As a woman, I’ve always been unsure as to what I am required to do on International Women’s Day. Take to the streets in song and dance, post a series of pictures displaying the best of my ‘womanness’ (however that may be) or perhaps wear a quaint little dress to receive well-wishers over a cup of coffee and sweets of my own making. The fact is that I have never considered my gender as something that defines me first and foremost. I grew up playing with dolls like the girls and running around wrecking havoc like the boys. I sometimes depend on a female shoulder to cry on and other times need the caring support of a male buddy to keep me going. I do realize I have been fortunate enough to have never been subjected to gender discrimination major enough to have affected my behavior and life choices, at least nothing too damaging that I couldn’t deal with myself. I am a woman for sure, and enjoy most of the idiosyncrasies that come with it. But I have led most of my life as a homosapien, better defined by my humanity, values and mixture of cultures to which I belong to, rather than the length of my hair or the dresses that I wear.
But today isn’t about me as an individual, nor any other woman as an individual herself. It is about women as whole, a part of humanity brought together by the traits of biology that set us apart from our male counterparts. The handful of biological – and psychological – differences that have set us apart politically, legally, socially, economically, educationally and sociologically by far more than the biological differences can justify. The gap has certainly narrowed throughout the years and more so in some parts of the world than others. Women have contributed and made a difference to everything and everywhere, many are well-known for it, but most remain anonymous. Yet the gap remains, just as discrimination, violence and double standards against them also remains in many parts of the world. And if nothing else, this annual International Women’s Day of ours should serve as a further reminder of how big the gap still is and the necessity to keep on the fight for women’s rightful place and space for contributing to society.
The East, on which we hereby set our eyes on, provides a mixed account on women in almost every sector. Yet the realization that women have a long road ahead is understood by men and taken up by women and men alike. When it comes to Lebanon, I hope the day will come when women are no longer afraid to face the men that abuse them. When women make a name for themselves in politics because of their own achievements and not because they have inherited the position from a dead husband or pushed into it by a powerful brother. When women have the same legal rights as men, whether in providing citizenship to their children or equal rights over the custody of their children. When women are no longer looked down and labeled with derogatory terms for being strong and independent or career-minded, perhaps divorced or single mothers, or doing whatever it is they want to do, whereas the male equivalent would be labeled as manly, courageous and brave. When families no longer view the birth of girls with slight sadness and boys with limitless joy. When girls are not taught to be girls but citizens and human beings and boys are taught to see girls are their friends and equals, not their subordinates who shall live by the whim of their fathers and husbands.
Make no mistake, the freedom and equality of Lebanese women is a myth. Just because some of us dress the way we like and dance and drive the way we like, can speak our minds or have a greater presence in the productive socio-economic sector doesn’t mean we are on a par with our male counterparts. And even if we were, this is not a reflection of what happens beyond the confines of Beirut and some other cities, where traditional, backward and condescending mindsets towards women are still to be found and still need to be fought against.
Men sometimes joke that with all the initiatives focusing solely on women and their rights, there will come a day when men will have to start fighting for their own rights. I’m quite sure it will never come to that and honestly, shouldn’t. But when we come even close to gender equality, I hope both men and women would have realized that the real struggle is for our universal rights as human beings, usually usurped by the few – or the greater forces of government and institutionalized religion. And with gender equality, men and women will be in a better position to fight, together, for these rights. So, get to work everybody and happy day.