International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. In Australia, the day offers the opportunity to accelerate gender parity. Around the world, groups come together to celebrate women’s achievements or rally for women’s equality. It is also a day to reflect on the language that can thwart progress and confuse issues.
A word that is intrinsically part of IWD is feminism. This word is one of the most misunderstood, divisive and wrongly used words on earth. When I hear people ask ‘Are you a feminist?” with disdain I bristle. Or when prominent women deny being feminists many women feel let down. It is also impossible to comprehend how women leaders that denounce feminism argue they stand for fairness and access.
Feminism means wanting access to the same resources and rights men have – THAT IS IT. It has absolutely nothing at all to do with hating men, disparaging men, taking rights away from men, or any other rubbish that is anti-men. In fact, feminism recruits men to help make the world fairer and a more accessible place.
Women want to have the same pay as men because the bills and the cost of living are the same. Women don’t get cheaper electricity, water, food, or rent so why should their wages for the same work be less? Women want to walk at night safely or run/jog streets at night because it is cooler – but are told that it is not safe. Men are not told that. Rather than demonize the criminals they tell women they are being careless. Why?
Women don’t want to be bullied at work simply because they are easy targets. Women are safe to abuse because they are not seen as someone that might hit back in retaliation. There are many inequalities and women should demand fairness for as should any other group that is disadvantaged.
Mothers are women and women are more than half the population yet we are still asking for fairness. The greatest number of poor on earth are women and the most sexual violence is aimed at women so why is anyone worried about a word that promotes equality and access to stop this? There are only two reasons for disparaging feminism, misunderstanding the definition or misogyny. Perhaps a new word for those that oppose fairness and access should be created.
What is IWD hoping to achieve
IWD is about shining a light on unfairness and celebrating wins. Marked annually on March 8th, IWD is one of the most important days of the year to:
celebrate women’s achievements;
educate and awareness raise for women’s equality;
call for positive change advancing women;
lobby for accelerated gender parity and
fundraise for female-focused charities.
In Victoria IWD is focusing this year of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The theme is “Cracking the Code: Innovation for a gender-equal future”. Women require technology as much as men and if women do not contribute to STEM the needs of women can and are overlooked.
How often have you heard ‘this was designed by a man’? The connotation being women were not considered. Often the functionality, aesthetics, or design are not female-friendly. This is why women need to be more involved from planning to completion. Technology is used by men and women equally so women need to be sitting at the table delivering what women need from STEM. However, senior roles and opportunities are not as forthcoming.
IWD offers men and women opportunities to encourage worldwide engagement and collective action in advancing women’s equality. Everyone everywhere can help forge women’s equality. If we consider how women’s equality has improved the world the benefits to everyone are endless.
Achieving women’s equality lead to:
- 1800s women in science;
- 1902 Getting the vote;
- 1903 Suffragettes;
- 1914-1918 World War I – women doing men’s work and pushing to keep those jobs;
- 1961 The Pill;
- 1965 Women in pubs;
- 1970 The Female Eunuch – famous Victorian Germaine Greer defying the female persona. Many women began to think of their potential;
- 1970s Women Leaders emerge – seeing representing countries;
- 1976 Reclaim the Night – fighting violence against prostitutes. Reversing the denigration of women and how women are shamed.
- 2011 Saudi Women driving – international awareness of rights;
- 2011 Three women from non-first world win the Nobel Peace Prize;
- Australian Football League women’s (AFLW) 2016 and
- 2020 Jacinda Ardern’s leadership through Covid – was highlighted for the achievement of goals drawing on compassion and strength.
Women throughout history have contributed but often no credit was given. Often men took the credit as a woman’s achievement was an enigma. Sadly, we will never really know how many female achievements were not celebrated but there are many researching past victories and exposing how women contributed. That is why we are celebrating IWD now to ensure women are recognised.
Why celebrating is important
Women’s achievements need celebrating because they are still considered novel. We still are saying ‘first woman to achieve a goal’ men have had. Young girls need heroes too. We identify with our same-sex role models and it is extremely important to have achievements we can aspire to. Women have had their goals limited throughout history and even those goals were created by others. Even those women we feel do not represent our values should be thanked for their contribution because they added to our history.
IWD is a time to reflect on the tragic plight of women and girls in Afghanistan whose worlds are restricted beyond reason. The world should be as angry about that as they are about the Russian invasion but no such help is going to those women and girls. Indeed, what is happening in Afghanistan is a war on women but there is not the same anger for their suffering. IWD is also about remembrance and how women inspire others.
“If you educate a man, you educate one person. If you educate a woman, you educate a nation”. This quote is often cited in development circles and is why women must have access because they impact so many. We know that when women are educated and can earn money, they help their communities. The overall standards of the communities are raised and their children are educated. Feminism – wanting access to resources and equality – is the driving force for all this improvement how is that word so horrible?
Feminism has been hijacked by some that suggest that women must be like men or that women can compete with men. This is wrong. No two men are the same – one may be short another tall, one strong one frail – so how can this argument work? IWD is about having access to the same opportunities, not feeling oppressed or less valued and celebrating what feminism has achieved.
We should celebrate IWD because the rewards of achievement are fantastic regardless of gender. We all benefit from achievements and we don’t question the gender of the contributor. In fact, opening up opportunities to women must increase the benefits to society. We all love when our teams win and women just want more teams that look like them.
Happy International Women’s Day.