Bridging our Differences

I must admit that International Women’s Day usually passes me by. The endless parade of anniversaries throughout the calendar, exhorting us to commemorate this or that brings out my inner cynic. Valentine’s Day is a prime example of this – standing as an instruction to display love towards your partner by booking a meal, priced over the odds and buying oversized cards. Being obliged to observe such days in this particular way trivialises a sentiment which should really find a place in everyday expression. So I tended to perceive International Women’s Day in a similar vein, flippantly imagining that I was expected to spend the occasion insincerely squawking ‘Happy Women’s Day’ to every woman I met.

However, I was intrigued to learn that this year is the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. My intrigue was rooted in the significance of this particular milestone, and I felt exhilarated at the thought of the numerous ways in which women have made social, economic and political progress in the past 100 years.

But a closer inspection of this realisation highlights perhaps one of the most contentious issues as far as the progress in female self-determination is concerned. The criticism that there is no universal panacea to alleviate the disparity still faced by many women globally and even within Western communities, where basic and more extensive rights have been attained, is a very stubborn one to dismiss. This highlights the multifaceted experiences and challenges encountered, from society to society, community to community, woman to woman.

Furthermore, the disparities are expressed on an ideological level, from Marxist Feminist views, to the common tendency in developed Western societies to disassociate from any ‘feminist’ sentiments at all, for fear of being perceived as being ungrateful for the relative privileges we enjoy. Comparing these differences can generate a debilitating sense of guilt. This guilt leads us to believe that we have somehow forfeited the right to bleat about restricted access to the boardroom, when access to a basic education, adequate healthcare or freedom from violence still remains elusive to a significant number of women from a global perspective.

For the second year, Women for Women International have chosen to mark International Women’s Day with an event called Join me on the Bridge which began in 2010. This idea was the inspired brainchild of the Country Directors of the Women for Women’s programmes in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The aim was to come together on a bridge to stand up for peace and an end to violence against women, in two countries which have seen more than their fair share of atrocities in both of these areas. The results were spectacular, with over 20,000 women in 19 countries ranging from Afghanistan, Australia, Panama, the US and the UK. Together they participated in 119 events inspired by this idea by gathering on bridges to express solidarity and to celebrate the occasion.

This year promises to build upon that success, marking the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day by extending upon the necessity for women and girls to be free from violence in conflicts. The means of promoting this aim lies in women’s experiences, expertise and presence being represented at peace negotiating tables.  A number of events are planned on bridges across the world for women, children and men to gather. To register for your nearest event, or to host one of your own, please click on the link at the end of this article.

The idea of a bridge appeals to me as a fitting symbol; as it allows for a connective point between those of us who enjoy relatively more comfortable positions in our societies, with those who still endure significant disadvantages in their daily lives, by virtue of being born female. Those of us, who have access to meaningful choices and opportunities in our lives, are able to appreciate our fortune as a means of leveraging our personal power to speak up for those whose voices are restricted. In this, we are also able to see the resilience and courage of those who still strive towards personal autonomy and the basic dignities we all deserve as human beings. It serves as a reminder of the qualities possessed by the past generations of women to whom we owe those hard fought freedoms which 100 years ago, would have been impossible to envisage.

To register for your nearest event, or to host one of your own, please click on this link.


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