Oh dear. This year I looked up the theme for International Women’s Day which is behind us. And it turned out to be “Choose to Challenge.” Objectively speaking, I love it. Women should absolutely challenge whatever, um, challenges they meet whether they be small ones on a mundane level or the really big revolutionary things.
Here is the thing though: feminism is deeply exhausting. You would not believe the kinds of small irritations and impossible hurdles life can throw at you as a woman. So to hear that Choose to Challenge was the theme for 2021 — a year that is already proving to be ornery — felt like the last mile of a marathon that never actually ends. For this article, I chose to challenge myself to appreciate the little victories, because that’s what feeds the soul.
International Women’s Day 2021 began fairly innocently. I happened to be in the same location as a health professional and we ended up talking about taxes.
Specifically, taxes pertaining to feminine hygiene products as they are delicately called. It is a periodic concern of mine because of the fate of school-aged girls all across the country: access and affordability. With a Value Added Tax at 18 percent or so, you can see how things might add up. He kindly told me that we don’t tax feminine hygiene products. This is no small thing and it made me so happy to learn. A challenge won by activists who spoke out, and who continue to do so.
And then the day progressed to a situation where for some reason I was confronted about because feminism. You know where this is going, don’t you? Why should women have a special day for themselves when men do not.
After all these years, I can think of two things to say towards this: first of all, women are the ultimate and universal underclass all over the world. There are a few pockets here and there where being a woman isn’t intrinsically harder work than being a man, but they are rare. Of all the -isms, this is the Big One. And because it is so universal and accepted, we don’t talk about it much.
But we have to. We need to. Women make up half of the world’s population, thus this continued subjugation on the basis of gender cannot be ignored or justified. As far as our maturity as a human race goes, this is the true measure if you ask me.
No amount of billionaires and material things can fix our very basic flaw, that of having an underclass. Until we address that, we’re stuck not fulfilling out potential no matter how many rockets we launch to Mars. This is quite simply our test of emancipation. We are failing it.
Secondly, even though every day is arguably a ‘men’s day’ there is in fact a formal International Men’s Day. It is in November and is a necessary opportunity to address the problems that men face—specifically issues of physical and mental health, and bodily danger. Very few men are aware of this day, which is unfortunate. So now you know. Please use this knowledge to resist any urges to rain on Women’s parade, as it were.
I did what I always do when faced with the hostility of people who are looking for a reason to be mad about nothing in particular: I asked them to call their mothers. A tad unfair, I know, because telling an African man to call his mother means that you win every time. But in my experience, reminding men that they have mothers and daughters redirects their attention in a positive way. It might not always work, but it helps to remember that there are reasons outside of oneself to be a better person.
Finally, there is the World Trade Organization and its appointment of Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. This was a big piece of news, wasn’t it? Is it shallow of me to admit that my greatest pleasure at the moment is simply hearing international news anchors pronounce her name? Her gorgeous, unapologetic double-barrel name? I look at her head-dress and feel like we have arrived, you know? Yes, I am appropriating her. Many of us are, and she’s encouraging it.
You know how we often have to work twice as hard with considerable barriers to success in so called “non-traditional” careers? I was watching a report the other day that mentioned that women economists face many more challenging questions about their competence in the field compared to men.
Of course this level of pressure is going to produce diamonds. I wouldn’t say I am a big fan of the WTO, if anything I would probably be on the street with other arm-chair socialists trying to ‘bring down the capitalists’ yet this in no way diminishes my delight at seeing her, a confident Nigerian woman, at the helm. Maybe I can choose to be challenged to learn more about the WTO, now.
And finally, no rest for the wicked eh? It might be hard sometimes to remember — or even believe — that being a woman is a blessing. If not right now, and not today, surely tomorrow or soon enough it will be easier to choose to be challenged.
Happy International Women’s Day, month and of course, lifetime.
Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report: E-mail: [email protected]
This article was first published in The EastAfrican newspaper on March 13, 2021.