[We would like to warn readers in advance that this article does include references to sexual assault.]
International Women’s Day falls every year on the 8th of March. Variations of this event have been occurring for the best part of the last century; some treat it as a celebration of female achievement, while others treat it as an opportunity to protest.
There are some who question why this day still exists. They argue that due to the leaps and bounds made in terms of women’s rights, surely it is no longer necessary to have a day focused around the struggles of women?
Although there has indeed been great progress in improving the position of women, and a great number of legal rights have been won, there are still many issues to be resolved. Their number is too high to discuss them all here, but we would like to highlight a few which are particularly likely to affect female students.
One important problem that many female students will have experienced is sexual harassment and assault, particularly on nights out. One survey from 2019 found that over half of students have experienced unwanted sexual behaviour, ranging from unsolicited messages to serious assaults. This kind of behaviour is plainly unacceptable, and it highlights a need for greater awareness and education around issues of consent and the boundaries of appropriate behaviour. We would encourage any readers or other societies to engage with the consent training being piloted by the Students’ Union.
Another issue is that there still exists a sexual double standard in terms of the way men and women are judged for their behaviour. When a sexual encounter takes place, guys are often seen as having “scored”, whereas women can often be the subject of slut-shaming. This links to how the language we use often treats women as passive objects in sex, in which they are seen as having been used by their partners, somehow not capable of initiating encounters of their own volition.
There is also an intense pressure on women to adhere to conventional beauty standards, a problem that is often exacerbated by social media. Women are constantly bombarded with edited images promoting particular features or body types; a thing that creates a pressure to conform in ways which can damage both mental and physical health. The recent proposals for Instagram to notify users when a picture has been edited is a step in the right direction, but those putting out content must take responsibility to ensure they are not promoting a ‘one size fits all’-approach to beauty.
Finally, it would not be right to write an article on the issues facing female students and women in general without the mention of intersectionality. Intersectionality is a concept which describes how different forms of discrimination, such as racism, sexism and homophobia, interlink. For example, women of colour face additional challenges their white counterparts will not, such as experiencing an even wider gap in earnings with men. It is essential that we educate ourselves to ensure we are aware of the challenges faced by these groups, so we can call out and combat prejudice when we see it.
However, to end this article on a more positive note, and in line with this year’s theme of ‘women in leadership: achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world’, we would like to pay tribute to both female health and social care workers who have worked tirelessly in this pandemic, and to the female activists who have continued to fight for change in spite of everything.
Thanks for reading!
If anyone has been affected by the issues raised in this article, we would encourage them to speak to the university’s Wellbeing Service or the Student Union’s Advice and Support Centre.
Swansea University Feminist Society is continuing to host virtual socials, and if you would like more information please feel free to email us at email@example.com or join our closed Facebook group: Swansea University Feminist Society | Facebook.