Jean Edelstein: Equal gender rights shouldn't be defined as a feminist issue

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The Independent Online

We've come a long way since 1911, when the then-home secretary force-fed imprisoned suffragettes whose dedication to the cause of female enfranchisement was so profound they were willing to put their lives on the line for it.

To British women today, our gender is not supposed to be an issue; although we may worry about things like work-life balances, gender pay gaps, and sexual harassment in the workplace, in general we are secure in the knowledge that we are legally entitled to have equivalent experiences to those had by the male population.

But while we may take International Women's Day as an opportunity to celebrate women's achievements, we must reflect upon whether we have accomplished enough.

Endemic violence against women persists in the UK, and our justice system is poorly equipped to deal with it. Prosecuted rape cases (far fewer than the number of assaults actually reported) still hover at around five per cent, with victims essentially considered guilty until proven innocent. Workplace discrimination remains a constant struggle, although it may now be more subtle than before.

Beyond this, we must look further than Britain's shores: being female continues to disadvantage millions of human beings. Amnesty International found domestic violence – over cancer, or car accidents – is the major cause of death and disability for European women aged 16 to 44, and female rates of new HIV infection far outstrip those of men, particularly in the developing world.

Will women achieve equality in the next 100 years? I'd like to think so, although the deep entrenchment of sexism across many aspects of society seems to make it unlikely. I like to think we – and by "we" I mean everyone who values a progressive and free society, no matter what the composition of our chromosomes – will keep trying. Equal gender rights should not be defined as a feminist issue and they shouldn't be defined by cultural contexts. Women's rights are human rights and human rights are something we should never stop striving for.

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