Have we lost sight of what International Women’s Day actually means? I believe so. Here’s what I think about its downfall, and what we can do to elevate it.
It’s been a couple of days since International Women’s Day (8 March). Did it feel like just another day to you? You’re not the only one. It gave me a ‘different year, same cookie-cutter events’ vibe. About three to four weeks before the day, we get a surge of limited edition collections – some in pink or red ‘cos apparently women are only associated with those colours. *rolls eyes* Certain companies and brands milk it by simply adding the IWD tag. Sure, these are just a few bad apples and there are organisations that truly advocate equality. I’m all for celebrating women but have we missed the mark?
A quick backstory about International Women’s Day
The first record of Women’s Day was observed during the early 20th century. Organised by the Socialist Party of America in 1909, It was intended to honour a strike by garment workers, mostly women, that took place the previous year. In 1910, German socialist Clara Zetkin proposed the idea that an International Women’s Day be observed annually to promote equal rights for women. It was unanimously approved, and the first one was celebrated on March 19, 1911, in a few countries including Denmark and Switzerland.
The date later changed to March 8th in 1917. The United Nations officially recognised International Women’s Day in 1975 and has been celebrating it since, with a different theme each year. Today, IWD is a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, as well as a call for gender equality and women’s rights. So, when did we forget the core message of this important day?
The hypocrisy of gender equality: why is it still prevalent in our society?
International Women’s Day is celebrated but not necessarily observed during the other 364 days in a year. It’s heavily commercialised and tokenistic – some might even call it an act of performative feminism. Corporations send a mass message to thank women and throw parties, but how many of them go beyond that to provide equal opportunities to climb the corporate ladder? Many women are still fighting for basic necessities such as equal pay, paid time off, healthcare, and leadership development. We’ve seen plenty of special collections dedicated to celebrating women. But how many women were actually involved in the creation process?
It’s common to see women-led businesses supporting underprivileged women through the proceeds of such collections but do more prominent corporations follow suit? Probably just a handful. Speaking of women-led businesses, we’ve heard and seen their struggles to get adequate funding.
According to the 2021 Forbes article, “Women Founders And Funders Are Outperforming, So Why Is Gender Inequality Growing, And What Do We Do About It?”, the quarterly venture funding for female founders dropped to a three-year low. Women-led businesses were receiving only 2.7% of venture capital dollars despite a 68% increase in the average annual revenue from their businesses.
Amy Nelson, the founder of women-oriented co-working and community space The Riveter struggled to get funding despite a successful launch that received a lot of media buzz. She eventually secured funding from female investors. Unfortunately, it closed down all of its co-working spaces due to the pandemic. It has since moved to an online community to amplify the expertise, experiences, and earning power of working women.
GoldieBlox, an American toy company that creates STEM-focused toys for girls also struggled to get funding for the company. The founder Debbie Sterling raised money through a Kickstarter campaign. The campaign received over $1 million worth of pre-orders in the first month.
Hell, we’ve even moved back a few centuries with the overturn of Roe v. Wade. By 2023, half of US states will take away the constitutional right to abortion. IWD also lacks in representing the diversity of women’s experiences and tends to ignore the struggles of women of colour, LGBTQ+ women, and women living in poverty.
What can we do to make a change?
Of course, I’m not turning a blind eye to companies that have taken adequate measures in prioritising gender equality. In 2020, tech firm Intel said it’ll increase the number of women in technical roles to 40% and double the number of women and underrepresented minorities in senior roles by 2030. It has also established a pay equity program and offers flexible work arrangements.
Closer to home, DBS has been included in the Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index for six consecutive years due to its commitment to embracing diversity, equity and inclusion. Today, women comprise half of its workforce (40% of its senior management) and drive key businesses and functions across the bank.
In the workplace
Treat women fairly and give them the same pay and advancement opportunities as their male counterparts. Provide an inclusive and supportive work environment where women can feel comfortable expressing themselves without the fear of discrimination. Offer fair and transparent performance evaluations based on skills rather than gender. Also, provide mentorship and career development opportunities for growth. Finally, allowing flexibility in work schedules goes a long way.
Introduce discussions of the concept of gender and how it impacts areas such as education and social interactions. It’s crucial to address gender biases too – teaching students to recognise and speak up against gender stereotypes and biases is a creative way for them to identify and challenge discrimination and inequality in the future.
On IWD, my phone was filled with forwarded messages thanking the women in our lives and the importance of these female figures. What else have we done to improve their lives? Women want to be seen for their efforts but they also want help. Simply taking charge of household decisions, taking the initiative and sticking to that on the other 364 days is a good start.
If you have kids, kickstart conversations that’ll empower them (the boys, too!) and learn about empathy. Our sister site HoneyKids covers it brilliantly in this article about raising empowered girls.
Meaningful action, important discussions and walking the talk
Despite these criticisms, IWD still serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for gender equality and women’s rights. Yup, we’ve still got a long way to go. According to the 2020 Global Gender Gap Report from the World Economic Forum, it’ll take 100 years to experience actual gender parity.
But International Women’s Day can still be a catalyst for action and a way to raise awareness if we all do our part to encourage women and help amplify their voices.