International Women’s Day 2021 has a theme of #ChooseToChallenge. As enneagram 8 you can imagine how much I love this theme (if you know, you know).
It makes me think about times when I’ve been asked, “Why International Women’s Day? Where’s International Men’s Day at!”. It’s actually a pretty common question, I reckon I get asked it at least twice a year, even if in ‘tongue & cheek’.
But whether it’s asked in jest or not, I think it’s worth challenging. Here’s what I have to say about it: every day may as well be international men’s day right now.
Every day that most men are celebrated for their successes, and women are viewed as a threat.
Every day that most men get to go for an evening run through a park without thinking twice about what protection they need to take with them.
Every day that women’s bodies are overly commoditised and sexualised in comparison to men’s.
Every day most men get to go through life thinking ‘yep, I can do that’ but women do not.
I could go on, but today is a day about celebrating the achievements of women, looking at how far we’ve come, and uniting to tackle the rest of the journey toward equality together.
Here’s 5 main reasons why International Women’s Day is still important:
1. It’s not about making women better than men
Chimamanda Ngozie Adiche writes in her book/TED talk ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ that feminism fights for the “social, political and economic equality of the sexes.” Equality does not = superiority. Quite the opposite. Celebrating days like International Women’s Day just intend to highlight where there’s a gap.
Women are already strong, already have a voice and already have power. They don’t need more. They just need to be given space and freedom to use it where currently, they are not.
“My own definition is a feminist is a man or a woman who says, yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better. All of us, women and men, must do better.” (Chimamanda Ngozie Adiche | We Should All Be Feminists)
2. There are so many untold stories and unsung heroes
Did you know that a woman (Ada Lovelace) was the first person to write instructions for the very first computer? Or that a woman (Katherine Johnson) calculated the trajectory of Apollo 11’s flight to the moon? But when was the last time you saw a statue commemorating one of our great (non-royal) women in history? Why didn’t I learn about these women in school?
Thankfully numerous stories of incredible women throughout history and today are popping up everywhere! One of my favourite places to discover these is in the Rebel Girls books.
“Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture.” (Chimamanda Ngozie Adiche | We Should All Be Feminists)
3. We need to continue to empower the next generation
Becoming an aunt and a godmother to five little nieces and goddaughters has made my passion for women’s rights even more fierce. Which, trust me, I didn’t think would be possible. But it’s made me very quickly realise that I care deeply about what messages they are being told by society, even at such a young age. It makes me all the more aware of representation in politics, STEM, and sport – I want them to grow up thinking they can be anything they want to be. Seeing women in those positions makes that possible.
But instead, we still teach girls in a different way to boys.
While we have different skills, attributes and even bodies – there are things that should be the same that are not.
“And then we do a much greater disservice to girls, because we raise them to cater to the fragile egos of males. We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls: You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful but not too successful, otherwise you will threaten the man. If you are the breadwinner in your relationship with a man, pretend that you are not, especially in public, otherwise you will emasculate him.” (Chimamanda Ngozie Adiche | We Should All Be Feminists)
4. We need more awareness and more allies
White women, white men, all men, people in the public sphere, able-bodied peoples, community leaders – use your influence. We really need men as allies. Men should absolutely be feminists too.
Also, there’s so much misinformation out there. And while today isn’t the day I’m going to get into the battle of social media, free speech and the media… I will say that all of the above can be used to share any side of any story – not necessarily the truth. The truth is, so many people just don’t know the facts.
If you feel like one of them, read my next point. I’ve sourced some big stats.
“A world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves. And this is how to start: We must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently.” (Chimamanda Ngozie Adiche | We Should All Be Feminists)
5. We’ve got a long way to go on the journey to equality
There are so many successes to celebrate when it comes to women’s rights. We can vote (I’m eternally grateful, Suffragettes), in most countries we can own land, houses, open up bank accounts – all without the permission of a man! But this sadly even this basic right to control your own money is still not possible for women in 72 countries.
And that’s just my first stat. Are you sitting down? Here comes some big hard truth. Here’s just some of the areas where we still have A LOT of work to do:
- Women are at the forefront of the battle against COVID-19, as front-line and health sector workers, as scientists, doctors and caregivers, yet they get paid 11 per cent less globally than their male counterparts. (UN)
- Less than 25 per cent of parliamentarians were women, as of 2019. (UN)
- One in three women experience gender-based violence, still. (UN)
- Around 12 million girls every year are married off to men when they are still children. (Girls Not Brides)
- 132 million girls are not in school worldwide. (UNICEF)
- At the rate we’re going, it’s going to take 99.5 years to close the gender pay gap. (World Economic Forum)
- Less than 15% of landholders worldwide are women despite most farm workers in the global south being women. (Womankind)
- 71% of human trafficking victims in the world are female, most underage girls. (Stopthetraffik)
- Nearly 1 in 5 women in the USA have been raped, compared to 1 in 71 men. Remember, this stat only includes those who report it. (NSVRC)
- Approximately 85,000 women (aged 16 – 59) in England and Wales experience rape, attempted rape or sexual assault by penetration alone every year. This is compared to 12,000 men.
That’s roughly 11 of the most serious sexual offences (of adults alone) every hour.
- It’s estimated that only 15% of those who experience sexual violence in England and Wales report it to the police. (Rape Crisis)
None of these facts diminish the injustices of men who are victims of abuse, crime, or discrimination. But what they do, is highlight where there is significant outstanding need in our society right now.
“Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?”
Because that would be dishonest.
Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender.
It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women. (Chimamanda Ngozie Adiche | We Should All Be Feminists)
When people say “haven’t we done enough?”
The answer is no.
I won’t rest, or stop fighting, stop organising or stop advocating until I see those stats go down… dramatically.
This. is. important.
Today, in your life, for you and the women you know and love.
We’re all in it together. Gender equality is everyone’s fight.
May we know them.
May we be them.
May we raise them.