I hate International Women’s Day. I hate the one-day-every-year that we are supposed to remind ourselves of how far we’ve come — and how far we’ve got to go for equality. Did we need reminding? Even worse to be told “happy” International Women’s Day. What, precisely, is “happy” about it? We are still not equal. How can I be happy about that?
WTF is International Women’s Day, anyway?! Quick history lesson: International Women’s Day started in 1911, when women — and men — took to the streets to demand rights for women to work, to vote, and to hold public office. It’s important, no doubt, but here we are — 110 years later — still making very similar demands!
Quick reality check: All around the world, women and girls are still not able to fully participate in all aspects of social, economic, and political life. They have less choice and less voice — and are further burdened with the responsibility of rectifying this imbalance. Achieving equality is viewed as “women’s work”. As if we caused this mess in the first place.
Here’s the thing: Gender equality is both a human rights principle and a precondition for a safe, just, sustainable future. A future I’d like to see materialize. Like, now.
We’ve got all the right language, but rhetoric and reality remain far apart. In 1945, the UN Charter agreed that equality was “the thing”. But here we still are — marinating in inequality.
We’ve got all sorts of documents — the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (happy 25th anniversary!) and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security (happy 20th anniversary!) and the Sustainable Development Goals — especially “our goal”, #5 (happy 5th anniversary!). While we’re out celebrating anniversaries, what exactly are we celebrating?
Put down the Prosecco. We’ve got a ways to go. The reality is that no country in the world has achieved equality. Not a single one. No, not even Iceland.
At our current pace, we’ll need 99.5 years (precisely) to close the gender gap. Let’s just say 100 years. Will you be around to see that happen?!
It’s fun creeping forward like a Galapagos turtle, but I for one am getting impatient.
So please, don’t “Happy International Women’s Day” me. Not yet.
In our world today, the majority of children who are out of school are girls. Child marriage is far too common, happening far too often — just about everywhere (yes, even in the US). Women’s unemployment is higher than men’s. Women do the majority of unpaid work — and when they do work — they earn far less than men — in every occupation. In positions of power and decision-making, inequality is most visible because women are rendered virtually invisible. What bothers me most is violence against women. 1 in 3 women and girls worldwide will experience some form of violence against women in their lifetime. One.In.Three.
As we ride towards equality on the back of our turtle, the reality is that we’re likely going backwards. How do I know?
Here are 10 — of probably a bazillion — ways I know this to be true:
1. Rape continues to be used as a weapon of war: Ethiopia’s Tigray crisis is our latest example.
2. Sexual harassment is perpetrated by powerful men — with relative impunity. See NY Governor Andrew Cuomo for the latest case.
3. Women remain economically disempowered, with an ever-increasing share of the burden of unpaid care — 76 percent of total hours of unpaid care work worldwide, to be precise. And COVID has only made this worse.
4. Sexual slavery is happening. See Yemen — the world’s forgotten emergency.
5. Honor killings still exist (even the term makes me sick).
6. The wage gap is real — with women earning 77 cents to every man’s dollar.
7. 81 percent of women have experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime — verbal or physical.
8. Power and decision-making remain in the hands of men, who still hold ¾ of the world’s parliamentary seats and management positions.
9. Women are 13 percent of peace negotiators and 4 per cent of peace signatories — even as we know that there is no peace without women.
10. Gender gaps are getting bigger. For instance, the Arab region has a 40% gap — the world’s largest.
So I can not — WILL not — say “happy” International Women’s Day when we fight day after day and year after year for the same rights and respect that we should have always had, when women are still restricted in every aspect of our lives, when we are denied choice over our own bodies, when women cannot be safe in public or private space, when women still experience violence and discrimination, when the justice system fails women, when our voices are ignored or denied, when women in senior positions are still the exception and the “first” — rather than the norm. Should I go on?
Why am I poo-pooing the party, you wonder? Well, I have worked for women’s rights for more than 25 years. 25 x 365 = 9125. That’s kinda a lot of days.
Let’s get granular. We love lists, so here are 10 things I absolutely hate about our one-day-a-year, International Women’s Day:
1. Flowers: the gifting of dead flora. Symbolically, it’s grim. And pointless. A long-stemmed carcass to commemorate what, exactly?!
2. Cards: the Hallmark-ization of this day brings me no closer to my rights.
3. Events: is this the only day you can make a statement, launch a report, regurgitate a speech? I’m not buying it.
4. Celebrations that we have to plan for ourselves: must we also make our own cupcakes?! And so we add to women’s unpaid and emotional labor.
5. When is International Men’s Day? The stupidest comment of all time.
6. The delusion that women are central to every organization, every company, everything… for just one day. It smells of politics and PR to me.
7. Whatabboutery: What about these people? This issue? Those things? These causes? What about letting us talk about women sometimes — and being ok with that?!
8. Pink: Really?! Does it all have to be so cliché? Should we have brunch? It’s not Mother’s Day! And don’t get me started on that (as a non-mother, even I know that Mother’s Day is an entire lifetime).
9. Tick-box showcase of diversity… as if to say Look! We have women!
10. Measuring how far we (haven’t) come: I understand the need to celebrate micro-steps but we just aren’t getting far enough fast enough.
Overall, I am deflated by the charade of reignited activism, as if we’re all sitting around waiting for March 8 to think about/talk about/do something about women. (So that was #11).
Now this day is flooded with events and conversations and celebrations and campaigns, each one aiming to be louder than the other. Women are not an add-on or a side event or an afterthought. They are not a “day”.
And this woman surely is not “happy” about women’s rights right now.
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge. Choose what? Equality and rights are not a “choice”, they are a non-negotiable global imperative. Sure, we can “choose” to ignore that. And we can “choose” to continue to perpetrate inequality. But what sort of choice is that?
For any thinking being, challenging the status quo isn’t about a choice — it’s a duty, a necessity. We have flooded the world with good arguments. Gender parity will have positive impacts on all aspects of economic and political life, we say. Equality results in higher GDP and more productivity! More women business leaders bring better performance! More women political leaders bring more prosperity! Those are strong arguments, surely. Which one will inspire us to take action? Productivity? Performance? Prosperity? Maybe the strongest argument of all is PRINCIPLE — because we know this is the right thing to do. And this is the time to do it.
While equality in numbers is critical, the presence of women doesn’t necessarily mean power for women. So maybe some of us can use this “International Women’s Day” to stand on the right side of history — the side of EQUALITY.
Personally, I don’t need a day to celebrate my feminist sisters or to refuel for the fight. It’s my whole damn life.
International Women EveryDay — that’s all.
And that’s everything.