International Women’s Day has its roots in as far back 1909, although the current version we know with its global reach did not emerge until 1977 when it was adopted by the United Nations. Celebrated annually on March 8th, IWD was designed to be a celebration of the achievements of women, and a rallying point to build support for women’s rights. In light of this, a number of countries, including Canada in 1992 have declared March as Women’s History Month. The underlying idea being that for us to move forward, sometimes we must go back first. If recent history has shown anything – one really just has to dive into +234 Twitter and its affiliates – it is that gender equity is still a misunderstood concept. We have come a ways, but we still have some left to go. Fortunately, in Nigeria and the diaspora, the conversation is starting to shift. We do not all have to be activists, but there are still meaningful ways we can show up for these difficult discussions that don’t involve taking to the streets. Here are three.
- Show Up Ready To Learn and Unlearn
There is an often quoted maxim that life is a journey of constant learning: we stop living when we stop learning. When we show up to class ready to master new information, we have to do so with an open mind and a decent amount of patience for ourselves and our learning journey. There is a lot of harm that has been passed down over the generations due to practices that failed to uplift women. Some of that we have learnt unconsciously, and so we have to be willing to question them. Letting go of these old ideas that are holding us back does not mean we are failing to honor our ancestors and culture. Culture by its very nature is dynamic and ever changing. It evolves so that our survival is ensured. When we let go of these harms, we must also ready ourselves to learn new practices that are more healthy. This process does not mean we are compromising on our values. Only that we are alive and growing.
- Show Up with R.E.S.P.E.C.T and Grace
Often when we go into these sorts of conversations, we go in with the mindset that we have to win the debate. This of course fails to see the point – that these conversations are supposed to be about an exchange of ideas. It is less about the individuals who hold these ideas, and more about understanding the belief systems their ideas are rooted in. Activists and community organizers today understand that their work has to be approached with more grace that does not demonize those they engage with. We can all benefit from being more gracious when we have these conversations. This does not mean of course opening ourselves up to harm and trauma. Respecting others means respecting ourselves. Call out slurs and dangerous rhetoric when you hear them, but always remember to do so while remembering that it is these ideas we are challenging and not the people espousing them. We cannot allow more harm to continue to be done, but we must also remember that we are all offspring of the society we were born into.
- Show Up Ready to be Uncomfortable and Dissatisfied
The movie industry is a terrible model for how these sorts of conversations are supposed to go. Usually, there is a single scene where someone’s bigotry is addressed in conversation, they cry some tears of healing, and voila they are transformed and ready to go off into the world ready to do better. The conflict is resolved handily so when the credits roll, the audience can depart sated and happy. While I am not an expert, I have been in community organizing spaces around healthy masculinities for years now and it has become apparent to me that growth takes a lot of time. Going into these conversations, the goal cannot be for radical transformation to happen instantaneously. It takes most of us decades to dislodge the preconceptions we have been raised on. And the journey there is hard and uncomfortable. That eureka moment may not come until years later while doing something related like the dishes or folding laundry. The satisfaction of having things finally click into place tends to sneak upon us. However, we cannot solve the puzzle if we have not stared in confusion at the pieces first.
The word feminist is still a divisive one in twenty first century Nigeria. A phenomenon that leaves me with no end of surprise. IWD 2021 has come and gone, but as we know with every holiday, the ideals at the centre of it are ones that ought to be carried forth into every day of the calendar year. I have said elsewhere in this post that we are all offspring of the society that birthed and raised us. Leaving a different one for future generations means we must each take up the responsibility of showing up ready to redefine its contours.