Many people in my life who identify as women have contributed to my understanding of what it’s like to be a woman, and how they define themselves as women in the world today. International Women’s Day with the theme, “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality,” brings some women’s and girls’ stories into focus.
Identifying and presenting as a woman or girl is not only complex and ambiguous, it’s important to consider intersecting identities, racial, national, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds, and the deeply varied experiences of those who identify as women and girls in 2023. It’s essential to keep looking for the narratives of women and girls from around the globe.
Human Rights Watch recently released the annual World Report outlining instances of discrimination, infringement of human rights and humanitarian crises in nearly 100 countries. The report highlights devastating atrocities and historic contexts many endured– particularly the violence and trauma inflicted upon women and girls and those who are transgender.
Myanmar’s military and police have physically and sexually abused women and individuals who identify as LGBTQ while in custody.
Amidst turmoil in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, there have been reports of fleeing women and girls getting abducted.
The Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan resulted in their prohibiting women and girls from secondary and tertiary education. In Iran, the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of “morality police” sparked outrage and subsequent protests over women’s restrictions to autonomy and basic human rights.
In Australia, an indigenous woman who was incarcerated died in her cell after crying for help for hours.
Access to the medical procedure of abortion in the United States has been restricted due to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, adding to the existing limitations Black women in particular have to proper healthcare.
Additionally in the US, a slew of transphobic bills in states including Arkansas, South Dakota, South Carolina, Alabama and more, were put forth in a number of states restricting access to healthcare and the rights of transgender adults and youth.
A new report from Pew Research shows that 55% of Black LGBTQ adults in the US “say the city or area they live in is not a good place for transgender people, and 39% say their areas are not safe for lesbian, gay or bisexual people.” Close to 80 % of Black LGBTQ adults “say they have experienced verbal insults or abuse” while 60% “have been threatened with violence.”
Women and girls, particularly those with additional marginalized social identities continue to face violence, trauma and injustice in every region of the planet. As a result, they are being displaced.
In the United States, as in many other countries, there is an influx of refugees looking for asylum who have been displaced from other countries in some cases due to the aforementioned injustices. Additionally, within their own countries, individuals who identify as LGBTQ are being internally displaced.
This means that in the U.S., our very neighbors have been uprooted from their homes and families. There are opportunities to welcome such families and help them transition to life in our cities, as well as learn from them and their various national, social, religious and linguistic cultures.
There are nine major refugee resettlement agencies in the United States with various local affiliates. These resettlement agencies need assistance, funding and political action. They also share stories from the voices of women, girls and others who are displaced, like these stories from Ukrainian refugees. Other organizations that work with such refugees share stories and triumphs from displaced people, such as Suzanne Akhras Sahloul, founder of Syrian Community Network in Chicago.
While at times women find commonalities in their struggles, joys, challenges and triumphs, they are not defined by them, nor the gender marker on original birth certificates. What is important are their unique stories; the billions of beautiful and tragic stories that need to be told, listened to, watched and re-shared while they define who they are.
As a cisgender white woman from one of the wealthiest nations in the world, I know that while I’ll never truly understand all the stories shared by women and girls, it is imperative to seek out and listen to as many unique and diverse stories as possible.
The experiences of being women and girls are difficult, joyful, intercultural, and multitudinous. They need to be heard.