So, in case you’ve missed it (or you haven’t used Google yet and checked out their doodle), it’s International Women’s Day today. Happy IWD!
In a lot of ways I wish this day wasn’t necessary. I’m not naïve enough, however, to think that it’s not still needed by women all over the world. I am lucky (and I know exactly how lucky I am) to have the luxury of a life where I am cherished and loved, and where I live each day free from terror. I don’t have to worry about violence, either from a family member or a government agency or any other institution; I don’t have to worry about overt (or covert) sexism or discrimination. Having said that, Ireland isn’t a utopia in terms of its treatment of women, by any means. There are women in my own country who struggle with issues like this on a daily basis. Some of these women don’t even realise that another option exists, because they are denied that knowledge. There are women living in poverty, and trying to raise their children with very little. There are women living with abusers, there are women who are trained to see themselves as being nothing more than workhorses, and sexism is still alive and well (though, perhaps, more skilfully hidden).
However, I know that Ireland, particularly in comparison with some other countries, is a pretty good place to live. Nobody has any money any more, of course, but we all manage to rub along reasonably well. Despite that, I’m very glad and grateful to live here, and I appreciate the way I was raised, the education I had, and the encouragement I was given to strive and achieve. I’m also grateful for the fact that I lived most of my life in blissful ignorance that girls and boys were any different, or that boys, apparently, were able to do certain things that girls were not. My parents raised my brother and I with exactly the same opportunities and love, and made it very clear that we were equals, both in their eyes and in plain, common fact. I’m not sure they’re even aware of how huge a service they gave both their children; imbuing us with this sense of ‘we are equally important, equally loved, equally capable’ has benefited both of us. It gave my brother the respect for women that he exhibits to this day, and it gave me the sense that I was valued and important. My parents taught me that I mattered, and I wish more parents would give their daughters this sort of love.
We weren’t raised in a rich household – my parents both worked (even though my mother scheduled her hours around our schoolday, so she was always at home when we finished classes for the day), and my brother and I both worked at weekends from the age of fifteen or so, to earn what we needed and (as it turned out) to save for university. Our parents didn’t have the chance to access the same levels of education that my brother and I did, and they are immensely proud that both my brother and I earned graduate university degrees. We couldn’t have done that without their support and encouragement. I may never have developed my inner, burning need to learn without my parents, who raised me without telling me there were any limits on what I could do because I was a girl. My parents did raise me with traditional values – including the importance of keeping a home, caring for children, respecting myself – but I’m grateful to them for that education, too. I’m grateful to them because they didn’t just teach me those things, and then consider me ‘educated’. Despite the fact that they had their misgivings about me going away to university, they recognised the need in me to learn, and they supported my choices. From an early age they read to me and encouraged my schoolwork; as I grew up, they listened attentively as I told them all about my university work. Finally, they sat misty-eyed and proudly clapping as I received my doctoral scroll. They were proud of me all that time.
I know not every woman in the world gets this sort of background. I wish they did. If they did, I have a feeling a lot of the world’s problems could be excised at a stroke. I also wish more men in the world could be raised as my brother was, and that there were more men in the world like my brother right now. If events like International Women’s Day could show parents the value of raising their children with love, respect and tenderness, encouraging their dreams and celebrating their successes, regardless of the child’s gender, then I’m all for it. Perhaps that’s why I wish there was no need for International Women’s Day, though – it’s a shame we can’t just have ‘International Achievement Day’, celebrating everyone’s achievements equally. As much as I am in favour of encouraging young women, I hate the thought that we might be guilty of encouraging our daughters at the expense of our sons.
We are all important. We are all equal. We all matter.