This Sunday is International Women’s Day, a day in which the achievements of women – social, economic, cultural and political are celebrated across the globe. This year’s theme is #EachforEqual.
In order to understand why we celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) it is important to first take a look at its history. The day can be first traced back to 1908 when 15,000 women garment workers marched through New York City protesting for better pay, shorter working hours and voting rights. Despite its origins, these days we can sometimes be led to believe that IWD is about how many women CEOs are running FTSE 100 companies instead of what might be more rooted in its principles: the Grunswick strikes or the Stonewall Riots.
When we uniformly talk about the oppression of women, we shine a light on sexism, while still leaving invisible all the privileges experienced by those who exist within this single struggle. When mainstream media celebrates the achievements of women, these lists are likely to and regularly exclude women of colour, disabled women, working class women, muslim women, jewish women, indigenous women, LGBTQ+ women and those who live at the intersection of these struggles.
Alongside this, IWD overflows with narratives about the ‘milestones’ that have been achieved. When 25% of women in the UK live in poverty; more than a 1/3 do not have pensions; trans people do not have guaranteed access to the healthcare they need; black african women are subjected to a pay gap of 19.6% and have a mortality rate four times higher than white women; free childcare almost exclusively done by women subsidises the government in the UK by over £1 Trillion (56% of GDP) each year; 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence, with disabled women twice as likely to experience this as non-disabled women; Muslim women are living under heightened Islamophobia, with 75% of recorded hate crimes towards women in the past two years in Bristol, for example, being anti-Muslim, the language of milestones rather seems to erase and silence what’s really going on.
Our call to action is not that celebration isn’t permissible nor possible! But rather to invite us to celebrate and honour the struggles for and with those women most marginalised by society’s systems of inequities, re-orienting our focus and in turn, our priorities as we act for change.