International Women's Day is a time to reflect on global inequalities

Australian doctor Catherine Hamlin has devoted her life to helping women in Ethiopia.
Australian doctor Catherine Hamlin has devoted her life to helping women in Ethiopia.

Thursday, March 8, is International Women’s Day.

It is a day women in the first world can reflect on how far we’ve come and how much we have left to achieve.

We know there are still issues in this country with gender inequality, pay gaps and more, but I think on this day, we need to think about the women in other parts of the world where trying to exist as a female is difficult in the extreme.

There are so many places were customs and laws make second-class citizens of women.

It’s only been since about September 2017 that women have been allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, while there are still countries where women are not allowed to leave the house without the permission – and sometimes escort – of a male.

Rape within marriage is not recognised as a crime in every nation on Earth, while other countries have inheritance laws and court proceedings that heavily favour men over women.

It is possible for men who have raped or abducted a women in some countries to escape any penalty if they marry their victim.

But it isn't just legalities that can thrown women back into the dark ages. Medical care is sadly still often lacking.

In the first world, for example, we consider fistulas to have been a consequence of childbirth that was eradicated decades ago.

Modern medicine allows Australian women to give birth safely, but that’s not the case everywhere.

Most people know are aware of the extraordinary work of Catherine Hamlin, the Australian doctor who has devoted most of her life to helping women in Ethiopia whose young lives are left in tatters by the side effects of an obstetric fistula.

One of the biggest contributing factors to fistula is the youth of the women trying to give birth. Often they are still teenagers and their young bodies are simply not mature enough to accommodate the rigours of childbirth.

Speaking of young brides, we need to remember there are many countries in the world that allow children to be married off. In some cases, the groom is also a child, but often a child is married to a much older man and considered to be little more than chattel.

At the end of last year, there was some media coverage around India’s “missing girls”.

Statistically, say the number-crunchers, India has about 63 million fewer women that it should have.

In a country where families can still be burdened with providing their daughters with a dowry, there is a cultural preference for men over women, and there are fears that improvements in pre-natal testing have lead to a surge in sex-selection abortions, according to reports.

Life here in Australia isn’t perfect, but when you start looking at the sheer desperation that is the daily lives of women in other parts of the world, we’re doing OK.

Most Australians believe in the simple premise of a “fair go”, and we make regular inroads along the path to equality for everyone, regardless of gender, race, religion or whatever.

So while we are celebrating International Women’s Day in a safe, free country, we should also spare a thought for the women who cannot go outside until they are covered head-to-toe and accompanied by a male relative or of the girl bartered away in marriage by a desperately poor family.

Jody Lindbeck