International Women’s Day Isn’t Working. Here’s Why.

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5 min read

Last year, I was a bit fed upwith International Women’s Day.

I don’t hate the idea. But it does make me wonder about what happens the rest of the year. Shouldn’t we be working to make every day equal? Not just banging on about gender inequality on one day of the year? 

To be clear: I am pro-equality. I think girls and boys should grow up with a playing field that allows them to do whatever they wish (yes, including staying at home with the kids). I used to work in the policy area. I sat around big tables with all kinds of stakeholders, visited childcare centres and women’s refuges with workers on the front line of domestic violence services.. I’ve attended all the conferences, been to all the breakfasts, talked to women who support new migrants, women who run the family farm, women working to stem female genital mutilationin Australia, and I’ve to-ed and fro-ed on the best way to approach parental leave. 

I’ve done all that and I’m here to sayI don’t think IWD is hitting the mark.

It’s tokenistic

Which is a bit insulting. Having a day to celebrate women? As Lululemon’s marketing campaign for the day went: ‘How will you spend the other 364 days?’ Yup, in a nutshell, that’s it. ‘Gender equality doesn’t live in one day,’ it went on, ‘or one action, or one wave of a magic wand. It’s the way that you lead tiny revolutions, day after day after day after day.’ Nailed it guys (although I haven’t checked their leave policies to see whether they practice what they publicise). 

Wearing a purple ribbon and turning up to an event to eat cake, drink champagne, or even hear from women – as incredible, amazing, inspiring and accomplished as they might be – just rings a bit hollow. Too much rhetoric and too little action.

For those who still see women’s involvement or participation in the workforce as a box ticking exercise, IWD is the day to grandstand about it. If you want to teach your kids about the value of gender equality, start at home: the smallest microcosm of society. 

It’s not working

We are not making progress. 

Last year in Australia, 69 women were killed. That language is important. They died, yes, but violently. Mostly at the hands of their intimate partners. Here are the heartbreaking details

Indigenous women, pregnant women, disabled women and young women are at particular riskof violence. Indigenous women are 32 times more likely to be hospitalised due to family violence and are killed by a current or previous partner at twice the rate of non-indigenous women.

Last week, it transpired rugby league players allegedly think it’s ok to circulate videos of themselves and women having sex. Former Canterbury Bankstown player Steve Mortimer’s initial response (for which he has since apologised), suggested the women involved might be ‘looking for a little bit of notice’. No, Steve. 

On Monday, less than a week after this piece of news, Mortimer told ABC News he had met with a player who: ‘showed me this on his iPhone and I just could not believe it, that they were having sex’. On what planet is this normal? Even the NRL’s gender adviser Professor Catharine Lumby said she had to conclude that a number of players were ‘education-proof’. They knew what they were supposed to do in such a scenario, they just simply didn’t care.

It’s no better in politics 

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison saidin his IWD remarks in Perth: ‘We want to see women rise. But we don’t want to see women rise only on the basis of others doing worse. We want everybody to do better, and we want to see the rise of women in this country be accelerated to ensure that their overall pace is maintained,’. That their overall pace is maintained? It’s not a fun run. Australia is more than 200 years away from gender parity on the World Economic Forum’smeasure. 

Network 10’s political editor Peter Van Onselen, summed it up when hetweeted: ‘Actually I’m sorry but if men have taken a finite number of roles not on merit but on patronage then there will be losers in what are sometimes zero-sum situations.’ Yup. In fairness, the PM also announced $4M funding for the Esther Foundationon the same day and appears to be committed to the long-running National Action Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children, with fundingfor the fourth phase announced earlier this month. 

And while we’re talking about politics, Julie Bishop last weekend described the ‘gender deafness’she experienced as the only woman in Cabinet in 2013.

I can’t tell for whom IWD is making a difference (and it’s not that intersectional)

It’s not making a difference to the number of women in Cabinet in Australia or women in leadership roles. 

It’s not for my friends who are mums and feel like they (still) have to ‘do it all’ whether they are also working out of the home or not. Their partners might be FIFO workers and away for weeks at a time. Or they might be in the office day and night (literally) to ensure the career progression needed to keep paying the bills and the mortgage. Either way, IWD isn’t helping. 

These are not the people who can attend the $75 breakfast. They’re getting kids ready for school and getting themselves ready for the day. 

I’m pretty sure IWD not for the women in lower socio-economic areas of Australia’s capital cities either, who might be working two or three jobs to make ends meet. This, in the lucky country.

It’s not for women and girls who lack basic sanitation, exposing them to gender-based violence, women and girls in conflict zones, or war zones. Though raising awareness is a critically important part of the game (as is raising funds, which IWD does). I can’t help but feel there are better ways to do it. 

For me it’s a bit like the body image debate. We can have all the initiatives we want but it takes personal leadership to turn the ship around, household by household. 

It’s at the kitchen table (sorry, not sorry) that this stuff changes.

It happens when my friends who have toddlers who are trying to return to full-time work have husbands who will make dinner without being asked (or at least Uber eats something healthy). 

It’s when middle managers back up the blanket statements from CEOs about encouraging men to take parental leave, without snide comments. 

It’s when Italian elementary school grammar booksno longer have a ‘match the correct verb’ exercise that includes ‘mum…irons’ and ‘dad…works and reads’. 

And it’s when the Liberal Party can preselect a candidate for a federal seat without having a story come out about how someone on the selection committee allegedly saidit would be impossible for a woman with kids to take that role on. Less than a month after MP Michael Keenan, who has four young children, resigned from the role citing family reasons.

And when we see those changes on the other 364 days of the year, maybe I’ll get on board with IWD. I might even go (back) to a breakfast. 

Do you think IWD is missing the mark? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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2 Comments
  1. Neeti says

    I agree. I also felt VERY uncomfortable on IWD. I did participate at my organisation’s event by felt like a phoney because I know that gender-parity is NOT real at work or in the home and because I know that we are such a long way off from achieving it that IWD is just a way for companies and the UN etc to pay lip-service to “equality” and move swiftly on for the other 364 days of the year.

  2. Athanae says

    I think lots of people have good intentions but I feel that even with top-down support, workplace initiatives can fail at the middle-management level, and really, the most/best we can do is have the courage to have the conversations and change things in our own homes.

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