Are we equal now that “women’s month” is over?

Lina AbiRafeh
6 min readApr 5, 2023

--

Women’s “month” is officially over. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel any different. I’d like to think that this month has led to reignited activism and commitment for real change — has it?! Maybe I missed the memo.

We spend this month launching reports, releasing statements, disseminating press releases, reminding (ourselves, mostly) that we have a long way to go. We also spend this month remembering our feminist foremothers, on whose shoulders we stand. Would they be pleased with how far we’ve come?! And, we also spend this month under corporate hijack, with women’s month — and International Women’s Day in particular — stripped of its power, politics, passion, and morphing into a commercial opportunity for flowers, cupcakes, and sales on beauty products. No, I’m not kidding.

The very companies that proclaim “Happy” International Women’s Day are the ones whose wishes ring hollow. Do they have equal pay? Family-friendly policies? Zero tolerance on sexual harassment? Equal opportunities for professional advancement and promotion? Ethical workplaces and production lines? You get the point.

This is not a time for hollow wishes and PR proclamations. This is not a time for lip service and rhetoric without real advancement. I’ve lamented about this before — probably in every single blog I’ve posted. We don’t need BS — we need action. And I’ve written about what that action might look like, in case we need inspiration and ideas for how to bring equality to life.

Imagine, though, if things actually did change. Imagine if we all woke up on April 1 with freedom, equality, rights, dignity, respect, opportunity, choice, voice… Imagine! The problem is, April 1 is also April Fool’s Day, which leaves me feeling a little grim about possibilities. The prospect of equality might sound like a joke to some — but not to me.

You’ve heard/read/seen me howl into the void, blog after speech after podcast and on and on, day after decade, about inequalities. They exist — and we should no longer need to convince anyone of their existence. They are so incredibly visible in every aspect of our lives, how could anyone possibly miss them?!

So, we’re given a whole month (a long month, mind you!) where we are recognized as valid human beings before being treated like second-class citizens once again. Thirty-one whole days. I realize that I am a feminist killjoy (someone has to do it, right?!) and in that spirit I TikToked my way through these 31 days with a blip of inequality a day — everything from the ways in which we neglect women’s healthcare (especially older women) to girl-child marriage in the US to random acts of male-perpetrated violence and on and on and on. I could do this every day.

Sure, there’s good stuff. There’s progress. There’s reason to celebrate. Yes, yes, I hear you. And I do celebrate. We’ve got to celebrate every micro-move in the right direction, otherwise we’d die of despair. Trust me, I know. I started working on women’s rights when I was 22. I’m almost 49 now. Geesh, that’s a lot of years. I started volunteering and writing and protesting when I was 14. That’s even more years. I was just that kind of kid — angry at inequality from day one.

I sometimes play a game with myself. I imagine what I might do if we were actually equal. Like, no risk of violence, no discrimination, no denial of rights, choices, opportunities. All that stuff. I’d enjoy simple things. I’d walk my dog alone at night without looking over my shoulder or crossing the street in the face of dodgy dudes. I’d raise my voice a lot more — and a lot louder — in professional settings without worrying that this might backfire. I’d apply for all sorts of jobs that I was kinda/sorta/almost-but-not-quite qualified for. I could write decades of blogs about this stuff.

The point is, I’d do lots of little things. In fact, these things are so simple, so small, we should be taking them for granted. We should be doing them all the time, without even thinking about it. Why? Because it is our right to do so. Simple.

If freedom and equality are found in the small spaces, then actions toward freedom and equality can also be in the small stuff. That’s not to say that we don’t want big things — hell yes we do! But while we fight for big things — representation in politics, leadership, decision-making, the economy, all that stuff — we also need to build a culture of equality all around us, in our daily lives, in our ways of living and being and relating to each other.

I think of it this way… if I wanted to do something to protect the environment, would I strap myself to a tractor or jump on a Greenpeace ship, or would I start by being environmentally conscious where I am, in the space I occupy? In other words, while we’re screaming for the big stuff, we can also just start right here, right now. Start where we stand.

So I took this rant to the streets, asking my fellow feminists and feisty fighters what they thought of this month. How did they feel? How did we do? What did we gain?!

In case you haven’t heard enough of it from me, here are their voices:

You mean we’re not running free in the streets, walking alone at night, taking control of political office, running corporations, or doing anything AT ALL in these 31 days?! Then, nothing is different. Nothing at all.

It’s the artificiality for me. The men in the office giving the women a rose. Wait, I’ll vomit. It’s not a friggin party. They have no idea what they’re celebrating.

I actually saw a sale on kitchen appliances for women’s day. Ummm… wait, are we in the 1960s? Is a discounted blender going to bring me equality, or bring me back to the kitchen?!

This has become a fad. A retail fad. It feels depressingly off-track.

Maybe this should be the one day a year where everyone has to sign up to support services for women or some concrete commitment that isn’t a hollow “happy” statement.

What happened to real activism? What does one day achieve? And do people believe it more on that day than any other? I just think it creates an opportunity to cop out for the rest of the year.

One of my favorite women’s day-everyday campaigns is the UK-based Gender Pay Gap Bot. The page says: “Deeds not words. Stop posting platitudes. Start fixing the problem.”

This app is exposing the problem by calling out company “cut-and-paste platitudes” so we know for real whose support for our so-called women’s day is genuine and who’s “still got work to do.” In other words, it calls out the BS. All you need to do is Tweet ‘@paygapapp pay gap for [company name]’ and you’ll get a reply with that employer’s pay gap.

I absolutely adore this initiative. Any company that tweets “happy international women’s day” will have their pay gap stats exposed in a tweet. It only works for UK companies, but someone has gotta make this thing global. There’s so much BS to expose!

So, now that our little month is done, what happens? Well, most of us keep going. In fact, we get louder. Did you expect us to quietly fade away because the spotlight isn’t on us anymore? Not happening. Are women off the agenda for the next 11 months? Hell, no.

We’re not going anywhere.

Young girl in Papua New Guinea

--

--

Lina AbiRafeh

Global women's rights activist, author, speaker, aid worker with 3 decades of global experience - and lots to say! More on my website: www.LinaAbiRafeh.com