Is International Women’s Day a day for opportunists?

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As an Asian person who grew up in a predominantly white area I’d often look twice at another person of the same skin colour as me. But gone are the days of trying to hide your jaw dropping stare whilst thinking you’re the only Asian family in the UK at the sight of another minority. We are now one of the most multi-cultural places in the world which means a new norm that has been redefined by the international presence.

As a first generation British born Pakistani, my experience of the homeland is limited. My Mum’s everyday presence – a woman born and brought up in Pakistan with very different understandings of the world – has certainly contributed significantly but having gone to school here, University, had relationships and friends here means that only a small part of the international tradition frames my outlook. So my Mum and I decided to venture into the heart of multiculturalism – Alum Rock Road in Birmingham – to celebrate our roots and international culture (and to…buy curtains because you won’t get material like that for that price anywhere else! Ok, and to ‘accidentally’ purchase a handful of jewellery too – your purse just falls open at the sight of all the sets).

And I couldn’t help but feel British when I was there. Maybe it was hearing Dizzee Rascal blazing out from inside a car, the desperate need to get a cup of tea or the fact that I was walking on a high street – something I haven’t done in a long time due to their decline in Britain.

So there’s no question, the international presence has reshaped British culture, for me at least. There are still the few I know who live in a (chosen) form of ignorance when it comes to multiculturalism. Learning about a culture that’s of no interest unless it’s to do with food is just too much…effort? Or maybe the rate of change experienced is too fast. Whatever it may be I know that on the other side of the coin there seems to be a constant curiosity about being white! There’s a common desire in most British Asian households to adopt all the positive aspects of a westernised lifestyle; speaking the language, economising, minimalist (non gold) interior design but definitely not the food…or sex before marriage!

But it goes beyond that for some. Asians I know have also voted to leave the EU in the referendum, choosing to keep the place they moved to the same as it was when they first arrived to the country. So what does it mean now to really be international and do those who are…self identify as one? I don’t know the answer but it’s a conversation I’d like to have.

Can’t resist a good cup of tea

Every year I notice more and more ‘non international’ women use the day as an opportunity to talk about equality, feminism and women’s rights but just from the white perspective. I’ll be the first to raise my hand at wanting to attend a tea party at a fancy British hotel to nibble on scones, which might be part of the problem.

The same experiences of patriarchy do not effect women of colour in the same way – something I learnt much later on in my life. So to truly celebrate shouldn’t we be making that so called effort to remove a chosen ignorance when it comes to multiculturalism. Shouldn’t it be an opportunity to ask important questions, maybe to ourselves to truly begin to understand the international element of the day? Questions like:

  • What is the migrant perspective like for a woman?
  • What really is their perception of Britain?
  • Is being from Europe enough to be considered international or should we be going Trans-Atlantic? And if not then why does Heathrow define flights outside of Europe, as international?
  • Why do I want to go watch Fearne Cotton and Pixie Geldof on International Women’s day at Bodyshop?

Where ever a woman may be from, I’m happy to hear her story, but isn’t it the very reason we’ve dedicated a day to International women, because there’s been a recognition in the lack of representation in an ever-growing multicultural country? The lack of international presence at many events in established shops, venues and hotels in London of all places has left me slightly astounded.

In my experience, as a Brit learning about my parents’ and other migrants’ experiences, I’ve learnt that it varies for both men and women. (Truly) international women are more likely to have come from extreme Patriarchal societies, where very traditional roles are adopted and played out in family settings. My own mother and many women in my own family come from oppression. But there is so much more to learn about those cultures than just the negatives we see and…food!

‘Stop complaining’ I can (potentially) hear my Mum saying when asking these (liberatingly privileged) questions. The very things I complain about she celebrates. She sees so many Brits support the cultural work I present, she sees a country welcoming Asylum Seekers to reside in their country and earn a living, she sees me being an artist. (First world problems as we know it).

But in my defence these (first world problem) questions are the root to a much bigger issues that require constant conversation. Of course there are negatives and positives for every culture. But if one is celebrating the day, there needs to be a real celebration of diversity – the clue’s in the title.

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