Celebrate and Re-evaluate

Sitting in an office surrounded by diverse women fighting for the human rights of LGBTIQ people globally, I feel empowered celebrating International Women’s Day.

I also feel conflicted.

Victories like women protesting in an all-male temple in India and the #metoo movement erupting in Nigeria are born side-by-side with the rollback of abortion rights in the US, and challenges to commitments to progress on gender equality at the UN. Our work advancing gender equality is becoming clouded by setbacks and it is hard to tell if I should be celebrating the progress we’ve made, or rallying for the work left to be done.

2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a document that set a blueprint for gender equality globally in 1995. It is widely known as the event where Hillary Clinton proclaimed, “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.” Despite its groundbreaking agenda for all women worldwide - one we continue to reference - the declaration failed to mention gender or sexual identity once. 25 years later, most commitments made in the declaration remain to be met.

This serves as a reminder that laws and policies we once celebrated can become outdated, or even reversed. Our agenda is constantly changing. The Trump administration has made this alarmingly explicit with the reversal of transgender protection in the workplace, among other once progressive policies. While thousands of women in Russia die every year due to domestic violence, domestic violence has been decriminalized. The head of the church’s Patriarchal Commission on the Family, Dimitry Smirnov, lobbied against implementing a domestic law, worrying that it would break up the “traditional family” and allow kids to be taken from their families, put up for adoption, and to be “brought up by homosexuals.”

Likewise, there are policies that have been outlawed but are not enforced. Child marriage, although illegal, remains a constant threat to young girls in India, and around the world. Meanwhile, honor crimes are a looming threat for women and LGBTIQ people globally. It is clear we cannot become comfortable or complacent.

On the other hand, a changing agenda can reflect real progress being made and the need to set new milestones. India decriminalized same-sex relations in 2018, a historic win for the country that deserves to be celebrated. Activists now continue to work for same-sex marriage to become legalized. In 2018, Iceland passed a law that requires equal pay for equal work regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, or nationality. In a huge win for the #metoo movement, movie-mogul Harvey Weinstien was found guilty on two counts of sexual assault.

If we’re doing our job right as activists for gender equality, we should always be both celebrating and re-evaluating, applauding the steps we’ve made while finding new barriers to break down and adjusting where we need to. It matters less whether we use today as a call to action or a celebration, but whether we do so with all women in mind.

International Women’s Day was brought to life in Germany in 1911 to campaign for a woman’s right to hold public office, to work, and to vote. Today women can legally vote, but all over the world women face extreme barriers casting ballots, specifically those in low-income communities. While more than two-thirds of countries have laws prohibiting gender discrimination in the workplace, this rarely applies to transgender women or women whose religious affiliations are reflected in their attire. Out of the 21 women who have held office as the head of a country, Ana Brnabić, prime minister of Serbia, is the only woman to identify as a part of the LGBTIQ community.

We are making progress and just as we have identified where we fell short at the Fourth World Conference on Women, we must continuously adjust to ensure inclusivity in all of our demands. Whether you are celebrating or protesting today, do so loudly and with the intention of all women in mind.