Another International Women’s Day (IWD) has gone and people of all genders have expressed their solidarity in the fight for gender equality through events, panels and social media campaigns. Hashtags have been posted, flowers gifted, chants sung and an empowering sense of support has taken over for the duration of Sunday 8 March—or at least that’s how it felt within my echo chamber. But just like last year or after any IWD, as soon as the celebration ends, I always find myself struggling to feel wholly satisfied.
After IWD, it is important that we remind ourselves of the objectives of the day, the feminist purposes and the conversations that everyone should bring forward beyond one single day in order to make sure that the fight for gender justice is a continuous, challenging and ever-evolving one. Here’s what we should all work towards to make IWD a year-long project.
1. Let’s keep it ‘intersectional’
In order to stay alert and make sure the movement for gender justice remains vigilant, inclusive and effective, we must keep it intersectional. By looking at the convergence between systems of oppression and domination, intersectional feminism looks at the unique experiences of individuals while taking into consideration notions of gender, race, ethnicity, class, disability and sexuality.
Not only should POC and gender non-conforming individuals be welcomed within the feminist agenda, but their battle for equal rights should also inform the future of the movement. Feminism is about inclusion and fighting against the discrimination of any individuals and communities struggling under the patriarchy, which means intersectional feminism is the only way forward.
2. Let us not forget the violence
According to the reports released by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), one out of three women has experienced sexual violence at least once in their lives. Three out of five women who have been murdered are killed by their partner or a family member, and worldwide, 15 million girls under the age of 19 have experienced forced sex.
The systemic violence against women and trans people is enabled by a legal and socio-cultural system that has, for too long, denied its responsibility in causing this violence. While each nation has had very different experiences, violence against women is an on-going problem across the world.
By promoting an intersectional agenda, the Argentinian fourth-wave grassroots feminist movement Ni Una Menos has in the past few years occupied squares, taught in schools and churches and connected unions to mobilise and create networks to oppose the killing and violence against women across communities.
The American philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler wrote in her new book The Force of Nonviolence: The Ethical in the Political: “The act of violence enacts the social structure, and the social structure exceeds each of the acts of violence by which it is manifested and reproduced. These are losses that should not have happened, that should never happen again: Ni Una Menos.” Even after IWD, we must make sure that this ingrained violence, as well as toxic masculinity, are increasingly challenged through education first and foremost.
3. From 16.3 per cent to zero
In Europe alone, the average gender pay gap is 16.3 per cent. Women earn impressively less than men and therefore have to work harder in order to make the same amount as their male counterparts. Positions of power are always harder to reach, and the tension between domestic life and career is a struggle that keeps interfering within women’s lives.
In order to build a more inclusive society, women must be as present as men in the social, political and economic structures that form our world. Founder and CEO of Make Love Not Porn Cindy Gallop, who is also a prominent voice for the equality of all genders within the workplace wrote on Facebook: “On #InternationalWomensDay and every other day, don’t use words like ’empower’ and ‘celebrate’. Use words like ‘hire’, ‘promote’, ‘pay’, ‘raise’, ‘bonus’, ‘fund’, ‘invest in’, ‘enrich’, ‘elect’, ‘lead’—and don’t just say it, DO IT,” highlighting the need for more than a once-a-year ‘celebration’.
Days like 8 March are important, but only if they function as momentum for an ongoing, shared project. Let’s not leave this IWD as yet another unfinished conversation. Let’s make sure that this conversation carries on, that the objectives remain clear and that the required changes are soon delivered.
This weekend, during the 45th César Awards (France’s equivalent to the Oscars) famous movie director Roman Polanski won the César for best director for the movie An Officer and a Spy. This resulted in people from the film industry leaving the room in protest and, subsequently, riots in Paris.
To many, Polanski, who had previously been accused of drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977, pleaded guilty to the ‘lesser offence’ of unlawful sex with a minor in 1978 to then fled from his US sentencing.This is just another reminder of how ‘separating the art from the artist’ doesn’t always work. His nomination and win at the César Awards caused an uproar both in the movie industry and in the streets of Paris, sending a clear message: French women are finally ready to speak up about sexual abuse and join the #MeToo movement.
Only last week, Harvey Weinstein was convicted of rape during his trial in New York. After hearing the news, many hailed the courage of the victims who had spoken out—it felt like a victory for the #MeToo movement and every woman, one that we were all quick to celebrate. But that didn’t last for long.
At the end of January, the César nominations were announced, a month before the ceremony, and caused more than 200 members of the film industry and French feminist groups to call for “profound reform” of the Césars academy. Two weeks before the awards, the entire leadership board collectively resigned—but the nominations didn’t change. This news came out after the board complained about the voting membership and its “elitist and closed” system in which they have “no voice.” Just after that, producer Margaret Menegoz was named as the academy’s interim president, which represented a well-needed change for the César Awards.
But this still wasn’t enough change for feminist organisations who decided to protest against Polanski’s nominations on the night of the awards just outside the venue, trying to pull down safety barriers to get access to the red carpet and storm the theatre. Protesters waved signs that read: “Shame on an industry that protects rapists,” and chanted “lock-up Polanski.” Local newspapers reported that the French police ended up firing tear gas on the crowd in order to stop them from entering the venue.
The series of events unfolded despite the French-Polish filmmaker announcing in a statement the night before that he would not be attending the ceremony, which didn’t seem to ease the controversy. An Officer and a Spy’s producer Alain Goldman told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) that he and the film’s team had decided not to attend amid “an escalation of inappropriate and violent language and behaviour.”
When Polanski’s name was announced as the winner of the best director award, very few people applauded, but only a few decided to leave the room. Among them was Adèle Haenel, one of France’s most prominent actresses who revealed at the beginning of this year that she had suffered from sexual abuse in the French film industry. As the first one to leave the room, waving her arms in disgust while mouthing the word “shame” and shouting “bravo, paedophilia” in the venue’s hall, she strongly highlighted the need for the #MeToo movement to keep on living. In an interview with The New York Times last month, Haenel said that “France ‘missed the boat’ on #MeToo” and it certainly looks like it did.
In this specific case, is it really possible for people, especially women, to separate the art from the artist? Wouldn’t that be forgetting what Polanski did, to celebrate his work and therefore imply that rape is somehow acceptable under ‘certain circumstances’? Has everyone already forgotten the other accusations of sexual assault he faced? In November 2019, after Haenel became the first high-profile actress to speak out over abuse in France’s movie business, actress, model and photographer Valentine Monnier accused Polanski of raping her in 1975, when she was 18, in a ski chalet in Switzerland, which he denied.
In the wake of these accounts, other French women came forward and highlighted abuse in the film and literature industries. France seems to finally be waking up, and women—from the movie industry, the sports industry and academia—are already protesting. This uproar sparked riots in the streets of Paris, and hopefully, this is only the beginning.