International Women’s Day has this year been propelled into public discourse, a result of the myriad of events and movements instrumental in publicising the degree of sexism that women face.
From the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements, prompted by the uncovering of mass sexual harassment in Hollywood, to debates and referendums surrounding abortion in Ireland and Argentina; the International Women’s Day is both a day to celebrate the progress being made towards gender equality, and highlight improvements which still need to be made.
In Russia, for example, two flight attendants working for the airline, Aeroflot, won compensation, after the airline decided to correlate the pay of its flight attendants with their dress size. Although the airlines actions were not ultimately considered ‘discriminatory,’ the case proved important in challenging discrimination within the workplace, especially given Russia’s ‘conservative values,’ whereby women are still often judged by their looks.
Indeed, in April 2017 a teenage rape victim’s appearance on TV provoked much debate, after many people expressed support for her rapist. The victim further became an object of jokes and memes, which became a tasteless advertising campaign by Burger King Russia, demonstrating how the changing of societal attitudes remains an obstacle in overcoming gender inequality. To a large extent this has become harder in Russia, given the political frameworks which support a patriarchal society; last year, Russia worryingly softened the domestic violence law and women are still banned from certain jobs in order ‘to protect their reproductive health’.
The past year has also seen King Salman in Saudi Arabia passing a decree which has allowed women to drive for the first time, in his country. Within this culturally conservative society, Saudi Arabia imposes strict gender roles, and women previously had to have the permission of a male guardian to travel, thus the passing of the decree led to the I Am My Own Guardian hashtag gaining traction on Twitter.
However, like in most conservative countries progress towards equality is slow, and despite the latest decree being an important step, women still require permission from a male family member to open a bank account, get a job or to get married. The #WhereIsMyName campaign in Afghanistan and #LipstickRebellion in India, have shown the significance of social media in challenging gender norms within conservative countries. As much as this last year has promised in progression of women’s rights, patriarchal structures and social misogyny still remain.