My co-founder Lou wrote a piece earlier this week on why International Women’s Day (IWD)? Lou asked on social media what women in her circles thought about the relevance of IWD. She got a lot of answers – with resoundingly sensible logic – that the day wasn’t what it should be. That it lacked relevance and seemed nothing more than a marketing tool. I would like to pose a counterpoint – why International Women’s Day, and other days like it, are still important.
One of the key reasons for scrapping International Women’s day was the obvious point that gender equality is an issue for every day, not just 8th of March. I agree it is. However, sadly for many women across the globe women’s rights are not on the agenda for their governments, communities, societies or whanau.
The relevance of days like this is they create a platform for discussion, opportunities for women to pressure government leaders across the globe to take notice of the women who have been left behind, and remind media they still need to turn their lens to important issues facing women from all walks of life.
We all need to start seeing the women who are discriminated against
It’s easy for us in Aotearoa where the gender pay gap is closing for Pākehā women (now closer to 10% on average), where the public sector has implemented a mandate to have 50% of their board positions held by women, to think International Women’s day is obsolete. It’s easy to see progress for a privileged minority as rights for these women are progressing well.
It’s also easy to forget that elsewhere in the world girls as young as 12 are forced into marriage; there are countries where sexual harassment, violation and even rape are not criminalised; there are 52 countries where women do not hold equal rights with men constitutionally.
It’s also easy to look at the averages and forget that here in Aotearoa we face major gender equality issues – 57% of the women incarcerated in our own country are Māori women; the gender pay gap for Māori and Pasifika women is over 20%; and most horrifically our domestic violence statistics are shameful – Police investigated 118,910 incidents of family violence in 2016 or about one every 5 minutes. One every 5 minutes! a heartbreaking statistic we simply should not accept, yet somehow we do.
Gender equality provides freedom of opportunity for everyone
International Women’s Day fell on a Sunday in 2020, so here in Aotearoa it passed us by relatively unnoticed, or as Lou highlighted was used as a marketing tool.
Across the globe, despite the rapidly growing risk of catching or spreading COVID-19, women protested bravely. Many faced down police and army, in Kyrgyzstan women were attacked by armed men while protesting, across the globe these women defied their husbands, brothers and fathers to protest for equal rights.
The stories are horrendous – in Mexico 10 women per day die due to Femicide, which is defined as killings of women because of their gender; in Brazil 4 women die per day as a result of violence – these stories are repeated in so many countries yet are almost inconceivable from where I sit. You can read more about these protests here.
Women – gay, straight, bi, trans, intersex, queer (and others) – face complex issues in an increasingly complex world. The bottom line is this male dominated world has not recognised us as equals for centuries, and while change in some quarters is happening it’s just too slow.
Until we have equality for all women, everywhere, we will need to communicate and draw attention to discrimination against women. Until women are born with equal rights, do not have to live in fear of violence and abuse, are paid and treated fairly, global campaigns like International Women’s day provide a catalyst to draw the world’s eyes to their lives and a mechanism to call for acceleration of change.
I will end by quoting Ruth Bader Ginsburg “When I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court] and I say, ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”