For more than 100 years, March 8th has marked International Women’s Day around the world. It was officially recognized by the U.N in 1977 and has been linked to historical changes in legislation all over the world.
Yet, my local florist is hawking cheap carnations. In some places, IWD is even a combined celebration with Mother’s Day.
As much as women appreciate fresh foliage, we’d much rather that our profiles were not 13% less likely to be viewed by a recruiter because we’re female or that we weren't 47% more likely to suffer injuries in a car crash because safety features were designed for men.
When I had my son after a complicated birth, I would have preferred if my midwife hadn’t told me I was lucky because, “in another country, neither of you would have survived.” Over 800 women die each day from preventable causes in pregnancy and childbirth, according to UN estimates.
Everyone has, in their family, women who have beaten all the odds to pave the way. We should absolutely celebrate, honour and uphold them. But not at the expense of genuine change. In lieu of carnations, let’s note these three things.
1. Now is not the time for complacency
“I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands,” said author and activist Maya Angelou, “you need to be able to throw something back."
Great strides have been made for equality but there’s a long way to go. It’s shocking how recently some legislation was passed. In the UK where I live, it wasn’t until 1975 that a woman could open a bank account in her own name. It was 1980 before it was possible to apply for a credit card or loan without a husband or father’s signature and 1994 before maternity leave became compulsory.
Women and men have stepped up and fought for women’s rights but we don’t have to dedicate our lives to activism to make a change. Calling out sexist language or taking time to mentor young women over coffee is important. If a woman says something in a meeting and she’s interrupted, we can redirect and amplify her voice by saying: “As Lisa pointed out earlier...”
2. There’s room for everyone
Some men’s rights activists believe “the efforts to enhance the rights of women have become toxic efforts to undermine the rights of men” This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Studies point to the societal benefits of equality. A report by WHO comparing 41 European countries found that men’s health was poorer where the sexual division of labor was imbalanced. Productivity and wellbeing are better where there’s equality in parental leave or flexible working for all genders. Whether it's income, gender, race or sexuality, inequality has negative consequences. In the quest for equality, one person’s gain is not another’s loss.
3. Let's go the whole mile
As we all know, male and female aren’t the only genders to choose from. So while we’re shooting for equality, let’s spread the love.
Unconscious bias was a concept introduced in a landmark experiment called the Implicit Association Test (IAT) aimed at measuring the unconscious roots of prejudice affecting 90-95% of people. Neuroscientists found that the potential for prejudice is basically hardwired in us and exacerbated by the media. Just look at the spike in crime against people of Chinese ethnicity in the wake of coronavirus. But we can work to reduce our biases and become conscious of how we discriminate.
Say it flowers if you want, hashtag it and phone your mum. But take action too, until the moment to truly celebrate: When we don't need an International Women’s Day at all.
Blog author: Emma Woodhouse, Global Corporate Communications