Walk into any card shop, supermarket or restaurant in the UK and you will be inundated with reminders that 30 March is Mothering Sunday: a day to say thank you to one half of the team that placed you on this planet. However, before then there is a day which often seems to slip by unnoticed by many, particularly in Britain – a day to appreciate not only our mothers but all the other women in our lives. This day is 8 March – International Women’s Day.
In Russia, men buy all the women in their lives flowers; in Italy, it is yellow Mimosas; the women of Portugal celebrate with women-only dinners and across the globe, demonstrations and meetings take place to highlight women’s position in the world.
With many seeing the gap between men and women closing, why is it still so important that this day is highlighted and that we continue to celebrate International Women’s Day?
Since the first International Women’s Day in 1911, steps have been made towards an equal world for women and men and this day offers a chance to reflect on the progress and celebrate the achievements of ordinary women who have had an extraordinary effect on our lives. It is also a reminder that there are still huge steps to be taken. Every year the day has a different theme, from workplace equality to education, to poverty, rape and violence. This year’s global theme is ‘Inspiring change’ with the United Nations’ theme being ‘Equality for women is progress for all.’
Unlike when the first International Women’s Day took place, we have a lot more power in our hands to be able to inspire change. We have the internet; we have social media; we have the chance to remind people that sexism is still a daily occurrence for women, often so innate within society that it goes unnoticed. However, Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project ensures that we do notice. In 2012, Bates set up a website and Twitter account for women to tell the stories of the everyday sexism they experienced.
She expected only a handful of women to respond, so she was surprised that she reached 25,000 accounts within a year written by women of all ages and backgrounds. This has increased to over a 1000 a week and there is now a version of the site in over 15 countries. The reports featured ranged from those highlighting the frequency of sexual assault at one extreme to the constant cat calling and jokes with women as the punch line at the other. Women are made to feel that they lack a sense of humour because they don’t appreciate being shouted at by strangers in the street. It is these ‘little’ things that continue to reinforce the idea of male dominance and consequently need to be stopped – so get angry!
And men, when you witness similar experiences, get angry too. After all, feminism is not just for women– it is simply the belief that men and women should be treated as equals. Men can, and should be, feminists too.
Until this is the case, we need 8 March to remind us that in the UK despite females outperforming males from primary level to postgraduate study, women still get paid on average 18.6% less than men and make up only 20.4% of board members on FTSE100 companies (most of which are non-executive positions); despite making up 51% of the population, only one in five MPs is a woman and that one in four women will be a victim of domestic violence at some point and women globally have a one in three chance of being raped or beaten [pdf].
A report released recently revealed the extent of abuse towards women across Europe. Denmark, Finland and Sweden – countries often praised as shining examples of equality between the sexes, were ranked first, second and third for the highest levels of physical and psychological abuse towards women.
There are a number of factors that could have contributed to these results, such as different national ideas about what constitutes abuse or the willingness of participants to talk about abuse experienced. However, whatever the variables, the report highlights the frequency at which women are made to feel inferior and subordinate to men and so we must continue the fight against inequality amongst the sexes and we must remember that we are still not equal. We also need to celebrate women like Bates who are inspiring change and acknowledge that through even small actions we can inspire change in others.
International Women’s Day is a day of appreciation, reflection and forward thinking to be celebrated by both women and men because, as the theme states, ‘equality for women is progress for all’.
Happy International Women’s Day.