Last year I confessed to not liking International Women’s Day. I said I found it overwhelmingly underwhelming. This year I’m afraid to report my distaste is now hovering somewhere between seething resentment and simmering rage.
To be clear it’s not the platform itself I dislike: it’s a critical reminder that women remain desperately unequal to men all around the world. My rage is borne from the misappropriation of the day that means IWD feels like the equivalent of Valentine’s Day … blatantly artificial.
During the first week of March every year you could be forgiven for thinking women are at the pinnacle of every industry and endeavour imaginable. You could be forgiven for thinking that the pursuit of gender equality is front and centre for every institution, organisation and leader in existence.
Given the rhetoric that abounds around IWD about the extraordinary respect women garner you might be tempted to believe the occasion is redundant.
But the truth? In substantive terms, very little has actually changed in the twelve months since we last celebrated the remarkable achievements of women. And little before that, and little before that.
According to the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report we remain 217 years off gender parity. Two hundred and seventeen years. That is up from 169 years they estimated in 2016.
How could the world possibly be moving backwards in terms of gender equality given closing the gap is supposedly a paramount ambition? The short answer is because it isn’t.
Speaking at the National Press Club in February, the president of the Global Summit for Women, Irene Natividad said making gender equality a reality isn’t difficult.
“What government and companies need to do to make this happen is obvious… Address the pay inequity. Enable women to integrate, work at home and work at work, root out sex discrimination in hiring, promotion and in relations in the workplace. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist.”
Closing the gender gap is not beyond the capacity of any country, company or leader, unless it’s an immaterial ambition in which case the status quo will continue to flourish.
This is unpalatable on the best of days but for a person committed to the objective of achieving equality, on IWD, the gap between rhetoric and reality is too much. It’s indigestible.
And do you know the real kicker? As the fanfare around IWD has ballooned in recent years – which it really has without any commensurate improvement for women – so too have the expectations on women on the day.
Do you know who is doing the legwork to get the myriad IWD events, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, seminars, cocktail parties off the ground? Women.
And do you know what they’re getting in return? In plenty of cases, very little.
For many women, organising, attending, facilitating, events on IWD is another unpaid duty, to add to the extraordinarily long list of their unpaid responsibilities.
Certainly, in the 12 months since the 2017 IWD, change is underway. The momentum of the Women’s Marches, #MeToo and #TimesUp can’t be discounted but nor have these conversations delivered a new dawn in outcomes.
“As hopeful as this new climate of resurgent women’s voices may seem, it really frankly doesn’t change the reality of women’s lives,” Natividad told the National Press Club in February. “We are not in charge, women aren’t in charge, whether it’s of countries, companies, religious institutions, you know, universities – you name it – government agencies. We’re not there.”
That needs to change and concrete actions that #PressforProgress, as the official theme demands, in this realm are needed far more than tokenistic events that put women on a pedestal for a single day.
Women don’t need a pedestal for a single day, they need equality. Every day.
So if you really want to celebrate International Women’s Day and #PressforProgress take action. Consider taking any (or all!) of these steps: