This morning I marked International Women's Day in what is for me, a fairly traditional manner. I got on the phone with my friend Jen, and we talked about the state of women's rights. It will surprise no-one who reads here regularly to learn that I am a political person - and by political, I simply mean that I care deeply about the politics happening in the world around me. I read, I think, I debate and discuss what I hear, and I vote.
Whether it's my own country, or my neighbours country, or a country halfway around the world, I am interested in who citizens elect to represent their views, and what laws those people then make - because it represents who they are as people, and how they think things should be done. At least here in Canada, I don't think of the Government as some overlord, I think of it as a group of Canadians selected by other Canadians to represent our views, and I like to know how they're doing that, especially when an election doesn't go the way I would like, and the majority of Canadians choose something I wouldn't. I watch even closer then. The rules and laws these Canadians make are things that will effect my life, or the lives of people I know - or the planet I live on, or the lives of people I don't know far away, and I've never bought that it's none of my business what's happening in the politics of places where I'm not a citizen. That's how genocides happen.
So this morning, Jen and I were talking about the politics of lots of places, and how the politics and politicians of those places had an impact on women. We talked about how only 1 in 5 land owners worldwide is a woman. How even though this is the 101st International Women's Day, which has to mean that we've cared about this problem for at least that long, despite that - only 12 of the worlds top 500 businesses are led by women. Despite that, this week the Prime Minister of Afghanistan endorsed a statement that "Men are fundamental, and women are secondary." In Saudi Arabia, a country that is considered a friend to Canada, the US and the EU, doesn't even let women drive cars. Half their population just doesn't have that right. Hell, after 101 years of worldwide political attention drawn to the problem, the Secretary General of the United Nations says that domestic violence worldwide is increasing, not decreasing, and that despite everybody agreeing it's absolutely horrible, 2 million girls between the age of 5 and 15 are sold as prostitutes each year.
It's not just the Middle East and Africa either. All over the world the politics of countries make laws and rules that tell women that they aren't allowed to make their own choices. Here in Canada, The Prime Minister has been widely criticized as been no friend of women. He's closed 12 of the 16 Status of Women Offices, eliminated funding of legal voices for women, cut funding for women's advocacy by 43%, and denied financial support to groups who support access to abortion, which makes it look a whole lot like he's making it hard for women to speak up. Thing is, he did a lot of that before he was re-elected and while he had a minority government. That means it's no just him who holds these views, that means a lot of other Canadians agree with him. In the US, all of the GOP candidates - not some, but ALL of them agree that a life should begin at conception - which would not just make abortion illegal, but it could effectively ban most contraceptives, which would mean that the only way for a woman to guarantee that she wouldn't ever have more children than she could support, would be to only ever have sex when she was willing to have a baby. For me? That would have been three times. (I don't know how that's an appealing idea to those men, but there you have it.) 98% of American women have used contraception at some point - and lots of them are GOP supporters. It's not like being a Republican (or a Conservative, if you're Canadian) is wrong or horrible. It's a legal political position to hold, as valid as being a Democrat or a member of the NDP - it doesn't surprise me that people could vote that way. It does surprise me that if 98% of women use contraception, and 35-40% of them have had an abortion, that so many of them are okay with voting for someone who's going to make laws that won't let them do that.
After we talked about all of that, I think that it's safe to say that Jen and I were both a little hot. There was lots of talk about how this is 2012, and how can women let these things happen, and that while worldwide, only 19% of politicians are women - but you know, women have the right to vote in Saudi Arabia - and they're half of the population. I get that in a country like Afghanistan, where there's state sanctioned abuse of women - and men are regularly permitted to do things like light their wife on fire because she got uppity, that women, even if they have the vote, can't create real change yet, and that's why their rights are underrepresented in politics, but here? In Canada? In the US? Women have the right to vote. Women do vote. We're mostly literate, with at least the minimum amount of education to be able to make our own decisions, and the amazing thing to me is that given the gift of choice, we would make a choice to vote to restrict women's future choices.
Then Jen and I got quiet. Then we thought a bit. Then Jen said something about how it's like knitting something for someone. You make it, you give it to them and then you're done. You don't get to decide how someone treats or uses what you've given them. That's not the spirit of it. If you knit your Aunt Mary a scarf and she balls it up in the bottom of the hall dresser and never, ever wears it because it's itchy, there's zip all you can do about it, because you gave it to her, and now it's hers, and that's how choice works. You can then make another choice to never, ever knit her another one as long as you live - but it won't change what she does with it. I agreed with her, and I realized that this women's day, as I wonder if things are really getting better for women (or if it's just happening to slowly for my taste) and wonder at women's support of policies that don't seem to be good for them, I have got to stick with the real spirit of empowerment, and that's respecting a woman's right to choose what's best for her, and the hardest part?
If you really believe in a woman's right to make decisions about herself, her body and her politics, if you truly think that women can and must choose for themselves, then when women make choices you wouldn't, you can't call them stupid or regret giving them that choice.
Women have to have the right to choose. Even if you don't like their choices.
Happy Women's Day.
(PS. I edited a typo at 16:56pm that was possibly creating confusion. I said the legislation "would not make abortion illegal, but it could effectively ban most
contraceptives" Of course it would make abortion illegal. My apologies. )