International Women's Day: Celebrating women's achievements; recognising women's strugglesBy Yvonne Galligan on 8 March 2018
Today women’s economic, social, political and cultural achievements are in the global spotlight. It is a joyous worldwide celebration of the strength, tenacity, courage and uniqueness of all women. It is also a day in which the challenges of inequality faced by women get an airing – the persistence of the gender pay gap, the enslavement and trafficking of women and girls and the toleration of gender-based violence are among the many abuses of women’s human rights. Today, the 8th March, is the day when stories of success and stories of pain have a platform and are heard.
These include Peggy Whitson, living her dream as a record-breaking astronaut; Indira Ranagmar gives the young Nepalese children of female prisoners an education and home; Kenyan artist Tsarah Arts challenges the male preserve of the minibus (‘matatu’) design culture. Each one is profiled on the BBC 100 women website.
The theme of international women’s day 2018 is #PressforProgress. There is a global hunger for gender equality backed by a progressive movement for change. This year the focus is on challenging behaviours and actions that do not measure up to treating women as equals. There is a real paradigm shift taking place in the cultures of developed societies, aided by the #MeToo, #Time’sUp and the #HeforShe campaigns. For women in war-torn, conflict-ridden and otherwise traditional societies, the privilege of ‘first’ world women and men to speak out about gender equality seems remote from their daily lives. We should recognise the women who take on reactionary forces at the risk of their own lives – Nadia Murad, a Yazidi captured by Isis and made a sex slave, campaigns for retribution on behalf of her people. Her legal counsel is Amal Clooney. Syrian women activists, overcoming major political differences, demand that women comprise at least 30% of peace negotiators. Sharifah Sakirah, founder of the Royhinga Women Development Network, helps Royhinga women refugees find their voice through theatre. Inspirational women changing the world.
As scholars of politics, we have a responsibility to pay attention to these, and other, women and to the issues they advocate and represent. They are tackling the collective problems that reside in the cultures and polities we study. They are changing the societies in which we live.
A common thread runs through these stories. Women’s sparkling creative energy is missing from the corridors of power. Feminist political studies, in the UK and further afield, has developed a rich and thoughtful literature on the subject of women’s exclusion from power. It does not find a space in other strands of research in our discipline. If we, as PSA members, are to do one thing this International Women’s Day as part of the #PressforProgress campaign, it is to incorporate into our scholarship and teaching the feminist research that critiques political behaviour, institutions, practices. Our analysis, and our influence, will be the richer for it.
Yvonne Galligan is Professor of Politics at Queen’s University Belfast.
Image: Jeannie Fletcher CC BY-NC-ND