How did you celebrate International Women’s Day? Did you attend a lecture or conference? Did you participate in any festivities? Did you “celebrate good times?"
If you did, then you were lucky. I say this because not all countries were able to. Some countries are still fighting against violence-still trying to achieve basic human rights. This 100th year of International Women’s Day was filled with violence and a reality check.
In the Sudan, women spent the day being arrested for protesting against rape and rights abuses. Is this how women should be celebrating International Women’s Day? Should women who gathered to protest against discrimination be beaten and arrested simply for voicing their opinions?
In Afghanistan, women continue to participate in self-immolation or suicide to escape physical, psychological, or sexual violence. What is it that makes these women turn to committing violence against themselves? To avoid being beaten or shunned, wives choose to end their lives. Can you really blame them when their only options are to continue to be abused or turned away from shelters that were meant to protect them? How can you celebrate when women are being victimized?
In Sri Lanka, this day was celebrated but many realized that these celebrations are false. On paper, Sri Lanka appears to be working towards gender equality. Sri Lanka ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Sri Lanka has reduced maternal mortality, is providing better access to health care, and has been improving literacy rates among females. On International Women’s Day, President Rajapaska emphasized the role women, and even committed the country to bettering the lives of women. This commitment is intriguing. Why does a nation that recognizes the role of women need to better their lives?
It is because there is a serious gap between theoretical rights and what is actually going on. In reality, laws meant to protect women are not practiced in daily life. In reality, positive statistics reflect only part of the country. This is because women are living in a culture dominated by men-in a culture that discriminates against women. This culture fuels domestic violence and rape- making them a norm. There is no positive change in this country. What this country has is violence against women.
Rape and domestic violence are highly prevalent, yet no one will address these problems. Officers blame victims for being raped. The courts take years to prosecute the cases. Domestic rape is considered to be part of a wife’s daily life. No one will stop domestic violence or rape because they are a cultural norm. And we cannot quickly change a culture.
We cannot fully celebrate this anniversary because we do not have that much to show for it. Sure, some countries have achieved gender equality and are empowering women. But, how can you celebrate when women are still victims of violence?