The clock on women’s rights: a poem in progress

19th century women gathering in front of a local government building. Horses and carriages, a rural scene. "New Zealand Introduces women's suffrage": a basic women's right.
28 November 1893: women in New Zealand gain the right to vote

The clock on women’s rights

The clock on women’s rights
is turning backwards.
The progress we fought for
is vanishing before our very eyes.

Women’s rights
are crushed
in crisis after crisis
around the globe.

War, floods, famine, politics
and perverted piety
have dragged us back
300 years.

Mass rape as genocide.
War as a tool of misogyny.
Women as property.
Women as things.

Girls ripped out of school
and whittled into marriage.
Women as slaves.
Women as incubators.

Protesters culled
and schoolgirls poisoned.
Women erased
from public life.

The clock
on women’s rights
is turning

~ Rachel McAlpine, 2023, after a speech by the Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations on International Women’s Day

A day of grief: International Women’s Day 2023

I know, that’s a pretty average sort of poem at present. But I had to get it out there, even half-baked as it is. International Women’s Day 2023 (8th March) was officially focused on women’s rights to be part of the digital world. The digital theme is important, yes, and would have been chosen more than a year ago.

But Antonio Guterres lifted his eyes to the wider picture and saw the devastation of women’s rights that has been happening all over the globe. Perhaps he despaired. I’m quoting him when he says gender equity has slipped back 300 years. It’s heartbreaking. It’s a nightmare.

Old black and white photo of a mass women's rally for women's rights, holding a street-wide banner saying, "WOMEN OF THE WORLD UNITE!"
Women’s spirit is strong but the patriarchy fights back
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31 thoughts on “The clock on women’s rights: a poem in progress

  1. Sadje says:

    It’s tragic that the most advanced countries have this problem too.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Exactly. It’s a global trend, no country spared.

      1. Sadje says:

        Yes, that’s is mostly true

  2. josaiawrites says:

    I agree, sadly.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      We were so hopeful in the 1970s. So determined in the 80s. So proud in the 90s. And then…

      1. …and then, in an instant, poof!

  3. granny1947 says:

    Sadly, this is so true.
    Especially in our country.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I feel bewildered by this.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Makes me gnash my teeth

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That’s a healthy reaction. I should do that more.

      1. Your dentist would suggest you not do that. (I’m a dentist’s daughter.)

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        OK, good point. Teeth are worth more.

      3. Suzanne says:

        On the verge of spending $2 thousand on a tooth I agree. Dental care in NZ is another heated topic.

      4. Ouch! I don’t remember how much my one implant cost, but I take very good care of it.

      5. Rachel McAlpine says:

        Good thinking. Teeth are rather close to the brain.

  5. ivor20 says:

    All religions of the world are run by men … things won’t improve until their pios and antiquated attitudes change

  6. It would be so easy to become disillusioned by this Rachel, but we must not. The patriarchal trend to ensure women are downtrodden, and remain so, does seem to be on an upward spiral at the moment. It seems to be driven by bigoted, older men who are plainly bullies, and young men are always keen to join the macho stupidity. The good thing about bullies is that they are normally very insecure and, if confronted in a robust manner, can very soon lose face, and followers. It is up to us all, and especially men, to confront any, and all, whose speech, actions, or behaviour are in any way threatening to women or their rights. I know this is easily said, and not so easily done, but it must happen!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Thanks, Peter. I totally agree that we must not despair but work even harder. There are far greater forces at play than indivuals, unfortunately. Warmongers, internet manipulators, and climate change among them. In a national crisis, women and children are the first to go.

      1. Perhaps we could slowly breed out testosterone, although I can see a slight problem there!

      2. Rachel McAlpine says:

        Yep, wee problem there.

      3. Suzanne says:

        A few males would agree. It is not just men that women are kept downtrodden. I know a few men that are far more staunch about women’s rights than some women. Life’s experiences, what we see is happens what we do.

      4. Rachel McAlpine says:

        Thank goodness for the good men. My sons and grandsons are among them 🙂

  7. Thank you for giving voice to what (we) I have observed/experienced. I find it unnerving that many women activists/politicians are destroying these basic rights alongside all the rest.
    Politicians are not physicians.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That is distressing, for sure.

  8. judibwriting says:

    Thanks for this, Rachel. We have come so far and have lost so much and seem be be losing more and faster every year. We feel it keenly in the U.S. I have hope for this insistence on rigid ignorance and oppression by those in power will finally meet its match in the resistance the rest of us can provide. I fear that the need for true unity to face the reality that we could perish if we don’t turn this ship around may be needed to turn the tide and I dread whatever that peril will look like. The underlying fear of those threatened by inevitable change and the desire to reestablish some false idea of security must Eventually crumble under the weight of reality. Reality always wins. We can only engage hope and give our best knowing that we cannot accurately predict the outcome of our dedication.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Into a nutshell you have compressed a cogent proposition. That last sentence is the clue to what we must do in this quasi-nuclear standoff. And forgive me for sounding so formal. The scale of the problem sends me all polysyllabic!

  9. Yes, Rachel… and the internet making it easier for men to continue to subjugate and demean women. All power to your pen Rachel.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      The internet, with all its benefits, has a lot to answer for.

  10. Mick Canning says:

    It is, indeed, despairing.

  11. judithhb says:

    Kate Shepherd fought long and hard all those years ago and similarly in the 70s we fought too. We prospered. We smashed the glass ceiling. But it’s surprising how many women of my generation don’t appreciate what has been done for them. And now we see women’s rights being chipped away around the world even in the first world countries. We must voice our concerns and now fight for women everywhere. I still love that song – I am Woman . .

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Yes, Helen Reddy singing that song still sends shivers up my spine. It’s a visceral response, linked to the second wave of feminism.

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