Tomorrow marks the worldwide celebration of International Women’s Day. Stakeholders from all over the world come together on 8th of March each year to acknowledge and celebrate the social, economic and political achievements of women and also call for actions that will promote gender parity in the world.
This year’s theme is #PressforProgress and is a clarion call to all of us to keep up the fight because now more than ever we cannot afford to give up. We can’t deny that women have made great strides in recent years as far as fighting misogyny and promoting women empowerment is concerned. Women have more access to resources and it is no longer as uncommon to see women in powerful positions as it was in the past. Girls have more female role models and are given the message that they can do it, whether it’s acing mathematics and science subjects in school or owning their own companies.
However, the work is far from done. Many still cling to outdated notions about how women should speak, act, and generally exist. Violence against women still abounds and rape culture is as alive as it ever was in many of our circles. It can’t be too long ago that you last heard a case of rape and saw people making excuses for it like, ‘What was she wearing?’ or ‘Why was she in that kind of environment anyway?’ Victim-blaming continues to amplify the trauma of abused women. And let’s not even get started on the violation of sexual and reproductive rights of women, and the sorry state of maternal healthcare in the country.
The truth is that as far as achieving gender parity is concerned, we have only just scratched the surface. The World Economic Forum released the 2017 Global Gender Gap Report which said that a world where men and women have total equal access to opportunities and resources is 200 years away. You read that right—200 years. Obviously, we all still have a lot of work to do to create a future where girls can feel safe, have what they need to succeed, and are valued as the complex, diverse, and able human beings that they are.
We cannot change our world in a day, that much is obvious. We are not going to one day wake up and find that there are no longer girls being married off at 10, women being sexually assaulted every day, girls being subjected to FGM practices, mothers dying and losing their children during pregnancy and childbirth when it could have been prevented, or girls stuffing their genitals with toilet paper or rags because they cannot afford sanitary pads. These problems require us to intentionally make small steps every day, doing the little that we can do every day so that a future without these problems can become a reality.
So what small steps can you make to #PressforProgress? This International Women’s Day, you can begin to be intentional about creating change in your own little corner of the world. You don’t need to sell all your worldly possessions and relocate to a remote part of Kenya to participate in the cause for women empowerment. Simply start small. Ask yourself some questions about your own mindset and the mindsets of those around you:
• Do I hold any views that portray women and girls as weak or incompetent? Sometimes we have assumptions that we are not even aware of or that we have never thought about. We often don’t notice them until it is brought to our attention by someone else.
• Do the people around me make stereotypical statements about women and girls? I had a friend who, when driving, would say things like ‘Look at that bad driver! It must be a woman.’ On many occasions, it was a man. My friend just decided to conveniently overlook that fact and was defensive even when I pointed it out.
• Do I raise my daughter(s) to be active, bold, and in control of their lives, rather than delicate, helpless, and meek? Most of us girls acknowledge that we were raised differently from our brothers. We were expected to be as close to perfect as possible and behave a certain way while the boys could run wild. Needless to say, this upbringing made us less confident about our abilities, more cautious and afraid of risk and failure, and more likely to give up quickly and be hard on ourselves when we make mistakes.
• Do I raise my son(s) to view women and girls as his equal, to treat them with respect and to value them as people rather than let him internalize misogynistic views of women from other people and channels? An interesting observation was made that almost all women have had experiences of being assaulted by men but very few men claim to have experiences of assaulting. Where is the lie? Are we raising our boys to treat women with the basic respect that every human deserves or are we simply going with ‘boys will be boys’?
• Do I question and challenge any lack of inclusiveness that I witness at my workplace? Our workplaces are changing but women still face many hurdles which many of us choose to overlook or remain ignorant of.
• Do I consciously or sub-consciously shame other women for the choices they make? More and more people are coming to terms with the fact that women should be able to make their own choices about their bodies, careers, and lives. However, it is easy to quickly judge another woman for deciding to do things differently from you, in areas like motherhood and dressing.
• Do I consciously or subconsciously blame the victim when it comes to cases of gender-based violence? ‘Mwanamke ni kuvumilia’ is something that women are still being told when they talk about their experiences with abuse. Many of us expect women to take responsibility for their own trauma, leaving them even more traumatized and afraid to speak up again.
• Is there a cause for women and girl empowerment that I can actively participate in, even in a small way? A wise person once said, ‘There are so many problems in the world; just pick one and get to work!’ This could be done through volunteering your time and skills or giving resources.
If we are not deliberate in our mission to #PressforProgress, then we will not make any progress at all. All it takes is a little time and a little effort. Not all of us can make grand gestures to show our support for women empowerment. Not all of us can speak at international conferences on gender issues or give large amounts of money to a good cause. But all of us can start small by examining ourselves and engaging with the people around us to make a better, safer world for women everywhere.
Author: Michelle Korir
Michelle Chepchumba is contributor at Wanjiru Kihusa. She loves cats and enjoys reading and writing in an attempt to discover the mysteries of the human mind. She also works in mental health and writes about life at www.thescroll.co.ke.