March 8, 2020, by Valentina
International Women’s Day: Spotlighting Women’s Issues
Today is International Women’s Day – a day to celebrate womanhood and stand in sisterhood and solidarity with women all over the world. A day for us all to celebrate the women who play vital roles in our lives and consistently build us up with their love and wisdom. It’s also a day to spotlight the issues faced by women of all ages and races and to discuss how we can make the world an increasingly equal and safer space for us all – an amazing opportunity for open discussion.
I have a pretty personal relationship with my womanhood – I’ve grown up surrounded by a lot of unique women with very big personalities, who have taught me that being a woman is about character and strength much more than it is about biological sex, traditional gender norms or stereotypes of ‘femininity’. They’ve been my matriarchs, my life coaches, my best friends and the people who through their own experience have taught me how to navigate this thing called life. They’ve moulded me into the outspoken and confident young woman that I am today. My womanhood is central to my life and identity, and for this reason…women’s issues have a very special place in my heart.
The realisation that my girlhood was inherently political came to me very early on, as I’m sure it does to most of us – as women, we’re sexualised before we can even begin to understand our sexuality for ourselves. I can’t even count the times that I was catcalled or followed home by cars in the dark of the night while visibly in school uniform. Before our bodies even fully develop, they become a playground for the male gaze – and we’re socialised into losing ownership of ourselves with every little experience that deems rape culture ‘normal’. We develop instinctual coping strategies, that we don’t even think about – we grip our keys tight between our fingers, we walk quickly and avoid quiet streets, we choose to be a little bit more silent and a little bit more invisible out of the inherent need to protect ourselves. We pass this on to our daughters.
It’s time to trigger a change in culture. Women’s bodies and choices must be respected.
For the last few months, I’ve been working with the Nottingham Women’s Centre on their ‘Safer for Women’ project – it’s a fantastic project that they’ve been developing alongside the Nottinghamshire Police Department to address incidents of misogyny that affect local women. Through their campaigning and fight for justice, they have managed to implement misogyny as a locally monitored hate crime category – this means that things like street harassment, verbal or cyber assault and unwanted sexual advances which can leave women feeling isolated and vulnerable – now, are all classed under Misogyny Hate Crime (MHC). Nottingham is the first UK city to implement this policy change and I couldn’t be prouder to work with such an amazing organisation that has fought to make this possible.
The focus of my work with them has been to identify the barriers which stop men from reporting Misogyny Hate Crime (MHC) when they witness it happening. We’ve carried out research via surveys and focus groups to gain insight into the male perspective and to understand how we can defy these barriers – one incredibly uplifting thing that we have found is that the majority of men want to be allies. Most men want justice and equality for women as much as we do. The focus now is to raise awareness; we’re developing a template for a workshop which we’ll be carrying in the hope of increasing men and boys’ understanding of MHC and how to combat it – the goal is raise reporting rates so that every woman can feel safe wherever she is.
In a world where women form the largest proportion of domestic violence and sexual assault victims, where women of colour are excluded from traditional white feminist narratives and women’s health becomes increasingly less of a priority for governments around the world – it’s time that we use days like today to stand in unity and fight for the freedom of women everywhere. To spotlight women’s issues – and to not only do so with the goal of speaking on them, but more importantly actually getting out onto the streets and facing injustice when it happens. Actively fighting misogyny and putting an end to oppressive cultures – even if that starts with simply reporting violence against women.