Women around the world on how sexism affects their daily lives | Sarah Marsh

On International Women’s Day, we asked our female readers from different countries to tell us the biggest issues for women where they live. Here’s what they said

It’s International Women’s Day today, and we asked our female readers around the world to tell us about the greatest challenges they face, and what can be done to eliminate sexism in the future. Want to tell us the most pressing issue for you? Add it in the comments or via @GuardianOpinion.

Here’s a roundup of our readers’ stories.


Mary, 57: ‘We need more support for victims of domestic violence’

Woman holding sign saying domestic violence is still a problem.

I am the parent of a young woman who is the victim of domestic violence. She feels powerless and let down by the lack of legal support (the government has removed legal aid for domestic violence cases and funding to support agencies), and the absence of police officers who know how to deal with these cases and provide the right information. My daughter doesn’t believe anyone is on her side or that she has any power. The passing of legislation, which includes bullying and coercive behaviour under the umbrella of domestic violence, has been a good move, but women really need more support to help them win these cases. They need to feel safe and that we’re on their side.

Chardine, 30: ‘Street harassment and racism are daily occurrences’

Street harassment, misogyny and racism are a daily occurrence for black women in this country. If we are not on the receiving end of those then we are treated as if we are invisible. I could give several accounts of situations where I have been outright ignored and then the very thing I said repeated by a white man and given praise. When you challenge that behaviour you are then called an “angry black woman” or told that you are “too proud”. We all need to be more open to listening to each other and stop building defences when someone challenges us on our behaviours that oppress others.


Evelyn, 26: I always see the same excuses for sexual violence’


Sexual violence and rape culture create barriers to living a full life at every level, and sexual assault affects women at epidemic rates.

I’m a survivor of rape and abuse. I was made to believe what was happening to me was normal. I remember the breakdowns, the fear, and the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever I got an angry message from my rapist and abuser. Even though I escaped him I still feel the shame of having “let” him hurt me. Now I work in sexual violence and domestic violence prevention. I see survivors every day. We are stronger than we know, and I’m proud to count myself among the amazing women who will not let violence define our lives.

But we can do better. We can make a world where that’s not a threat looming over us every day. Where we feel safe because we are safe. I live in a college town. After a recent sexual assault on campus, the university president said, “we don’t tolerate this kind of behaviour here.” If we want to change the system and make the world safer for women and girls (and everyone else) we have to recognise that, unfortunately, we do tolerate exactly that kind of behaviour; that’s why it keeps happening. As a community we must own the problems of rape culture and misogyny. We must recognise that we have been complicit in the perpetuation of both and that creating change means changing ourselves, not just the people we perceive to be the problem.


Rebeka, 26: ‘There are huge pay gaps here’

Rebeka Põldsam

There is an approximately 30% pay gap between men and women in Estonia – this is in part because jobs are very segregated. Men do construction work and lead big businesses (earning more), while women work in education or other civil services. I am an art curator, our field is dominated by women so I don’t really experience pay differences among curators. However, male artists definitely sell more and get paid more for their artworks. For example, Marko Mäetamm and Kaido Ole sell more and with higher prices than any of their female generation peers. I’ve always been aware of the issues in my country, since I was young, so when I started working I made sure I negotiated my salary.

Sexism is also evident in politics and on TV. In 2014, the finance minister Jürgen Ligi told Kaja Kallas, MEP and daughter of Siim Kallas, live on air, that beautiful big eyes are normally above a closed mouth. Why did he not apologise properly? Or step down? Also, we only have two female ministers in government and some people say the way to improve this would be with a quota but others believe that this is ridiculous. I find it ridiculous that there are so many male ministers when plenty of women are experts in this area.


Noor, 25: ‘Disabled woman in Iraq face big challenges’

Noor Wally

Being a disabled woman in Iraq means facing a lot of discrimination, more so than a man would.

I fell on my back when I was two years old, and lost the ability to walk. Everywhere I go now strangers stare and say an Arabic word which means “poor you”. It’s very humiliating. I remember once there was a police officer at my university who asked me to get out of the car and walk into the building. When I told him I couldn’t walk he said if you are “handicapped” then you shouldn’t be out.

If women with disabilities in my country don’t have open-minded families then they become prisoners in their own homes. Despite my family’s support, I can’t get a job because companies won’t hire me. I won’t be able to marry as no families want their son to marry a woman with a disability.

Women in Iraq are generally viewed as unequal and seen as a man’s property. They cannot make decisions without the approval of the men in their families. We should be educating young people to respect women and have laws in place to protect their rights.


Joëlle, 26: ‘There are a pathetic number of women in management roles’


The biggest feminist issue is the structural inequality in the workplace in terms of the inequality of pay and the pathetic number of women in higher management positions.

Pay inequality is very common, even though research has indicated that the wage gap has decreased, the average difference is still approximately 7%. Additionally, and I believe this is even more problematic, about 38% of the men surveyed have had a pay rise in the last two years, compared with only 28% of the women.

