On March 8, 1911, the first International Women’s Day was held in countries across Europe that were agitating for suffrage. It became a rallying point against World War I, and some historians even believe it ultimately became the catalyst for the Russian Revolution. When women gather amazing shit can happen. Since then, March 8 is marked by women gathering in communities of all sizes around the world.
But women’s empowerment means different things for women around the world owing to country of origin, cultural norms and forms of government.
For some women in Ireland, it may be the promise of the upcoming vote on whether to abolish the constitutional ban on abortion. Yes, abortion is still illegal in Ireland owing to its Catholic history, but the Church’s antiquated beliefs on women’s bodies are finally being put to the ballot.
For women in sub-Saharan Africa, it may be the right to own land. On paper, women in Uganda are afforded property rights. But in Uganda, the constitution isn’t worth much in actual practice. Widows are most at risk since after a husband dies, the widow is often chased off what should be her property by the dead husband’s family.
In just a little over a year as president, Trump has taken countless measures to make good on his campaign promise to curtail women’s constitutional right to an abortion.
For women across Latin America, maybe empowerment is a growing collective voice of women across borders coming together to demand attention to crimes against women and girls, like the Ni Una Menos gatherings in Argentina or the demand for justice through prosecutions of femicide in Mexico.
The same is true in the U.S.—empowerment isn’t one size fits every woman. But there is one thing that binds us to each other: the right to bodily autonomy and the right to self-determination.
Before the election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence, our prospects were looking up. But now not so much. We are going to have so much work to do as women to repair much of the damage that’s already been done by the current administration.
In just a little over a year as president, Trump has taken countless measures to make good on his campaign promise to curtail women’s constitutional right to an abortion. On January 23, 2017 Trump reinstated the Global Gag Rule forbidding federal funding of international aid groups who promote healthy family planning services. He installed Valerie Huber, a long time “abstinence only” advocate versed in so-called “pro-life” rhetoric, as a high ranking official in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Abstinence-only “education” doesn’t work in promoting sexual health. It relies on gender stereotypes and shame-based lessons to try to scare kids into not having sex, misinforms about contraception and even has denounced Gardasil (the vaccine to combat cervical cancer), asserting it is dangerous and green lights promiscuity. It was just announced Huber alone will have discretion over Title X federal funding that provides critical family planning services to millions of low-income women. On top of that, Trump’s most recent budget aims to defund Planned Parenthood, which many low-income women rely on for family planning services, manual breast exams, cervical cancer screenings and pre-natal care, and to roll back the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act, which provides millions of women with birth control they would be unable to afford otherwise.
And in case the administration hasn’t been clear enough on the type of future it envisions for our country’s women, Vice President Pence recently said to a crowd of anti-choice protestors in Nashville that he was confident legal abortion, currently enshrined in Roe v. Wade, would be abolished “in our time.” The onslaught has been ceaseless.
In addition to the assault on women’s reproductive rights on state and federal levels, the administration has been getting pretty creative with new ways to keep the ladies down.
Overturning net neutrality combined with the FCC scuppering programs to advance broadband access will disproportionately screw over women. Specifically, women of color and women in rural communities. Everything from education to healthcare hinges on internet access. Telemedicine has expanded access to medical abortions to women in rural communities or in communities where anti-choice legislatures have driven clinics providing abortion care out of state. Where politicians haven’t regulated abortion out of existence, lack of broadband access may just finish the job. Even access to basic healthcare via burgeoning telehealth services is in danger, and these were programs designed primarily to reach underserved populations.
Speaking of healthcare aside from abortion care, lack of Medicaid expansion throughout the South has already led to an uptick in HIV care among women of color. And while maternal mortality rates cut across racial and socioeconomic lines, black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women, and rural women die at an alarming rate of 29.4 per 100,000 live births. With the cutbacks of Medicaid coverage, that number can only increase.
How can women hope to push back against a bunch of old white men in positions of power hell-bent on taking away our reproductive rights and thumbing their noses at our right to self-determination? Women’s empowerment today is resistance.
Resistance is the useful outrage that drove millions of women into the streets to protest the inauguration of President Trump. It is the righteous fury of Parkland student Emma Gonzales and scores of her classmates. It is the targeted anger of West Virginia teachers staging an epic strike. It is the black women of Alabama who refused to allow a sexual predator to occupy the state’s Senate seat. But for some women, resisting is just the defiant act of getting up each day and continuing to exist in a political milieu that has been nothing but hostile to their autotomy. And sometimes, that is more than enough.