International Women's Day: Don’t wait for a date to celebrate women

Don’t wait on a calendar date to celebrate women or promote ‘women’s issues’

Our inboxes here are overflowing with PR pitches urging Women’s Agenda to profile various inspiring women ‘in the lead up to International Women’s Day.’

We’re just over a week out from IWD so the PR machine is in overdrive.

It’s frustrating to see for a number of reasons (and full disclosure, I’ve written a version of this piece ever year for the past few years).

The first being that a publication like Women’s Agenda — and plenty of others — feature, promote and celebrate women all year round. No date on the calendar required.

We actually have nothing specific or overly special planned for next week, other than attending and participating in a few events here and there.

We’ll keep doing what we do, publishing daily news and feature content from a female perspective on politics, business, tech and more (and expect Georgie Dent to share an updated version of her classic ‘Why I hate IWD’ story).

Meanwhile larger news outlets will only have so much space and appetite for ‘women’s stories’, even in the week of IWD.

You’d be better off pitching said inspiring/game-changing woman to the media at pretty much any other time in the year. It’s a crowded market.

Some stories will get through, some will even take the cover of major metropolitan papers. The vast majority will be ignored, which is sad and shows a lost opportunity to get these women heard at other points in the year.

The second frustration is one that Pilita Clark has done an excellent job in articulating in the Financial Times today, on the PR pitches and invitations she too receives around celebrating inspiring, unstoppable and generally spectacular woman at this time of year.

We can’t all be brilliant, she writes. And it’s exhausting to have to think that we can. Gender equality at work will only happen when women have the ability to be just as mediocre as men. Indeed, perhaps we even need an “International Crap Women’s Day” on the calendar.

“We must demand the right to be as incompetent, lazy and useless as any man. That is where true equality lies,” Clark says. Amen to that.

Next, while it’s great to see more big businesses acknowledging IWD and even using the date to launch important initiatives aimed at workplace gender equality, not all businesses are equal in this regard. And while it’s also wonderful to see women given the opportunity to take some time out to attend various events, actually only a limited number of women can get involved.

I worry that increasingly some women may feel just that little bit more inadequate at this time, and possibly even more isolated and left out. There are plenty of women who simply won’t have time to participate in anything IWD related— and the thought of trying to squeeze yet more in to feeling ‘part of it all’ is an additional element of stress they just don’t need.

There are those who can’t get out due to distance, caring responsibilities, disability or something else. Others who don’t have an employer able or willing to send them along to celebrations. There are those who work part time, flexibly or casually — and taking a lunch out becomes a step too far in cramming in a full week’s work into three days — and others again who simply can’t afford some of the hefty ticket prices.

Then there’s the fact that on the workplace gender equality front, not enough is changing year to year – despite ‘pushing for progress’ in 2018 and being urged to “be bold for change” in 2017.

Sure, more employers have the WGEA citation classifying them as an ’employer of choice’ than ever before, and yet on Women’s Agenda we keep hearing stories of redundancy during pregnancy, of discrimination against women, of sexual harassment, a lack of true flexibility and much, much more.

Also, a significant portion of women are working in small and medium sized business for employers that have no need or desire to try and achieve this citation (although some do just as well if not better on initiatives to better support women as their larger counterparts).

Beyond gender equality in the workplace, International Women’s Day is also about acknowledging, considering and promoting some of the challenging stats about women’s opportunity locally and abroad. These stats are not always comfortable, nor things you necessarily want to ‘celebrate’. There’s the fact 60% of chronically hungry people in the world are women and girls, according to WFP Gender Policy and Strategy. Less than one fifth of the globe’s landholders are female, 130 million girls aged 6 to 17 are out of school, while women make up over two thirds of the 796 million people in the world who are illiterate.

In Australia, women now make up the greatest proportion of homeless people, with 45% of single women over 45 earning the minimum wage or less. 69 women were killed by violence in Australia in 2018, with Indigenous women, young women and pregnant women particularly at risk of family, domestic and sexual violence.

It’s still going to take 108 years to close the Global Gender Gap at the current rate of change, according to the World Economic Forum, up eight years from 2017.

You don’t need to wait on a date in the calendar to celebrate progress for women, nor to acknowledge the local and global work still to be done on gender equality. Do something special this coming March 8 if you can and want to, but remember celebrating women — no matter what her CV or job title — can and should be done every day.

In the workplace, and male or female, if you’re looking for something simple to do this International Women’s Day, consider the below check list we shared in 2018: 

Support women. Through mentoring and sponsoring, or even by reaching out and asking ‘do you need any help?’, ‘Anything I can do?”

Celebrate women. Even just one. Tell someone how great they are, how their work is inspiring. How it’s changed you or led you to do something different.

Encourage women. Reach out to someone in your team, or perhaps a colleague, a student, a niece, a daughter. Ask what they’re looking to achieve, and give them just a little piece of encouragement to help them get there.

Acknowledge women. Call them out on social media! Get their work and their voices heard. They’ll appreciate it.

And finally, acknowledge, support, encourage, celebrate and look after yourself.

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