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Growing up, International Women’s Day (IWD) was just another holiday. It marked the momentous occasion of my dad’s biannual vacuuming and (gasp!) dish-washing (the other time was for mom’s birthday). I looked forward to receiving chocolates and being important for one day, without questioning the day’s origins. Today, however, is not the day of chocolates and flowers, not the day of empty gestures, nor is it the only day women are allowed to matter. Today is the day of sisterhood and empowerment. Today is the day of reflection and of action. On this International Women’s Day let us continue the history of activism and unabated struggle towards equality. I ask you to take a stand on one of the issues outlined below and make your voice heard.

International Women's Day

Violence Against Women

According to UN’s The World’s Women Report , the rates of women who experience physical violence at least once in their lifetime varies from several percent to over 59, depending on the region.

violence against women statistics

In the US, 17.6 percent of women admitted to being a victim of an attempted or completed rape, 8.1% reported being stalked at some point in their life, and 22.1% reported physical assault by a romantic partner. These rates are higher for American Indian/Alaska Native women ( pdf ). Note that these are survey results and the actual numbers are likely to be higher.

What can I do to stop violence against women?

Good news is that Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has finally been renewed. The bill expands the protection for Native American women, LGBTQ, and illegal immigrants. However, it has not been a smooth sailing. The bill has met resistance in the House of Representatives, with all “Nay” sayers being of Republican persuasion.

Republicans Reach Out To Women With New ‘No Punch Pretty Lady’ Bill

Unfortunately for Republicans, turns out a) the voting records are public, b) women can read, c) women can vote.

So, this IWD, go to votesmart.org, and search by Issue (“women’s issues”), Representative or Senator, or by Bill name (S 47). Look at the list of Representatives and Senators who voted “Nay” on VAWA,  see if your Reps/Senators are on the list and contact them. And next time you head to the polls to exercise that very sexy right to vote, check the candidate’s record on women’s issues.

After you called your representative whether to congratulate him on being an ally to women or to express your displeasure at his/her voting history, consider donating to one of many charities created to help victims of domestic violence and abuse.

Reproductive Rights

This year has seen a tremendous backlash against a woman’s right to choose. The states have been waging local battles against Roe v. Wade, slowly chipping away at the freedoms so arduously gained – making it impossible for abortion clinics to operate, de-funding such crucial services as planned parenthood, imposing mandatory waiting times before an abortion procedure, and attempting to force women seeking an abortion to have ultrasounds. Did you know that Virginia funds deceptive crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) through the sale of anti-choice license plates? Or that 91 percent of Ohio counties have no abortion provider? Or that Colorado has not repealed its pre-Roe abortion ban? To see your state’s record on reproductive rights issues, visit this handy map.

What can I do to defend a woman’s right to choose?

Visit http://www.prochoiceamerica.org/ to get updates on current legislation that restricts women’s right to choose. Volunteer or donate.

Go to votesmart.org and select “abortion issues,” to search for state, as well as local legislation pertaining to abortion. Call your representative.

Donate to Planned Parenthood.

Professional Success

Women are underrepresented in business, media, science and engineering, and leadership positions. A gender pay gap persists everywhere. In a majority of countries, women’s wages are between 70 and 90 percent of men’s.

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Ladies, we’re moving to New Zealand.

Political involvement

Only 14 women in the world are currently either Head of State or Head of Government. In just 23 countries out of about 196, women comprise over 30% in the lower or single house of their national parliament. Worldwide, on average, 1 in 6 cabinet ministers is a woman (The World’s Women Report).

Extracurricular reading: The Continued Under-Representation of Women in U.S. Politics.

What can I do?

Encourage political ambition in girls. Vote for women. Run for office.

Volunteer for the League of Women Voters.

Donate to a female politician’s campaign.

Science

In the US, women now comprise the majority of bachelor’s degree recipients. Women have earned the majority of doctorate degrees since 2009. However, female representation among university faculty, science advisory committees, grant reviewers, and high-profile administrative positions is lacking. Worldwide, women account for slightly more than a quarter of world researchers.

One study published in a scientific journal PNAS explored gender bias among faculty. The researchers asked university professors to evaluate a candidate for an entry-level laboratory position. All were given exactly the same resume with one difference – the name (Jane or John). The faculty were asked to rate the candidate on how competent they are, how likely they are to be hired, and whether the faculty will be willing to mentor this person. The results are below.

competence

Both male and female faculty rated the female candidate to be less competent, hireable, and mentorable. They did rate “Jane” as more likeable, though.

This study shows, that even at a very early stage in their careers, female scientists are disadvantaged. This sets up young bright women to fail. There is some research suggesting that female scientists have to publish more than their male colleagues to be perceived as competent, and that leads to fewer capable females being hired as faculty and approved for grants.

What can I do?

Association for Women in Science (AWIS) is an organization that aims to support women that pursue science. They organize networking events, run mentoring seminars, and try to influence policy. If you’re a scientist, you should join your local chapter; they always need capable volunteers. If you’re not a scientist, but still care about supporting women in science, consider donating to AWIS.

If you’re a male scientist, consider taking the panel pledge.

Budget cuts affect everyone. However, the slashing of science budget affects female scientists to a greater extent for the reasons outlined above. So please call your representative or senator and tell him/her that science funding is important for the future of our country.

Literature and Film

Women’s stories take a backseat to men’s. Women’s voices are constantly silenced. The most recent example is what happened when Anita Sarkeesian announced a new project to explore video game industry’s portrayal of women (serious trigger warning!).

This Women in Literary Arts Study shows that less than 40% of articles and reviews published by major publishing houses are written by women. In film, women comprised 18% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors. Women accounted for 14% of writers, 18% of executive producers, 20% of editors, 4% of cinematographers, and 25% of producers. Women accounted for 5% of directors working on the top 250 films in 2011, a decrease of 2 percentage points from 2010 and approximately half the percentage of women directors working in 1998. Thirty eight percent of films employed 0 or 1 woman in the roles considered (directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographer, and editors), 23% employed 2 women, 30% employed 3 to 5 women, and 7% employed 6 to 9 women (http://www.wmm.com/resources/film_facts.shtml).

What can I do?

Put your money where your mouth is. We live in a capitalist society and you vote with your money. Go see a movie directed by a woman. Buy books written by women about women. Give your nephews and nieces, friends, moms books, movies, and video games that pass the Bechdel test. Be a smart and discerning consumer of media.

Write a book!

That is all for me. Happy International Women’s Day! Leave a comment on how you’ve added to this day’s historic legacy of activism.

 

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