Women's Day, in 1909 in the US, the special day quickly became international. A century later it has turned into a global festival spanning several days, an annual focal point for both the achievements of women and their terrible lot in many places around the world.

The central point of all the events, though very simple, still needs to be made, over and over: women are human beings too, and should be treated with justice and respect.

Morality, religion and natural justice should be enough to persuade anyone that women are equal human beings who deserve as much access as men to education, health care, welfare, self-determination, employment and pay. Anyone who can't grasp that needs more than one special day to learn it, but the day is what we have.

Of course those who would prefer to avoid highlighting the achievements and value of women will trot out that awful cliché, "Women don't need a special day: every day is women's day." Well, no, it isn't. Because if it were, women wouldn't be suffering so much, would they?

When that fails, they fall back on asking "what about men? Why isn't there an International Men's Day?" The answer is: "well go on then, organise one."

International Women's Day is a day of joy but also of heart-break, when we raise a collective cry against injustice. Women continue to face domestic violence, rape, war, poverty, starvation, glass ceilings, exploitation and discrimination. Yes, men face all of these too, but they disproportionately affect women.

It's a day when the news and punditry and public narrative are - we hope - disproportionately in favour of women, to counter the 364 days when men dominate the headlines, political discourse, social media, and front pages. It is a day when women are not news because they are victims or sex objects, but for their achievements, social contributions and power.

The day of celebration and reflection highlights just how very uncelebrated women are in day-to-day life.

One achievement of International Women's Day is that it forces recognition, however fleeting, of the gap between how things should be and how they are. We see the gap between lofty rhetoric about the value of women and their collective miserable global reality.

For many men, and particularly men in positions of power, it's too easy to be wilfully ignorant of the reality of women's lives.

That reality is amazing. Many spend years of their lives pregnant, and then give birth, breastfeed and do the sleepless nights.

Women also perform most of the world's work. They bring in income. They manage the household social schedule. They care for the elderly. They work to make society better. They are entrepreneurs, politicians, activists, volunteers and much more.

And yet they are denigrated and abused so widely, and so often.

And yet, you know what? Women are still hopeful for a better world. Women believe progress can happen.

There may be an aching chasm between the high-minded speeches lauding women and the miserable, often fatal, reality of many women's lives, but that chasm can be bridged.

Women want it to be bridged, and look forward to the day when they stand shoulder to shoulder with their beloved menfolk in respect and status.


Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at www.spirit21.co.uk