Digital Features Editor Jenny Proudfoot breaks down the misconceptions around the annual celebration...
International Women’s Day 2020 falls this Sunday, coming just days after the World Economic Forum predicted that we are a century away from gender parity.
To me, it is evident therefore that we need International Women’s Day more than ever. But scrolling through my social media platforms, I worry that I’m in the minority.
‘Didn’t we just have one of these?’, ‘Isn’t this just an opportunity for “feminists” to man-hate?’, ‘Do we really need an International Women’s Day?’ – these were just some of the many messages that concerned me.
To those people, I am writing this piece for you.
I personally find it baffling that International Women’s Day can be a divisive subject, when its sole aim is to achieve equality, but I think that the backlash is down to a key misunderstanding of what International Women’s Day is and why we celebrate it.
Firstly, some people think that International Women’s Day is just for women, and consequently, anti-men.
Let me clear this up for you. International Women’s Day is for women and men – everyone is welcome. The day is about gender equality, and in order to achieve that we must elevate women. That is a fact. It is also referred to as Civil awareness day, Anti-sexism day and Anti-discrimination day, terms that some people prefer.
Another frequent misunderstanding I have witnessed is that the day was thought up by a group of loud millennials who wanted to shout at men.
Again, let me set you straight. International Women’s Day has been celebrated every year since 1911 – that’s over 100 years. And its two-fold message now remains the same as when it was started – to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, but also to mark a call to action for accelerating gender parity.
‘International Women’s Day is a collective day of global celebration and a call for gender parity,’ the official IWD website states. ‘International Women’s Day is all about unity, celebration, reflection, advocacy and action – whatever that looks like globally at a local level. But one thing is for sure, International Women’s Day has been occurring for well over a century – and continues to grow from strength to strength.’
‘But why is it ok for you to have an International Women’s Day, but not for me to have an International Men’s Day?’, one of my male friends asked me earnestly last week.
This is something that I think a lot of people have problems coming to terms with, so to him and to you, I say: Because we are not on equal footing.
We live in a world that prioritises men and as was earlier mentioned, we are 100 years away from having actual gender parity. To get to that stage, we have to push women up as hard as we can and amplify their voices. This is what International Women’s Day is for.
Once we are on equal footing, then we can question whether an International Day is necessary, but until then, I will be using the annual celebration to admire the incredible women around me and marvel at how far we have come, whilst calling out inequality and how far we have to go.
‘I don’t personally feel any discrimination’, a female friend of mine told me. ‘All of the men around me treat me like an equal so I don’t think I should mark the day’.
This is another key misinterpretation about International Women’s Day – it’s not about individuals, it’s about women everywhere.
We may be lucky enough to live in a ‘woke’ system where our gender isn’t seemingly holding us back on a daily basis, but what about our international sisters? The women in Nigeria where men are legally allowed to beat their wives ‘for the purpose of correcting’, those in Malta where a man can reportedly be exempt from punishment for kidnapping a woman if he marries her, and the girls in the 100+ countries where child marriage is still legal. These are the women who are fighting to have their voices heard right now and they need our help.
If you don’t want to celebrate it for yourself, please at least consider celebrating International Women’s Day for them.
Together, we can keep the conversation going and move ever further in the direction of gender equality.