Fox on Books

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International Women’s Day

At work yesterday we hosted an Amnesty International event in honour of International Women’s Day, celebrating the progress of women’s rights and recognising just how far there still is to go. This got me thinking about a couple of things: such as Will Schwalbe’s gorgeous book about the last few years he had with his mother, Mary Anne Schwalbe. Mary Anne was instrumental in founding the Womens’s Refugee Commission, and their website describes her as “an eloquent, devoted and tireless advocate for women, children and adolescents affected by war and persecution. She visited refugees in settings around the globe, including in Afghanistan, Liberia, Sudan and Thailand, touching the lives of all she met.”

These women have to fight so hard – and so carefully – for basic rights like the freedom to marry (or not marry) whomever they choose, or an education, or the opportunity to have a vote. People like Mary Anne Schwalbe and Amnesty are, thankfully, just some of those helping to have these women’s voices heard.

International Women’s Day is also a good chance to remember that closer to home there are still so many problems in terms of women’s rights. As Caitlin Moran puts it in her book How To Be A Woman, “There’s never been a better time to be a woman: we have the vote and the Pill, and we haven’t been burnt as witches since 1727.” I’ve never felt like I’m disadvantaged as a woman growing up in Australia.

Nevertheless, some people’s view of women doesn’t seem to have progressed with the rest of society. I’m thinking specifically, here, of Tony Abbott, the leader of the Opposition in Australian federal politics. Not long ago, current Prime Minister Julia Gillard (yes, a woman) had this to say to Abbott in Parliament, in response to his many, many remarks about the role of women in our society:

The scariest thing about this, in my opinion, is not just that one of the most influential people in Australian politics has such blatantly sexist, misogynistic and abhorrently out-dated views of women. It’s that he is so unconcerned about how appalling this attitude us that he’s comfortable expressing it in public. And we’re letting him. A lot of people, men and women both, are going to vote for him. What does this say about our society?

It’s very likely that in the next Federal election this man will become Prime Minister of Australia. Look, see: how far we’ve come.

There is more to do. There is more to do in many areas, in Australia and the world over. But on International Women’s Day, I wanted to remind myself, as much as anyone else, that I might not be as equal as I feel. And how scary is that?

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