Every year on March 8th, I ask myself: why do we have a day purely dedicated to women? Is it fair that there isn’t really a proper day dedicated to men or children? (Note: there actually is an International Men’s day and a Day Of The Child, but on a much smaller scale and which does not attract nearly the same media coverage or comparably strong political commitment.)
This question is all the more relevant since 2010, when the Red Cross dedicated that year to the theme of “giving a say to displaced women”. Men were just as much displaced, why was there not a day dedicated to them too?
With so many questions on my mind, I decided to investigate…
An initiative of the Socialist Party of America, the first International Women’s day was observed in the USA on February 28th 1909.
The idea was to demonstrate for equal rights in general, and the right to vote in particular. As years go by, this day’s theme evolves according to the times and various countries. In 1914, German women asked for the right to vote, and in Russia 1917, women marched to end food shortages. When reading up on the progression of voting rights, it is clear that it progressed not because of one day’s struggle each year, but thanks to relentless action taken by women (and some men) with undeniable dedication, sense of sacrifice and strength of character over a number of years. And, it wasn’t after just a single day of demonstration that victory was won, because only 4 years after their 1914 demonstration did German women finally receive the right to vote.
1921: Lenin declares 8th of March “International Women’s day”
1946: This day is celebrated in European Eastern Bloc countries
1977: The UN makes this an official day.
The most recurring goal is gender parity: pay gap, responsibility, training, education, domestic duties, etc. Even in modern societies like the USA and the UK, despite equal pay legislation, women earn 13.9% less than men for the same job in the UK, and 21% less in the USA.
Some associations will build upon this day to celebrate progress on gender equality
On the face of it, one can only be favorable towards a day dedicated to the advancement of women’s rights. But if we dig a little deeper…who really believes that having our voices heard one day a year will make a real difference? March 1st “Day of Compliments” has had no more impact than this very symbolic one. It’s a little bit like Mother’s Day which really ought to be celebrated every day of the year, or Valentine’s Day, for that matter! A woman needs equality and parity 365 days a year.
In developing countries, a woman needs to have access to healthcare, education, food and more just as much as a man. The dedicated efforts of NGOs who exert themselves in the field achieves much more than any good natured demonstration of March 8th.
And then there is the language we use: this singularity of International Women’s day, a bit like having a day for endangered koalas or international whale day. This distinction of one gender versus the other is more reducing than anything else. Worse still, is celebrating this day by gifting perfume or flowers, relegating a woman even further to a consumer good.
So after renaming this day the International Day of Equality for All, and rather than go and march, I am going to take the time to choose a charity that works for women’s welfare and I will not only support its work, but be present and active in it all year round.
I have chosen an association that I have been following for quite some time: Innocence Project whose goal is to help victims of the American justice system, including men, women and children, to prove their innocence by using the most advanced technology and techniques.
How about you? How will you be celebrating today?