Today is International Women’s Day. Sadly, rather than being solely a worldwide recognition of the complex and vital contribution that women and feminine power make to the sustentation of humanity, it also is a day when we yearn for an end to the systematic diminishment of women, through such depredations as rape, mutilation and physical or emotional abuse. It is a day when we decry the continuing enslavement of more than half of the planet’s population by a global patriarchy that seeks to limit, from cradle to grave, the realization by any woman of her full capabilities and potential.
Regardless of the place or culture of their origin, or their economic station, women are subjected from birth to the inculcation of self-doubt and fear. A woman’s quest to discern her destiny, and bring her talents to bear in fulfilling it, is hampered by her struggle to overcome those limitations imposed upon her by society. However, that we as a species have survived — and even, in many respects, flourished — is testimony to the untold numbers of women who have managed exactly that: the shedding of societal limitations and the attainment of their true station as beacons of hope and comfort for the rest of humanity. It is this reality that we should celebrate on International Women’s Day.
We all have seen firsthand the dreadful effects of an oppressive culture bent on diminishing and limiting women. We have witnessed the heartbreaking result of denied opportunities and unattained greatness. Yet we have also known, through mothers, sisters and daughters, women who have broken free enough to show us all the true power of their feminine: inclusive, nurturing, expansive, visionary, creative, healing, expressive, gentle, unconditionally loving, guiding and transformative. The universal ascendance of these qualities is the hope of humanity; the continued oppression of women its despair.
Ironically, many in the United States decry the plight of women elsewhere in the world as if women in this country are cherished as nowhere else. Yet an active, vocal — and occasionally deadly violent — faction would rob women in this country of control of their very bodies by first, outlawing abortions and second, by limiting or eliminating access to scientifically based sexuality education and contraception. The deprivation of reproductive choice in women harkens back to the darkest, primitive days of our species when women were enslaved by their role in the reproductive process. And that is exactly what these neo-slavers want today.
In the minds of these self-appointed arbiters (and would-be rulers) of feminine propriety and expression, procreation and the attendant duties of caring for children and mates are considered the only appropriate roles for women. That this is true can be seen in the way that women are systematically limited (if not outright excluded) from vital, non-reproductive roles in our society. They continue to be paid a fraction of what their male counterparts are paid for the same work. And they are woefully underrepresented in leadership roles in the workplace, as they are underrepresented in almost every other institution in America, including government.
More tragically, women are far more subject to violence — especially sexual violence. In our “civilized” country, a woman is victimized by some form of sexual violence every two-and-a-half minutes. When considered together with the emotional abuse against women that is epidemic in our nation, we gain some understanding of the scope of institutionalized diminution of women.
It has been more than a century since International Women’s Day was first observed in Europe, but in considering the foregoing, it becomes easier to understand why it goes largely uncelebrated in the United States. It is time for that to change.
One way to improve our dismal record with regard to celebrating and supporting women would be for the United States to finally ratify, without reservation, the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in the U.S. Senate. That 38 years have elapsed since this fundamental expression of basic human rights for women passed the UN General Assembly, and our country has not ratified it, is prima facie evidence of the institutionalized nature of anti-feminine bias in our society. That we are numbered among only seven nations that have not accepted or ratified this convention — the others are Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Palau, Tonga and Vatican City — is our shame.
More important even than ratifying this document, however, is the need for our nation to become the most visible proponent of the rights enumerated under this convention. Ratification alone means little when countries that have done so have not lived up to the provisions of CEDAW. We must model for other nations the reality of women, not only as a vital component of humanity, but as its salvation.
On this International Women’s Day, let us dedicate ourselves to the absolute truth that the core mission is not equal rights for women, but equality itself. Freeing women from reproductive slavery, educational limitations, workplace discrimination, emotional abuse and physical violence should be the desire of every conscious being. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln: “In giving freedom to [women], we assure freedom for the free — honorable alike in what we give and what we preserve.”
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