Commentary: Why International Women’s Day matters

On Feb. 3, Boston public schools closed because of the severe Arctic cold and wind chill forecast for that day and the next. My first thought was: What if the students’ mothers are single and working, what if they cannot take off or cannot afford to lose the pay – given the inflation of food, energy, and rents and the impoverishing impact of Covid?

About 59 percent of all low-wage workers in the United States are women, an inequality worsened by racial inequality. Consider, too, the persistent “motherhood penalty” – whereby mothers are further set back financially by lack of paid parental leave and government-funded childcare.

But my worry for these working mothers and their children that day early last month concerned only one dimension of the arduous reality facing many women – most egregiously women of color – as we approached International Women’s Day on Wednesday of this week (March 8). The date recalls the day when female textile workers launched the first march in protest of unfair working conditions and unequal rights for women – March 8, 1857. It was one of the first organized strikes by working women, during which they called for a shorter workday and decent wages.

Women have gained considerable rights since that day through our own organizing, protests, and arrests, including the right to vote, to own property, to inherit, to education, to have once-legal rape in marriage criminalized. It was a revolution for human rights without weapons, fists, or a drop of blood spilled. Yet only a handful of countries are nearing full equality for women; and ours is not even close. Indeed, US women’s progress in gaining equality has both stagnated and lost ground.

Worst of all, violence against women by men in all its forms – pornography, rape, prostitution, physical beating, murder – increased during the pandemic. Women’s reproductive rights have been trampled on by the 2022 Supreme Court decision to void the right to abortion; and many states are sponsoring a plethora of regulations to deny women access to abortion and birth control.

And recently, the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that domestic abusers can own guns – a “death sentence for women and their families,” given that “abusers are five times more likely to kill their victims if they have access to firearms.”

From 2001 to 2019, approximately 7,000 US soldiers died in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, a period of time during which more than 18,000 US women – nearly three per day – were killed by current or former intimate partners.

The injustice of women’s inequality ripples out to national governments. The peace and the security of nations are powerfully linked with the equality of women. In comparing the security and level of conflict within 175 countries to the overall security of women in those countries, researchers have found that the degree of equality of women within countries predicts best how peaceful or conflict-ridden their countries are. Further, democracies with higher levels of violence against women are less stable and more likely to choose force rather than diplomacy to resolve conflict.

So, if you care about turning back from the war path the US is on and eliminating nuclear weapons, consider the words of the revered Ghanian statesman and former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan:

“There is no policy more effective in promoting development, health and education than the empowerment of women and girls … and no policy is more important in preventing conflict or in achieving reconciliation after a conflict has ended.”

Pat Hynes, a former Dorchester resident, is a member of the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice Board in Western Massachusetts and Women’s International League for Peace and Justice. She is the author of the recently published book, “Hope, But Demand Justice.”

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