Today is International Woman’s Day, an opportunity to focus on women’s rights around the world. It’s 2017, so let’s call the question: Do women have equal rights? The short answer is no. Globally, they still don’t have access to the same educational opportunities as men, the same employment opportunities as men, or the same civic opportunities as men. In a world where there has been some form of modern democratic republic for 2500 years, women only gained the right to participate in their republic through universal voting less than 150 years ago (New Zealand is said to be the first modern country to give women the vote). And in the US, it’s been less than 100 years. Staggering, isn’t it?
Some see the fight for women’s equality as a battle for power. Who gets to control the home, the state, the nation, the world. But I think it’s much less grand than that. I agree with Mary Wollstonecraft; women’s rights start with the basic right to control themselves.
Mary Wollstonecraft (1759 – 1797) was an eighteenth century writer and philosopher generally acknowledged as a founder of feminist thought. Her advocacy of women’s equality and her critiques of the conventional femininity of her day became increasingly important with the growth of the feminist movement. A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792), in which she argued that women are not naturally inferior to men and deserve the same rights, is a feminist classic. And yes, that was written 225 years ago. 225 years! One of my favorite signs at the Women’s March last January comes to mind here: I can’t believe I’m still marching for this shit!
Sadly, I suspect poor Mary Wollstonecraft must be rolling in her grave these days. Here in the US, a woman’s right to control herself and her body are still being challenged and she is still paid less than a man for doing the same job. Globally, a European legislator recently stated that women are “weaker, smaller, and less intelligent.” Seriously? In 2017? In Pakistan (and many African nations) over two thirds of young girls have never been to school.
So yes, it’s pretty clear that on our planet, women (and girls) do not have equal rights with men. And while progress is being made, it’s not coming fast and furious. In spite of a landmark Supreme Court decision in the US last year, during 2016 US state politicians introduce more than 500 bills restricting access to reproductive health care for women. And how many laws are there on the books regulating men’s bodies? Right. Exactly zero.
Clearly, there is much to be done to reclaim balance in our world and I believe it must start with giving women the same rights as men. Especially the right to control themselves. Onward, people, there is work to be done! Happy International Woman’s Day!