International Women’s Day and the Continued Importance of Feminism

Heidi La Paglia is a student at the Hobart campus of the University of Tasmania (UTAS). She is studying majors in sociology and gender studies and is currently holding the position of Women’s Officer for the Tasmania University Union (TUU). 

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In the week just gone by, University Unions around Australia ran social gatherings, political rallies and movie screenings to celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD). Held on the 8th of March annually, IWD is a day to recognize the inequalities and struggles faced by women, and allows us to remember the importance of continuing to support feminism.

In the last few decades’ women around the world have come a long way in their progress towards gaining autonomy and equality with men. In Australia alone, the successes are almost countless. Changes in legislation have allowed women to access affordable means of contraception, join the workforce in areas previously dominated by men and follow aspirations apart from getting married and having children. BUT… while women HAVE come a long way in their fight for emancipation, there are still many goals we’re yet to met.

For me, the yearly celebrations of IWD act as a reminder that there are many women around the world suffering from serious hardships and have no access to the services or resources required to change their situation. In 2014, girls and women make up 70% of the worlds poorest people and are much less likely than men to have access to healthcare and education. When I look at the facts it seems outrageous to me that people can say there is no more need for feminism. That’s why I organized an International Women’s Day afternoon tea at my University last week.

On Thursday the 6th of March 2014 I hosted an international women’s day afternoon tea outside the Union building at my university. As well as providing food and drinks to students, the afternoon tea included lots of information – in the form of flyers and pamphlets – about services around Hobart that are available to women. In order to provide these I contacted women’s welfare organisations such as the Hobart Women’s Shelter and the Hobart Health Centre. They allowed me to provide students with information about how to get advice and gain access to healthcare, accommodation and other living essentials in times of crisis. While I do not think that help in times of crisis is the solution for gender inequality, I do think they play a very important part in addressing issues that face women.

The Hobart Women’s Shelter predominantly helps women who have experienced domestic violence, or who need to escape from a hostile home environment. The Women’s Health Centre provides a free holistic health service to women and often deals with issues that indirectly effect women’s health such as stress and lack of money to access medication. While I think it is problematic that these organisations deal mainly with people suffering from serious hardships rather than using primary health tactics to prevent the issues, I think that they are nevertheless providing very important services to women.

Organisations that allow women to escape from domestic violence and centers that provide health services specifically to women were fought for by the feminist movement throughout the 60s and 70s. Thanks to feminism Australian women now have access to these services; but many people don’t really realise their history or significance.

As Women’s Officer for the Tasmanian University Union (TUU), I gathered information to provide for students about women’s focused non-government organisations (NGO’s) because I think that more people should recognize their importance. While they have become somewhat commonplace in Australia, there are no such services in many countries around the world. In developing countries like Nepal for example, there are no shelters for women suffering from abuse or violence, and the only treatment option for women suffering from health problems is to see an expensive practitioner who is usually male and NOT sympathetic to women’s social conditions. In January 2014 I worked with women in Nepal suffering from poor health and gendered violence. I talked to them firsthand about their situations; and this made incredibly clear to me why it is so important to have access to services such as women’s health centers and domestic violence shelters. This is why I promoted for IWD.

On the day of my afternoon tea, the promotion of women’s focused services was successful, and lots of the attendee’s talked to me about the important role that public service provision plays in addressing the inequalities that are faced by women. Through running my event I gained support for my views from some local female politicians and encouraged students to get actively involved with the issues.

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