March 8 is Internacional Women’s Day, celebrated with marches, workshops and cultural programs in cities around the world. In Costa Rica too.
The first International Women’s Day was held in 1909 to highlight the achievements of women. Although the date varied from country to country, and from year to year, women used the events of the day as a means to improve their lives.
In big cities across Europe and the United States women marched for the right to vote, for better working conditions, against the hunger which affected many countries, and with the start of World War I, for peace.
In later years the date of March 8 was set to commemorate the deaths of 123 women workers in the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York in 1911. The victims, most of them immigrants and poor, lost their lives because the factory’s owners locked the doors to prevent theft. The lives of the women were worth less than the price of a blouse.
Historically we women have gained a lot of rights since that time but full equality still does not exist. In the streets, in the workplace, in education centers women are subjected to sexual harassment, innuendos, and being touched on breasts, buttocks and face. We put up with comments about our bodies, our clothes or our civil status. Men take photos without permission to put on social media. Pornography shows women as victims of abuse or as sexual objects.
Family violence affects mostly women. In 2018 in Costa Rica twenty women were assassinated by their partners, ex-partners or a known man. Calls to 911 for domestic violence reached 51,000 and such calls increase during major soccer games and holidays.
In the workplace, the majority of women are at the lowest rung. They are machine operators, cleaning ladies, assistants, office workers, and a very few are in administrative jobs. Today there is not one woman president in all of the Americas although there have been women presidents in the past. In the world of finance, the machine that runs the world economy, we find very few women. Only 20% of those present for the World Economic Forum in Davos this year were women. Although a woman, Christine Lagard, is head of the International Monetary Fund, and Angela Merkle and Theresa May are prime ministers of their countries, a few women in positions of power does not make equality.
Women are almost absent in the fields of science and technology. Today’s world runs on technology, a field that does not require physical strength, testicles or testosterone, but it is dominated by men. There still exists the belief that women cannot comprehend technology as well as men. In many companies, there still exists the legacy that menstruation and pregnancy impede a woman’s capacities.
Language too shows prejudice toward women. Tell a woman that she does something like a man and it is taken as a compliment. Tell a man that he does something like a woman and it is an insult. She is a “woman doctor”, a “woman president”, a “woman police officer” , a “woman bus driver”, whereas a man is simply a doctor, president, police officer or bus driver.
Discrimination against women is most notable in sports. In Costa Rica woman have reached international championships in soccer, fencing, boxing, swimming, and surfing, and women participate in marathons, climb Chirripo, compete in bike tours, but where are they on the sports page or any of the numerous sport shows on TV? Where is the financial support for uniforms, travel expenses, trainers, playing fields? Where is the recognition? Everyone here knows who Kaylor Navas is but few recognize the name Shirley Cruz even though her achievements parallel his.
As woman we live with social pressure, to marry and have children. A bachelor is in demand as a partner or companion and the word evokes gallantry, but an “old maid” is an object of derision or humor. The decision to marry, to have children or not, and how many should be a woman’s personal decision.
We women still have a lot to deal with. In 2015, not that long ago, more than two hundred women workers in a textile plant in Bangla Desh were killed when the building collapsed, a tragedy equal to that of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory that started us marching in 1911. One hundred girls who were kidnapped from their school in Nigeria in 2014 have never been found and there is no active effort to find them. Women in Syria and Yemen and Afghanistan are excluded from international peace discussions even though women’s lives and futures are strongly affected by armed conflicts.
For the reasons cited above, we will continue marching and agitating until all women receive their basic rights, education, health care, justice and protection against violence, armed conflicts, poverty and can enjoy a life with dignity.
By Olive Branch, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Costa Rica.
Mitzi Stark, resp. firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com