Should we rename International Women's Day to Work For Free Day?

Should we rename International Women’s Day to International Do-More-Work-For-Free Day?

Before 2019 had even finished I fielded five requests to speak at International Women’s Day events this year, for free. In each instance I politely declined.

I am far from alone. In recent months and weeks a number of very high-profile women, many of whom are professional presenters and speakers, have separately taken to various social media channels to share their own invitations to speak, pro bono, at IWD events and their respective decisions to decline.

These posts, whether they’ve been on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, have invariably attracted comments from other women who have shared their own tussles with  demands for their services gratis. Honestly, it seems there is a solid case for renaming IWD to International Do-More-Work-For-Free Day.

Women do a lot of work for free as it stands. Research from Price Waterhouse Cooper in 2017 showed that women undertake 72% of all unpaid work in Australia, the bulk of which is caring work. It’s not paid, but the monetary value of this unpaid caring work has been estimated to be $650.1 billion, is the equivalent to 50.6% of GDP.

As a gender there is no doubt we are already pulling our pro-bono weight. We’re doing more than our fair share but, it seems, it is still not enough.

IWD exists to highlight the entrenched disadvantage and inequity women and girls around the world face. Economic inequality is a critical component of that. One of the fundamental barriers to women achieving economic equality and financial security is the caring burden they carry.

It makes the irony of IWD becoming a peak opportunity to extract yet more free labour from women breathtaking.

In previous years I have shared my misgivings about IWD. My fervent belief is that women don’t need a pedestal for a single day. They need equality, every day.

To that end, in a bid to make International Women’s Day a constructive opportunity in the calendar to shrink the gender gap, please consider taking any (or all!) of these steps.

Whether you do it in your capacity as an engaged individual or an employer (or both) doesn’t matter. What matters is that you do it.

  • Conduct a pay audit or request your employer does. And ask them to publish the results to show employees, shareholders, customers and other stakeholders that it doesn’t just care about inequality, it wants to help fix it.
  • Use your vote – at Local, State and Federal level – to support people and policies that are focused on closing the gender gap.  It’s not going to happen by accident.
  • Lobby your local member for better representation of women, for adequate funding for domestic violence services, for universal childcare, for better paid parental leave.
  • Offer paid parental leave and be intentional about encouraging men to take it up in equal numbers as women. Less than 50% of the organisations that report to WGEA offer their employees paid leave when a baby arrives. The business case was sorted in the 80s and hasn’t changed.
  • Introduce a zero-tolerance policy to sexual harassment and intentionally build a  culture that supports it.
  • Get an all-male team to organise future IWD events.
  • Pay the women you expect to participate in your IWD events. The gap in unpaid work between men and women is exactly why IWD is needed. Don’t add to it.
  • Set a target (even better be bold enough to call it a quota).
  • Boycott all-male panels.
  • Do more at home (if you’re a man).
  • Do less at home (if you’re a woman).
  • Don’t wait for the 8th of March each year to think about gender equality.

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