In the wake of a “War on Women” by American policy makers, the shooting of a Pakistani schoolgirl and the brutal gang rape and murder of a young Indian woman on a bus in Delhi, today’s International Women’s Day was a great chance to remember the survivors and victims of gender violence and discrimination.
In Seattle, a small but dedicated crowd attended the 18th annual vigil for Susanna Blackwell, a Filipina mail-order bride shot and killed by her husband during a divorce proceeding at the King County Courthouse in 1995.
A modest placard outside the courthouse commemorate her death, as do the metal detectors at the entrances, which were installed right after the shooting. But most people stream in and out of the courthouse unaware of the significance.
Similarly, not a lot of Americans know or celebrate the holiday that began here in the United States in 1909, as women took to the streets demanding for equal pay and worker’s protections and to be treated with respect.
Today, IWD is as popular as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s day in other countries. And today, we’re still fighting for the equality of women.
I thought about this as I attended the 18th annual vigil for Susanna Blackwell, organized by API Chaya, a local organization fighting domestic violence against Asian Pacific Islanders.
Dr. Sutapa Basu, the executive director from the UW women’s Center spoke of the recent rape and murder of Joyti Singh, the 23-year-old woman returning home from a movie in India.
“While a horrific gang rape in New Dehli has drawn attention internationally to a violent epidemic as it should, rape is only one facet of violence and discrimination that kills almost two million women a year in India alone. Every day we should be reminding ourselves that 7 out of 10 women and girls around the world are going to experience some form of sexual or domestic violence in her lifetime. In the US alone, every 9 seconds a woman is assaulted. I really want us to think about the numbers. Nothing justifies any form of violence against women and children. Speak out against violence against women. Men everywhere have to change, not just the offenders, but all those who perpetuate the culture. Gender violence is also a men’s issue.”
At the vigil, I also had the chance to speak with Judith Panlasigui, in her new role as Acting Executive Director of API Chaya.
“I feel that the movement has been built internationally but I also feel we have a long way to go. We still have oppressive systems that blame and minimalize the violence that happens to women. We need to open up discussions and allow everyone to be part of these conversations in order to dismantle those systems. We couldn’t do it without that community dialogue. Also, me being a woman and feeling that I was treated differently because of my gender, because of my age, my ethnic background or race… and I don’t think that’s right. I just don’t want to be silent about it.”
Jenilee Policarpio, a youth program specialist at Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA), and a member of Anakbayan Seattle, agrees.
“Even though there’s been progress, we still need a long way to go. People think women are equal, but in reality they really aren’t. The wage gap between men and women is still wide. This election we learned that it’s still majority of men in leadership, and there are more attacks on our right to choose and our reproductive rights. These attitudes have led to more gender violence in our community. Women are still seen as second-class citizens.”
Personally, I want to see more women in visible roles of leadership, especially women of color and women who have recently come from another country. By helping the younger generation overcome obstacles and supporting of their well being, we’re growing new leaders, creating safe spaces, and using our collective voices.
I believe that change is possible.