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ALICIA WALLACE: Inclusion is not enough; All women must have access to all rights

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Alicia Wallace

International Women’s Day is on March 8 every year, early in Women’s History Month.

International Women’s Day started a celebration of the women’s rights movement and the achievements of women in the social, economic, cultural, and political spheres.

It is also an opportunity to focus on the significant gaps that contribute to gender inequality and gender-based violence against women. The day, however, has been co-opted, much like Breast Cancer Awareness Month and many other days, weeks, and months that started for the specific purposes of raising awareness and prompting action.

Corporations and individuals have misused these periods for financial gain and social media engagement, hosting high-priced, ticketed “empowerment” events, selling t-shirts, using slogans, symbols, and colours on their products, and enjoyed the benefits without doing anything substantive for the cause.

The official International Women’s Day themes have not been particularly helpful in this regard. They are catchy phrases, accompanied by a hand symbol that gets quick buy-in, but does not necessarily provoke thought or action.

This year, the theme is Inspire Inclusion and the hand symbol is a heart created by curling the four fingers of each hand like a hook and bringing them together to form the top as the extended thumb forms the bottom of the heart. The theme are two words that have been overused and watered down to the point of meaninglessness. In addition, the use of both words in activism and advocacy spaces has been criticised, and for good reason. The combination of these words is rather bizarre.

“Inclusion” is generally used in relation to diversity. The idea is that people need to be included. In processes, in events, in decision-making, in groups. Inclusion is the name of the game. Inclusion is, despite consistent failure by various entities to clear it, a low bar. There is a five-person panel. Four of the confirmed panelists are men. Include one woman! There! Diversity! There is a committee to plan the next Independence celebration. Add a young person. Inclusion! Inclusion only goes so far. It becomes a box to check and does not at all focus on outcomes. It most certainly fails to even begin to consider power dynamics and the undue burden put on the one, two, or three people added to the mix in the name of inclusion, much less the impact they are expected to have or could possibly have given the overall composition.

At the closing of the World Conference on Statelessness last week, Amal de Chickera (co-founder and co-director of the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion) talked about the limitations of inclusion and the mistake of setting it as the bar. Thinking about the concept of inclusion has evolved over time, and while inclusion was useful for a time, it is important for us to expand our work, deepen our commitment, and increase our action toward equality.

Consider what happens when we “include” people with disabilities. A fancy event is planned with a long list of presentations and top class entertainment. One of the event organisers has the brilliant idea to include someone with a disability. The person accepts the opportunity to represent the community of people with disabilities and will use their time on stage to draw attention to pressing issues. They invite other people with disabilities to attend and enjoy the event. They arrive at the venue only to find that it is not wheelchair accessible. This means the wheelchair users cannot enter until the organisers find a makeshift—and unsafe—way to give them access through a back door. The speakers are all given front row seats and told that they will be signaled by a placard when it is time for them to go on stage. The speaker with a disability is blind, so they will not see the placard, so the person next to them promises to signal them. No one thinks to make the speaker aware of the fact that the stage is elevated and the stairs to access it are not directly in front of them, but in front of another speaker. This, without exaggeration, is inclusion. “We didn’t think of your specific needs and our planning made you an obvious outsider, but hey! You were included!”

Think about political participation. What would it mean to include people with disabilities in political leadership? The Parliament building does not accommodate people who cannot take stairs. Ensuring equal political participation, for any group of people including women and people with disabilities, requires more than just including us in the number. People who have been excluded, marginalised, and oppressed have to be centred. Building and designing around these groups of people ensures that their needs are met and they are able to participate in an equitable way.

For International Women’s Day, every day, more beyond inclusion. Identify who is missing, and centre them. Create systems and processes that make their leadership — not mere participation — possible. Listen to them. Learn about their needs. Identify the systems and ideologies that led to those needs and that continue to result in those needs not being met. Be prepared to dismantle systems and discontinue processes and practices that are harmful and exclude women and girls.

Importantly, take time to assess yourself. Are you playing by the rules to be safe, to be liked, and to be included? How can you push against the systemic exclusion and marginalisation of women and girls? Who can you challenge to do things differently? How can you model bold action toward equity?

Be not only verbally clear, but demonstrative in your support for all women — young women, elderly women, women with disabilities, migrant women, institutionalised women, LBTQ+ women, women experiencing poverty, women of different faiths and no faith, and all women whose identities, experiences, and ways of being women are different from yours or the women you choose to see as human beings. Check your position on political issues. Marital rape, nationality rights, the gender-based violence bill, women’s political participate, BRCA gene testing, access to mammograms, constitutional reform, comprehensive sexuality education, and civic education are all important issues that need your attention. Your position needs to be one that aligns with the human rights of women which are interdependent and indivisible. We must have access to all of our rights for any of them to be enjoyed.

Recommendations

  1. Participate in the International Women’s Day March and Expo hosted by Equality Bahamas. Assemble at Eastern Parade at 8:45am for the march to The Dundas Centre for the Performing Arts on Mackey Street where the Expo opens with Zumba with Ms. Deidree. Exhibitors include Bahamas Crisis Centre, Bahamas Sexual Health and Rights Association, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Bahamas, and Office of the United Nations Resident Coordinator. Scheduled sessions include a conversation with women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), writing for healing, life coaching with a focus on self-care, growing a garden in a small space, and yoga. All day experiences include letterpress printing with Poinciana Paper Press, an art exhibition by Sixty 2 Sixty Art Gallery featuring four artists, and massage by Relax & Escape Mobile Spa. Get more information at tiny.cc/iwd242nassau.
  2. Join Feminist Book Club. This month, we are reading Evil Eye by Etaf Rum. A reviewer on Goodreads called it “an absolute stunner of a novel that could not be more relevant to our times.” They went on to say, “Etaf Rum’s writing is immaculate. Not flashy, and so compulsively readable and so clear and concise. The prose didn’t get in the way of the story and in fact conveyed Yara’s emotional state with immense clarity and heart[…]”

Comments

John 2 months, 2 weeks ago

If men were to cut their genitals off and hand them to some of these women, they still beill not be satisfied and ask for more and them some. Is it that these women hate and despise men or do are they overcome with self hate for their own gender? Or maybe they have a false perception of what the man’s world is really like. Men have given up a lot of rights and privileges and at this expense, women are more equal to men probably more so than ever in the history of the human existence. . Talking with a young man just recently, he says even the dating/club scene doesn’t make sense to him. He explained that if a young man goes in the club and sees a ‘female’ he may like. So he goes and offers to buy a drink. She says, ‘yes you can buy me a drink, but I’m with my friends can you also purchase drinks for them.’ And if it’s three or four of them the tab can easily be $60-70. So now his response is ‘Miss I only interested in you, not your friends, I also have my friend with me. If any of them want to talk to him, then he will buy them a drink. The point is women are on this equality and equal rights trip but they don’t want to give up the privileges ( and freebies) they enjoyed when they were tge fairer sex. If a man takes a woman on a date the guy usually end up paying for everything if not most things. So the guy goes home broke and the woman, who is now an equal opportunity earner, goes home with all her money in her purse. And the stupid argument that women should be given opportunity by quota. Isn’t this the reverse of what you are trying to dismantle. A male dominated society. Women have proven they are capable of achieving and performing at any post and on any level in this country. And Bahamian men do not feel threatened or intimidated by that, not even when some of these women become masculine in their approach and demeanor. But to still cry that women are victims of sexual discrimination and need more right.,. Something wrong with that

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themessenger 2 months, 2 weeks ago

John is "thinking" with his small head again...................

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