Today is International Women’s Day, when women come together to participate in seminars, conferences and workshops to advance women’s issues as they have since the first such day in 1911.
But to be honest, the celebration of this global day means absolutely nothing to me. In fact, when I sat down to write an opinion piece related to it, I was at a loss. I did not know what to put on paper. I struggled with the question of what the day actually means to me. Should I be outside, marching and demanding gender equality for those women who are still discriminated against?
Should I be actively involved in a campaign that helps female victims of trafficking, domestic violence and prostitution?
Maybe I should. And maybe I would, if things were different for me, if I had a different upbringing. It’s not that I don’t care about women and women’s rights. I strongly believe that everyone should be equal. I want the female genital cutting that goes on in some parts of the world to be stopped. I am against polygamy and marrying off young girls at the age of 10. I think that women should have the right to receive a good formal education just like men. I was thrilled when Angela Merkel became Germany’s first female chancellor and I gladly stand by that opinion.
I admire early feminists who bravely broke the rules in a male-dominated world. Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, among others. They all helped pave the way to a more just and equal world for women.
But this doesn’t go beyond admiration.
I guess that’s because I personally never really had to deal with any discrimination related to my sex. Everything was a given for me. It was never an issue or something that I had to struggle with.
The only time that I ever felt at a disadvantage because of my sex was when I was 12 years old. I was keen on joining the girl’s football team in our town. However my parents, who both loved football, decided that it was not a suitable sport for girls. For a while I went to practice secretly, just like in “Bend It Like Beckham.” But when the coach showed up at our doorstep to persuade my parents to let me play, I knew I was busted.
When I talk to my parents about this incident today, they always say that they don’t really know why they refused in the first place. I no longer hold a grudge against them for it.
Other than that, my parents have shown nothing but support for me and my older sister. They let me wear the clothes I liked and didn’t say a word when I introduced my first boyfriend. I was free to decide what I wanted to do with my life after I graduated from high school.
My parents gave me financial and moral support as a student. They encouraged me to pursue my master’s degree. They never pressure me to find a husband and settle down. Instead, they are proud of me, the life I’m living and what I have achieved so far. They would probably not even cringe — at least not in front of me — should I suddenly declare that I was a lesbian and wanted to raise a child with my female partner.
What more can a daughter ask for? I had the freedom to make my own choices and follow my hopes and dreams.
I realize that this is a privilege that many other girls can only dream of. I feel for these girls. I realize that a lot still needs to be done in many parts of the world. I realize that International Women’s Day is a good reminder that there are still countries that treat women unjustly just because they are regarded as the weaker sex. And this is what this day should be — a reminder.
Who knows? I may end up becoming a housewife, taking care of my kids, taking them to school and preparing their meals while my husband brings home the bacon. But this would only happen because I choose it.
Freedom of choice is what every woman in this world should have. It can be easy to forget that this is not a given.
Katrin Figge is a features reporter with the Jakarta Globe