Why International Women's Day is Still Relevant

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Art Credit: Alex Mazurov

There’s no disputing that women have indeed come a long way (but don’t call us “baby”). International Women’s Day has been recognized for over a century, and since then we’ve no doubt experienced incredible gains toward gender equality. While we have many reasons to be positive this March 8, we also know we still have a ways to go. Here are a few areas where we still have our work cut out for ourselves.

01. PROSTITUTION AND TRAFFICKING ARE GROWING WORLDWIDE.

Due to various factors, including globalization and poverty, the sex industry has been growing steadily worldwide. Two million children are exploited every year in the sex trade and 40 million people are working in prostitution globally. Ninety eight percent of sex-trafficking victims are women and girls. Most of these women and girls come from Eastern Europe, as well as from places like Nigeria and other third world countries, but are also trafficked within countries like the United States and Canada.

Some countries, like Germany and Holland, opted to legalize the industry in the hope that it would make it safer but are now reevaluating their policies. Turns out that legalization only exacerbated problems like trafficking and child prostitution and organized crime continues to control much of the industry. After learning from these failed experiments, EU Parliament recently voted in favor of what's commonly referred to as the Nordic model, which criminalizes those who buy sex and decriminalize the people who sell it. This model has been very effective in places like Sweden, where prostitution has been cut in half and the population now recognizes it as product of gender inequality.

Prostitution is literally the most dangerous so-called "profession" in America. Women in prostitution have a death rate that is 40 times higher than that of women not in the industry, experience physical assault regularly, and a majority meet the criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD. Compared to Sweden, which adopted the model in 1999 and reports no murders of prostitutes since then, places like Holland see women murdered every year right in the legal shop "windows" of the red-light district.

The largest study ever done on prostitution shows that 89 percent of prostitutes would leave the industry if they could. We can do better for women and girls.

02. WOMEN CONTINUE TO BE OBJECTIFIED AND SEXUALIZED IN POP CULTURE.

Miley Cyrus' controversial VMA performance last year featured her twerking on Robin Thicke's crotch. While some argued she was simply expressing her sexuality, others called it sexism.

The problem, of course, is not Miley Cyrus. Increasingly, women in pop culture are expected to strip down and sex up. We are used to seeing women's bodies being used to sell products and photographers like Terry Richardson whose photo shoots are often pornographic and degrading to women, never mind the numerous sexual assault accusations aimed at him, continue to experience mainstream popularity.

There is no doubt that women are being represented as sexual objects more than ever before, despite gains for gender equality in other areas. Is it part of the backlash toward feminism or are we literally moving backward?

Either way, when we see pop stars like Thicke, fully clothed and surrounded by naked women, used essentially as props, it's difficult to argue that women are viewed as fully equal human beings in this world.

03. RAPE CULTURE IS AN EPIDEMIC.

Rape culture describes the normalization of sexual assault in society. While the notion that it is not ok to coerce or force anyone into sex seems straightforward, rape continues to be sexualized in films, television, and pornography, and victim blaming is rampant.

Every two minutes an American is sexually assaulted. Forty-eight women are raped per hour in the Congo during war. About 90 percent of victims are female and 99 percent of perpetrators are male. A shocking 97 percent of rapists will never spend a day in jail.

Despite the fact that we know intellectually that rape is wrong, reality and culture convey an opposite message.

People continue to question victims of sexual assault when they ask whether or not she flirted with her assailant, whether she was drunk, what she was wearing, why she went back to his room, or why she was walking alone at night. Rather than tell rapists not to rape, we tell women to take precautionary measures to prevent it. This kind of attitude assumes rape is inevitable and that men can't help themselves.

Even women who haven't been raped live in fear of being victimized. This is what rape culture looks like.

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY is an opportunity to recognize and be grateful for the progress we've made politically, socially, and professionally. But it's also a time to remember that women and girls worldwide suffer enormously, simply because they are female. We need to keep propelling ourselves forward and fighting sexism wherever we can. We owe it to ourselves, our foremothers, and to the next generation.