Tomorrow (Monday, March 8) is International Women’s Day. So, tomorrow, women (and men, and all gender identities) are being asked to raise their right hand symbolically in a gesture to suggest that they #ChooseToChallenge inequality, discrimination, bias and stereotypes. It’s a call to action.
As Joy Crawford, Executive Director of the Jamaican non-profit organization Eve for Life, points out below, IWD comes around, people say all the right things, and then the day is over for another year. That’s that. It has to be more than that. In this opinion piece, Joy has a substantial list of issues that we ought to be challenging. Many of us are not taking up that call to action, although many of these issues are things that we can simply tackle on a day-to-day basis. Support, empathy and compassion for other women is something, surely, that it would be easy to take on board. Joy’s words below are a call to action, too.
Over the years, Eve for Life has done this with a readiness, open-heartedness and a level of skill and expertise that is awe-inspiring. Eve for Life was founded in 2008 in response to a dire need for support for women and children living with, or affected by HIV and AIDS. I am happy and honored to have walked for a part of their earlier journey with them. Women in Jamaica face the brunt of the epidemic, accounting for 42 per cent of cases in Jamaica. In the age group 15 to 24 years old, infected women more than double the number of men.
Please read below Joy Crawford’s thoughts on International Women’s Day.
Real Leadership on International Women’s Day – Choosing to Challenge the Status Quo
International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated on March 8 as one of the most important days of the year to highlight women’s achievements, raise awareness about women’s equality, lobby for accelerated gender parity – and to fundraise for female-focused charities such as my organization EVE for Life.
IWD is being celebrated under various themes – for some the focus is on women’s leadership in the COVID 19 pandemic, while for others the campaign theme: #ChooseToChallenge has called on those who remain silent in the face of stark inequality and injustice to choose higher ground and call out individuals, communities, and governments to effectively address violence, discrimination and inequities meted out to women and girls.
One of last year’s themes “I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights”, made me extremely expectant and hopeful that many women would rise and stand with other women and girls in vulnerable situations. I was vocal and called for action, solidarity and if nothing else, empathy. The right words were said by men and women in places of influence. Events were held which struck the right note and focused on the right people. By March 9 it was all over.
So one year later, it feels like we are at the same place. We are still crying for actual safe and accessible shelters for women facing violence at home, for fair and non-discriminatory treatment at every level of the judicial system, for rejection of those social and religious norms that threaten women and girls’ human rights and leave them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.
We are at the same place because we do not realize that our inaction to help those who are hurt or vulnerable is just as bad as the actions of those who inflict that hurt or exploit that vulnerability. In almost every case of gender-based violence, the bystanders have more collective power than the perpetrator. Bystanders with information, with duty, with power to act are many. Unfortunately, many also choose not to challenge and not to act.
This is why so much of what takes place on successive International Women’s Days is mere lip service. It is because so many Jamaicans – women and men – choose not to challenge the status quo, choose not to act for women.
In the past, the gains secured for women in the face of discrimination and unfair laws, were achieved through the efforts of individuals and groups that chose to challenge. The push to get Jamaican women access to contraceptives in the first half of the twentieth century did not go unchallenged. It was spearheaded by two brave and relatively privileged women – Amy Bailey and May Farquharson -who went against the church and the social and political establishment to improve women’s lives by giving them control over childbearing. Maternity leave with pay was secured for Jamaican women in the 1970s, but not without a fight against those who did not want to give us this right, including sections of the private sector. Again, it was women and the women’s movement which championed the need for this legislation.
And the fight is not over. Recent moves to secure legislation that would recognize that a woman can be raped by her husband were opposed challenged by some lawmakers as well as sections of the society who refuse to recognize a woman’s agency over her own body! Let us also remember the impassioned plea from the Household Workers Association in Parliament last December, for the sexual harassment act to recognize the threat of sexual harassment and abuse to this group of workers faces in what should be the safest spaces – homes.
If this generation of women chooses to challenge the ills that plague us, women and girls in this country would be in a better and safer environment.
We must choose to challenge the political leadership’s failure to deliver shelters that are accessible, therapeutic, and client centered.
We must choose to challenge a legislative process which takes ages to produce laws to protect women from sexual harassment and assault.
We must choose to challenge gender inequalities in businesses led and owned by women and men.
We must choose to challenge ‘isms’ and schisms that divide civil society, and choose to support women focused/led NGOs and community programmes.
Women in leadership in the private sector must choose to challenge the status quo and use their platforms for fierce protection of all women’s rights.
Women in civil society organizations and movements must choose to challenge personal bias, and ‘othering’ and offer empathy to one another.
We all have to choose to challenge apathy and replace it with activity.
As Jamaicans we must choose to challenge the deadly path we are on which sees increasing numbers of women murdered and murdering; increasing cases of rape and incest, one of the highest rates of teen motherhood in our region, increases in the HIV rate among adolescent girls, increasing reports about abandonment of newborns, about ‘missing’ children, about domestic and family violence.
We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements.
Only when we make these choices will international women’s day really help advance the women of Jamaica. I love the quote that says “A strong woman stands up for herself. A stronger woman stands up for everyone else.” To stand or not to stand is the choice.
I challenge you to choose to challenge the world on International Women’s Day 2021 and every day thereafter. From challenge comes change.
Joy Crawford, Executive Director, EVE for Life
If you would like to learn more about Eve for Life, you may take a look at their website They may be contacted at 876 620-0515/6 or 876 831-8559. Email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.