This week sees many events marking International Women’s Week. Thomas Connolly discusses the modern relevance of International Women’s Day today and some of the events taking place both in NUI Maynooth and in Dublin.
This Thursday, March 8th is International Women’s Day, and to celebrate the occasion FemSoc will be hosting events around campus. In the Library a selection of publications by female members of staff in NUIM will be on display from Tuesday until the end of the week, while over in the Arts Block FemSoc will spend Thursday assembling the Wall of Achievement. A recognition of the personal achievements of female staff and students alike, members of the university will be asked to contribute either their own proudest achievements (if they’re a gal) or the woman who has most inspired them (if they’re a guy) to be displayed on the Wall. Be sure to come along and get your contribution included.
International Women’s Day began in the early 1900s in the United States as National Women’s Day, organised by the Socialist Party of America in reaction to the oppressive conditions imposed upon working women. During an international conference held in Copenhagen in 1910 it was proposed by German socialists Luise Zeitz and Clara Zetkin to make the day an international celebration, and the first official International Women’s Day was held the next year. By 1914 the event had become firmly established throughout the world, with March 8th becoming the eventual recognised date on which it was held. Since its early beginnings IWD has grown significantly in stature, becoming an officially recogised holiday in many countries.
Some folk may wonder if a day dedicated to the celebration of women is still necessary. After all, aren’t women now recognised as being equal to men? Do they not share the same legal rights and entitlements? Does a day dedicated to only women not in fact perpetuate the very same kind of inequality that feminism sought to eradicate for so long, by implying that women deserve a day to themelves while other genders do not?
In response to these questions I need only direct you to several articles which appeared on this very website within just the last couple of months. On the 9th January a podcast appeared that discussed the notion of gender quotas, because, despite their legally recognised equality in the majority of countries, women are still woefully underrepresented in most governments worldwide. On the 30th January a debate was advertised, organised by the Literary and Debating Society, that proposed the notion “Women are seen and not heard.” Anyone who attended that debate (myself included) will tell you that the heated exchanges indicate an issue that is more contestable than the legal equality of women would suggest. (The proposition was eventually carried.) On 5th February an article, written by Padraig McCarrick, discussed the infamous rapey Unilad article from a few days earlier and the fallout from that. The very next day Aoife Campbell published a response to an article from the January edition of The Print that contained several harmful generalisations about women in universities. Finally, on 19th February an article appeared discussing the Midnight advertising scandal, an ongoing controversy over advertisements for Alchemy nightclub that were interpreted as inciting rape.
What these articles highlight is that, while it’s true that in most countries women now have the same legal entitlements as men, it’s not true that women enjoy the same social, cultural or political treatment as men. Sexual objectification in mainstream media and advertising, unequal treatment in the workplace (higher proportions of men in high-level jobs, lower average pay for similar work, etc.), high levels of sexual assault, domestic violence, the list of serious issues still facing women goes on, perpetuated by institutionalised patriarchy in the majority of developed countries. The sheer volume of publications that appear every year on feminist issues indicates the relevance that these issues still have in contemporary society.
Anyone who would accuse the modern feminist movement of ‘nitpicking’ now that all the ‘real’ issues facing women have been resolved will surely be given pause by these facts. IWD seeks to capture the spirit of the feminist movement, which recognises the political, social and cultural achievements brought about as a result of hard-working feminist activists (of all genders), celebrates the contribution currently made by women to all aspects of public and private life, and seeks to highlight the issues currently faced by feminism that stand in the way of full equality between the sexes.
Be sure to check out the displays in the Library and the Arts block next week. Also, for anyone interested in finding out more about some current feminist issues, the Irish Feminist Network will be screening Miss Representation on 11th March in The Sugar Club in Dublin. Doors open from 5pm, tickets are likely to sell out so get yours fast! For more information on the NUIM FemSoc, visit the Facebook page.
-Thomas Connolly is an English MA student and member of the NUIM FemSoc as well as an activist with Free Education for Everyone.
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