Caitlin Barr says International Women’s Day should be a time to celebrate, mourn and organise
On March 8th, countless people of all genders celebrate International Women’s Day. Despite its neoliberal slant now, with slogans championing female CEOs, it finds its roots in labour movements of the early 20th century in Europe and North America, with the first recorded instance being organised by the Socialist Party of America in February 1909, before being picked up by the Soviet Union as a national holiday in 1917. It is now a chance for people to focus on issues that face marginalised genders, with many taking to the streets to protest, but it has become a largely sociocultural event focused on celebrating the idea of ‘womanhood’.
Corporations jump on the chance to manufacture products with a feminist slant and market them to predominantly young female buyers, with only some giving a fraction of the profits they earn back to charities aiming to uplift women and other marginalised genders.
It is a similar story with institutions which tweet out their support for International Women’s Day without reflecting on their own complicity in the subjugation of, and violence against, women. Last year, the Metropolitan Police tweeted on March 8th: “I know there are thousands of strong women who will be keeping the public safe in London for generations to come.” In 2021, just five days before International Women’s Day, serving Met Police officer Wayne Couzens kidnapped, raped and murdered Sarah Everard. Five officers were found to have shared offensive messages with Couzens before the murder. Many serving officers provided character references for Couzens during his trial.
Just nine months earlier, two Met Police officers had been charged with misconduct after taking selfies at the crime scene of the murders of sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman. Last month, serial rapist David Carrick, who was a serving Met Police officer while he committed crimes against twelve women over two decades, was sentenced to 36 life sentences. He was only sacked by the Met the day after he pleaded guilty.
The ‘bad apples’ at the heart of the system supposedly there to keep us safe are rotten to their core.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2023, we are undergoing a male violence epidemic. Young men and boys are watching and taking tips from Andrew Tate, a violent misogynist with human trafficking charges levelled against him. Last month, Epsom College head Emma Pattinson and her daughter were shot by her husband, George Pattinson, in a murder-suicide, with the Daily Mail questioning whether his motive was her high-flying job. Then there is the police investigation into the disappearance and death of Nicola Bulley, which is now the subject of an independent review in response to concerns over the police’s handling of the case.
Women are unsafe as a result of male violence, whether in the classroom, streets, their homes, at the park enjoying the summer, walking their dogs, or in their workplaces.
We need change, both on a structural and interpersonal level. We need to throw out our entire policing system, which fails women both in its complicity in crimes involving serving officers, with victims being ridiculed and disbelieved while their perpetrators patrol the streets, and their failures in handling cases involving violence against women, in which these victims are shamed, mocked and insufficiently supported.
We need to be out in the streets demanding accountability until we can bring the whole system down. We need to talk not just to girls and women about how to keep themselves safe, but to boys and men about how to take responsibility for their actions and hold accountable those who are threatening the safety of others.
We need everyone to be active bystanders in situations where women are being made to feel unsafe, because the police cannot be trusted to help us. More than ever, we need to work in communities to tackle these issues at their root, and when male violence threatens to do damage.
By next year’s International Women’s Day, if statistics continue on a similar trend, at least 104 women will have lost their lives to a current or ex-partner. We have a duty to do whatever we can to stop this from happening when the systems in place to ‘protect’ us fail to do so. This International Women’s Day, we celebrate – but we also mourn. And we organise.