By Jade Tenwick.
“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” — Audre Lorde.
This year, at the age of 25, I am planning to strike and march for the first time for women’s rights. I will be joining countless others in Brussels, at least 1,200 according to the Facebook event, which aims to show that “when women stop, the world stops turning”.
This is the first strike of its kind in Brussels. It follows a similar action last year in Spain where more than five million women took to the streets bringing the country to a halt. The strike was to bring attention to the pay gap, violence against women, and several other issues.
This is not only the first strike of its kind in Brussels, but also my first strike. You may wonder why, given that I had had the opportunity living in other countries to strike for women’s rights.
Simply put, this is the first job I have ever had, in which I feel safe that this action would not affect my job security.
Working for an employer who supports the equality of the sexes, I felt comfortable knowing I could explain why I was not going to be in the office that day. In previous jobs, I did not have that security for two reasons: in some jobs, I would have lost my wages (and I could not afford that), and in other jobs, I was worried that striking would taint my reputation (which I could also not afford). Now I am not only striking but also writing about it – progress!
The reason for this I am sure some people can understand: I did not want to be seen as a troublemaker. During my brief stint in a corporate office, I felt that I could not take the day off to strike for women’s healthcare rights in Ireland. At the age of 21, I did not want to give anyone the idea that I wanted to disrupt the status quo. Now I am unapologetically calling for the system to be dismantled.
All the women who can strike should strike. We need to strike for those who are in positions that cannot. It is not only our right, but our responsibility.
For the day that is in it, here is a list of a few reasons why I will be marching for women’s rights, in no particular order:
Street harassment: Some people argue this is flattering. Well, at 3am in the morning when you are walking home from finishing your shift in a pub, it is definitely not flattering to have a motorbike trail behind you, proceed to drive onto the pavement blocking your path so he can talk to you on a dark street. That is petrifying, not flattering.
Career or kids? I have been told many times that in order to ‘catch’ a good husband and bring up good children, I would have to lower my professional ambitions and decide to stay at home – both explicitly and implicitly. I have also been asked what the point of going to university was if I was going to do nothing but become a mother. What is the use of a degree when I wanted children? There was no choice presented of having both.
Rape culture: Related to the above point, being told by a man that women deserved to be raped based on their clothing choices. Sorry, I forgot men were not able to control themselves. This attitude is not only found in conversations, but also found in the Irish courts, where in a recent rape case, the victim was questioned on her choice of underwear.
Choices: While working on an advocacy project on the subject of child marriage in Syrian refugee camps, I would hear a number of stories from the field staff working with these communities. One of the most harrowing accounts I heard was of a woman explaining to her 12-year-old daughter what to expect on her wedding night. There were other stories that stuck with me, but this was the most gut-wrenching. A 12-year-old should be in school, not in a marriage.
My aim in sharing these stories is to show that the personal is political and the political is personal. The laws and cultural norms we live under are responsible for creating a world in which half of the population is disadvantaged. Let’s dismantle this structure and create one that allows everyone an equal footing.
Jade Tenwick is an Irish refugee rights activist living in Brussels. Follow her on Twitter @JadeTenwick.