Why do I celebrate International Women’s Day? When this question was posed to me, I paused for a minute. It almost felt like a loaded question.

‘Why’ is IWD an important day for ‘me’ as a British Asian woman? Each year, this day marks a movement of sorts and starts conversations that go on to inspire women in my generation and women from the South Asian or desi diaspora. The awareness that these conversations go on to emulate in our communities and wider society is inspirational.

Social media has become common place for many of us to have interactions on the issues that matter to us. As a freelance writer, filmmaker and blogger, I find myself connecting with a lot of South Asian and sometimes black women through these channels. My blog raveetawrites, is about striving for egalitarianism in a world where equity is often overlooked in discussions of equality. Equality cannot exist if equity is not considered.

Raveeta Banger on why she celebrates International Women's DayRaveeta Banger
Raveeta Banger on why she celebrates International Women’s Day

Race, gender inequality, casteism in the diaspora, colourism in black and Asian communities, the effect of colonialism on black and Asian people, and the impact felt through all of this, are topics of importance to me as an artist. Furthermore, supporting lgbtq+ rights for queer desis, as an ally, and having conversations on the stigmas of mental health and the lack of in depth knowledge of ill-mental health in society is equally essential for me to debate.

Engaging in these discussions helps us to strive towards a more just and compassionate society; the kind of world I want to help build for the next generation of women after me.

If we want to live in a world where we are closer to achieving equality for everyone and want to truly enable an equal world, then this means engaging with conversations on race and racism, caste, gender inequality, queer rights and various other ‘isms’ pervading society.

IWD to me is about the movement around this day. It means advocating for the end to child marriage. It means seeing the end of 12 million girls being married before the age of 18. That’s 23 girls every minute and almost one every 3 seconds. It means acknowledging the extent of the worldwide problem with sexual violence.

It means British society being fully aware that every year in England and Wales alone, around 85,000 women and 12,000 men (aged 16 – 59) experience rape, attempted rape or sexual assault by penetration.

That’s approximately 11 of the most serious sexual offences taking place every hour.  This statistic does not include girls under the age of 18. I want that to end.

I want to see the end of the worldwide problem of acid attacks, a heinous crime often committed against women and young girls. I want to see an end to crimes against women and girls in places of warfare and times of conflict. I want to see more girls in education.

As of 2014, over 32 million girls of primary school age did not attend school and it is estimated that 15 million girls — mainly those living in poverty — will never set foot in a classroom, compared to 10 million boys.

These disparities have also contributed to the fact that women account for nearly two thirds of the world’s 758 million adults who cannot read or write, and the gap is even wider in situations of conflict, where girls are nearly two and a half times more likely to be out of school than boys.”

Equality for all women will only be achieved when we recognise the women and girls who are overlooked or glossed over by some IWD events. Women’s Day started off in America in around 1908 and is often considered an Anglocentric movement and celebration.

In fact, women of all backgrounds have contributed to this movement throughout history. Take the virginity testing on British soil of immigrant women from the Indian subcontinent as an example. Is the fight against this vicious government enforced violation of brown women known by many?

Indian suffragettes in the Women's Coronation Procession,  London, on June 17, 1911Museum of London
Indian suffragettes in the Women’s Coronation Procession, London, on June 17, 1911

Equality will only be established when we dismantle the hierarchies that have been put in place to keep certain communities apart or subjugated. When our feminist narratives and women’s history include women from all walks of life will we start to build a more inclusive and wholly represented IWD. When the significant contribution that Indian suffragettes made to the suffrage movement in the UK is spoken of with the same passionate celebration as their white counterparts will we see a more balanced archiving of history. This is when her-story (whomsoever that may be) is no longer left out.

Women’s rights activism has a complex relationship with race, class, caste and privilege. It arguably approaches history through the narrow white feminist perspective and this filters through to IWD events. This needs to change in order for there to be equality.

The theme of the year – “Each for Equal” because an “equal world is an enabled world” also means working beyond the day’s events with more women coming together to support one another in true solidarity – not the trendy kind you sometimes see online where ‘we are here for our sisters’ on social media but not beyond that. The diaspora has created spaces through digital media which manifest in our everyday lives to enable female solidarity, and whilst some of these are brilliant for what they do, some can be just as problematic.

Often online, quantity forgoes quality. Some South Asian Bloggers and influencers who have amassed a large following by marketing themselves as supporters of brown women or advocates of female empowerment to encourage female solidarity only serve to do so as lip service. Anyone can share a post about said issues and tag a bunch of influential pages for follows and likes, or turn up to fancy charity events and red carpet events to be photographed – but where is this transpiring into their day-to-day work as bloggers and influencers who bring about change for other women? It’s not. Not everyone who is an influencer should be influencing us.

Discussions on how to prevent that from occurring further is needed to help bring more women into these spaces.

Women that I would like to mention today are the women that have helped shape, influence and support me: My dear Nani Ji Kirpal Kaur, my mother and the women I call my friends.

Blogger Raveeta Banger of RaveetaWrites (centre) discussing languages in British Asian popular cultures, at the Birmingham Museum & Art GalleryRajinder Dudrah
Blogger Raveeta Banger of RaveetaWrites (centre) discussing languages in British Asian popular cultures, at the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

To fellow artists and colleagues Rupinder Kaur and Ashlee-Elizabeth Lolo with whom I am working on a play called Jugni (female firefly in Punjabi – apt for IWD) as part of the Creative Multilingualism project Slanguages – I hope to cheer you on for the years to come. The play explores themes of colonial history, race and migration through spoken word poetry and dance. We will be performing it this summer in Oxford and Birmingham.

I extend gratitude to women like Raj Khaira, founder of the Pink Ladoo campaign, Dr Geeta Ludhra who has a PhD in ‘successful South Asian women’s identities’, and her daughter Anni who co-manages a nourishing mother-daughter run business Dadimas. To Mandeep Hayre for bravely talking about the impact of ill-mental health with me in this blog.

Dr Tina Mistry for her work in trauma and mental health and Rupinder Kaur of Asian Women Mean Business (AWMB) for creating a strong space for British Asian women to share their voice. To Daljinder Johal who works hard in representing minority voices and queer desis and to Dr Nighat Arif for her continued work in the community as a GP with specialist interests in women’s health. To all of the unsung (s)heroes and the lost voices of women from the Partition of India, to the Indian suffragettes whose names we will never know who fought for my right to education, to free speech and for my independence to vote, and to all of the women and men everywhere in this world fighting for the true liberation of women – Happy International Women’s Day. This day belongs to us all. Claim it!

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