Today is International Women’s Day, and by now, there’s a familiar script. There will be free and paid events, there will be key notes and panels, there will be conversations about gender equality and what it means for women, and in the weeks after, there will be discussions around who was included.
It is always important to discuss gender equality. But in the face of COVID-19, which has disproportionately impacted women, it is particularly poignant. As a snapshot:
· The McKell Institute found that women are the essential workers of our COVID-19 response. Despite this, women are bearing the brunt of job losses and economic insecurity as female-dominated sectors are less secure and lower paid.
· Before the pandemic, the International Labour Organisation found that globally, women already do 76.2% of total hours of unpaid work, more than triple that of men. During the pandemic, the average amount of unpaid work for women increased by 3.5 hours each day, compared to over 2.5 hours per day for men. This was combined with the need to support learning for children at home, and additional caring responsibilities created by the virus.
· There was an increase in domestic violence both domestically and globally as a result of COVID-19 and associated lockdowns.
For women from marginalised backgrounds, these challenges are – and remain – even more pervasive. Before COVID-19, the Victorian Government highlighted that culturally and linguistically diverse women were over-represented in low paid and insecure work, as well as the number of women seeking domestic violence support.
And NITV, using ABS data, noted a significant difference between indigenous and non-indigenous women in income ($111 difference in median wages per week), employment (67% of non-indigenous women were employed compared to 43% of indigenous women) and life expectancy (non-indigenous women expected to live to 84.3 years compared to 73.7 years).
It’s hard to find data on the impact of COVID-19 on women of colour here in Australia (as noted by the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia), but these challenges aren’t unique to Australia. A study run by McKinsey on the state of corporate women in America found that women of colour are more likely to have suffered job losses, and are more likely be dealing with the impact of COVID-19 on their communities.
Further, people of colour in majority white countries highlighted increased concerns around workplace health and safety, career progression and balancing responsibilities at home (McKinsey). Here in Australia, racist attacks have increased exponentially (ABC).
Evidently, there remains a lot to talk about this International Women’s Day.
As we consider our COVID-19 recovery and plans to build back better, we need to consider who we’re listening to, and who’s benefitting from the society we create moving forward. The Black Lives Matter protests in May and June of 2020 became a catalyst for critical conversations around race and inequality, with many committing to be part of positive change. In this, we learnt more about challenges faced by communities of colour and how to be part of the solution. In 2021, we must put these learnings into practice– and what better time than International Women’s Day?
My challenge to you
The International Women’s Day website highlights #ChooseToChallenge as the theme for 2021. So, I’m choosing to challenge events that exclude the voices of women from marginalised backgrounds; it’s time to end all white panels – and believe me, this is completely doable.
Organisations: do your research and find diverse speakers. If in doubt, ask around.
To speakers: make your participation conditional on the inclusion of diverse voices. I undertook this commitment a few years ago, and I’m still surprised by the defensive response when I outline my condition. I’ve even created a spreadsheet of diverse women and gender diverse persons in my city, and I’m all too happy to suggest one of these people to speak alongside me or in my place.
Finally, speakers, ask for pay. Public speaking is a skill (and for anyone who is unsure, I challenge you to go up to the average person and ask them to give a 20min keynote speech – I can promise you there will be hesitation), and it takes work to prepare for an event, let alone the travel and time taken to participate. You may not need the money, but it sets a precedent for every speaker who comes after you, particularly those who may not have the power to ask for remuneration. How much you charge is up to you, but don’t be afraid to ask others in similar positions to ensure you don’t undersell yourself.
And organisations: it’s generous to offer to donate a speaker fee to a charitable organisation; but speakers can make that choice too. Not everyone has the resources to accept that option – and please, please remember that exposure doesn’t keep a roof over anyone’s head.
On 2 June 2020, my Instagram feed was covered in black tiles. For everyone who posted one – and those who didn’t, it’s time to show up. #ChooseToChallenge this International Women’s Day, and ensure that it’s a day which elevates and celebrates all women.