I think this year’s International Women’s Day theme - #pledgeforparity - is a very positive message. It recognises that all of us carry responsibility for creating a world where gender equality is possible. Making this world equal cannot be viewed – or fought – as simply a contest between two oppositional forces.
If it was this simple, there would be no space for the shades in-between. But there are so many shades. Intersectionality, a word coined by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989, is a word thrown around academic debates to express the diverse hurdles that different women face. But, despite this term being coined nearly 30 years ago, there is still an overwhelming insistence on seeing the fight for gender equality as one opposing force against the other. It’s also nearly always conceptualised as a ‘woman’s thing’, the cruel irony here being that women are both victim to and responsible for their secondary status.
I think we would move further along in achieving equality if we all understood that gender parity is multidimensional and complex. That intersectionality isn’t academic discussion but lived experience. And that the fight for gender equality is not a question of one voice against another. We need to hear from a variety of voices – from the minorities within minorities; from those who do not fall into this simple two-tiered system and do not identify as one gender but may straddle both, or move between them; from those who have same-sex relationships.
For example, just on the spectrum of sexual orientation, my experience as a lesbian is different from a straight woman’s experience, and from a woman who is bi. Discrimination based on narrow gender lines can, and this will come as a shock to some, even affect men. A lot of homophobia is rooted in this myopic view of gender. The logic of this two-tiered system is that a man can only be a ‘real’ man if he’s a hot-blooded heterosexual. Anyone who errs from this ideal is peculiar, and can therefore be abused and discriminated against, and the subversion of invisible but ever-present gender norms is used as the justification.
Trans women disproportionally suffer from discrimination, sometimes from those who you think would be allies. The effect this gender-justified abuse has is chilling. Internationally, 594 LGBT people were killed in the Americas between Jan 2013 and March 2014. A staggering 46 per cent of them were trans women.
So this International Women’s Day I am whole-heartedly behind the idea of making a #pledgeforparity. We all have a responsibility for working towards gender equality. To do this we need to give everyone the chance to express their experience of gender inequality and to listen to these experiences and to not dismiss them. And we can’t do that unless we understand that there’s no us and them. There’s just us, and if we want change to happen we need to support, listen and stand up for each other.