Not a time for debate
// Sarah Vitet

Women make up over 70 per cent of the world’s poor, and over 65 per cent of the world’s illiterate. Women’s unemployment rates run 50 to 100 times higher than men’s in many industrialized countries, and women make up less than six per cent of senior management jobs in the world. Canadian women are paid 20 per cent less than men on average, which is the largest pay gap of all the countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In developing countries, women spend 31 to 42 hours per week in unpaid work, while men spend 5-15 hours in unpaid work. In developed countries, women work at least two to five hours per week more than men.

With these statistics alone, the inequality between men and women is already clear. However, women are also at a greater risk for many kinds of violence. Genital mutilation, sexualized assault, domestic violence, gender-based violence, early marriage, unsafe pregnancy and abortion, forced sterilization, and honour killings are only some of the ways women are violently marginalized every day around the world. These are very real problems, and deserve more respect than a single International Women’s Day could possibly convey. Even so, it is important to honour International Women’s Day, and use it as a reminder of how far we have come, but more importantly how far we have left to go before true gender equality is reached.

There are people who don’t feel the same way. There are people who thought that it was appropriate to advocate against women’s rights on International Women’s Day. Even on our own campus, there were people who thought it was okay to debate women’s rights on the one day of the year that these things should not be debated.

Capilano’s Heartbeat club organized a “pro-choice vs. pro-life debate” to occur on International Women’s Day. The UBC Lifeline club hosted a protest on the same day, complete with graphic “abortion imagery” and that never-apt comparison of abortion with genocide. Many anti-choice groups on campuses around B.C. are also hosting abortion debates this month, including UBC, SFU, and the University of the Fraser Valley. The fact that Capilano’s debate was scheduled right on International Women’s Day denotes a serious lack of respect for the women who suffer the consequences of unsafe abortions all over the world.

While I am not afraid to declare that I am pro-choice, my complaint with the debate is not that other people on campus are advocating against choice. On any other day, I would have no problem with the Heartbeat club utilizing their freedom of speech, so long as they are truthful in their claims and ethical in the way they direct their campaigns.

Having a debate regarding a women’s right to choose on International Women’s day is offensive, and I don’t care if I sound like a stereotypical “angry feminist” by saying that. International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is on Mar. 21, and it can be safely assumed that there will be no “pro-civil rights vs. pro-white-power” debates anywhere, because not only is that unbelievably insensitive and offensive, it would in all likelihood be considered targeted hate speech.

Regardless of which side of the abortion “debate” you consider yourself to be on, International Women’s Day is not an appropriate time to host a discussion about whether women should have full rights over their bodies or not. Unfortunately, campus clubs were not the only ones hosting debates about women’s rights on International Women’s Day.

In the United States, Republicans in the House of Representatives held a hearing on an anti-choice bill they have been trying to pass, in various incarnations, for the past 15 years. It provides provisions regarding who can accompany a young woman across state borders in order to have an abortion. The bill has been opposed by the American Medical Association, as well as several other major medical associations.

In addition to this bill, women’s rights have been the source of heated debate recently in the U.S., of course, in regards to birth control insurance coverage in particular. Still, debating an anti-choice bill on International Women’s Day did not impress very many people, including NARAL Pro-Choice America, who said that the congress members “are as shameless as they are out of touch.”

A 2009 Guttmacher study found that unsafe abortion results in the deaths of 20 million women annually, which equates to roughly one woman dying every eight minutes from unsafe abortion. It is not too much to ask to take one day off debating abortion in order to honour these women. At the very least they deserve to have one sacred day where, out of respect, nobody hosts any anti-abortion events.

Using International Women’s Day in order to further an unrelated and, in fact, contrary agenda is inappropriate. Even if the day accomplishes little of real substance towards women’s equality, at the very least we should use it to honour the women who have suffered, and continue to suffer. It is only in doing so that we can comfortably debate important issues, and recognize that gender inequality remains a very real thing in every corner of the world.

//Sarah Vitet, editor-in-chief

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