I am still a student and, luckily for me, I have not encountered any wage inequality so far. However, when I was doing my master’s degree in business administration I was confronted with a distinct lack of women professors and of exemplary successful female role models in business life. Of course they exist, but the number of women in top positions is approximately only 10%.

I believe a lot of younger female students are allowing this situation to continue by not even considering the possibility of their taking up positions of power simply because they do not realise that all the possibilities in the world lie before them. They lack both conviction and role models.


Hannah, 24: ‘There’s a stigma around abortion because it’s illegal’

Hannah Lockhart

The constitutional ban on abortion is the biggest feminist issue in Ireland at the moment. It illegal for women to get an abortion, even in cases of rape, incest or if the woman’s life is at risk. It is punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

I have never been pregnant when I did not want to be, but friends of mine have had to go to the UK or the Netherlands or other countries where abortion is legal to get the procedure. They often had to pay large sums of money on top of transport costs. Many of them also felt shame and stigma because of the procedure being illegal in Ireland. At the very least we need to legislate for safe and legal abortion in cases where a woman’s life is in danger or when pregnancy has been caused by rape or incest. Moreover, we need to trust women’s choices and respect their right to determine what happens to their bodies.


Katya, 26: ‘The sex industry in my country is dangerous’

Back of a woman's head

The sex industry is a big problem in the Netherlands because prostitution is legal; it’s considered a normal job like any other, but it isn’t. I know how traumatising it can be. I fell into prostitution after being made homeless when I was 21 – I didn’t have a job or home and had to get out of that situation.

My experiences left me with post-traumatic stress disorder, which manifested itself in panic attacks. When I was in the sex industry I felt used and violated. I always compare my experiences to being raped, because actually there is no real consent. It’s unwanted sex and you are not giving consent to the sex but only to the money, which you need to survive. The men could also be quite violent. A lot of them watched porn, were inspired by that and the way women are treated in porn. They used me to enact their rough fantasies.

When it comes to the position of women in a broad sense in the Netherlands, of course, it could be worse. We have job opportunities and freedoms, but the position of the sex industry is a big issue.

What we need to reduce this problem is to change the perception that prostitution is a regular job and acknowledge that it can be very harmful to women. Social services that help combat the reasons why women are coerced to enter the sex industry (poverty, addiction, health issues and sex trafficking) would help a lot.


Luana, 19: ‘I live in fear of being raped’

Woman with sunglasses on against palm tree background.

Abortion is treated as a great taboo here because it’s illegal and women can stay up to three years in jail if they are caught. So, basically, Brazilian women don’t have total freedom to decide what to do with their bodies, and many women die every year in attempts to have an abortion, as they are all clandestine. As well as this being a big problem, a large number of rapes happen every year, with the victims being blamed by society.

I haven’t been affected by the laws against abortion, but I’ve seen women face this difficult issue on a daily basis, and seeing this it is impossible not to think that one day you could be in the same situation. I also live in constant fear of being raped because it’s so prevalent.

Brazil is a very binary country where women are not equal to men, and this impacts everything from personal decisions (not wanting to get married and having at least two children is considered something to be ashamed of), to professional choices – there is a big gap between the pay of men and women.


Kathakali, 35: ‘Sexual harassment cases in broad daylight take place everyday’

Woman in shop

The narrow-minded outlook in this country has to be the biggest feminist issue. It is this attitude that has created an unsafe environment of rape, child abuse, molestation by family members, dowry deaths, acid attacks et al. Though the country has evolved a lot and is trying hard to project a picture-perfect image of woman safety and gender neutrality, the realities on the ground are quite different. Even now, women living in some cities do not feel safe coming back alone from work and sexual harassment cases take place in broad daylight every day.

A biased work environment, conventional family norms and conservative societal dogmas have affected my decisions and actions too. There are certain rules in almost every Indian family – considered a part of our tradition. A woman’s attire, her body language, her field of work, her ways of communicating with others, her working hours, all these factors are scrutinised, in order to label her. At work, too, women often face discrimination and at times harassment by male colleagues or the immediate boss himself.


April, 21: ‘There’s a belief women are weak and need protecting’

Woman with her back to audience

Sexism is still a big issue in Indonesia and some people think that you are a lesbian if you’re a feminist. There is also a belief among more traditional Indonesians that women are weak and need protecting (so they shouldn’t come home late or work too hard). When I go out with my male friends they always feel the need to keep an eye on me and the other girls. Basically, the view is that women should just stay at home.

It’s mainly old-fashioned people who hold these beliefs (in my family my grandmother and aunts do), while the younger generation is more open-minded. My mum used to think women shouldn’t be independent, but now she believes they should have their own lives and careers. Some of my cousins left their jobs when they got married, thinking that they should be full-time mothers. They are kind of sad about this, but they still surrender to it – as if it’s a natural consequence of having a husband. They say they have no choice but to raise their kids at home. I would like to see people educated to change some of these old-fashioned beliefs.

• Some names have been changed

• Comments on this article are being premoderated


Sarah Marsh

The GuardianTramp

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