International Women’s Day is often seen as a day of celebration. We post pictures of ourselves or our friends, tag the women in our lives who are important to us, and create captions that highlight how powerful, strong and wonderful women are. But this day did not begin with celebration, and there is still the need to make it about more. JCU Social Work Lecturer Sandra Croaker gives insight into the origins of International Women’s Day and why it should involve more than a social media post.
Sandra Croaker teaches the subject WC2001: Australian Women’s Studies at JCU. In considering International Women’s Day, Sandra begins by looking back to the origin of the day, which traces back to 1910. “The beginnings of International Women’s Day were marked by women’s protests in the USA and Europe,” Sandra says. “There was a clear call for action and radical social reform as women came together by the millions to demand fair work rights, voting rights, and the rights to make decisions over their own bodies.”
International Women’s Day was first proposed in 1910 as a strategy to promote equal rights for women, specifically the right to vote. Since then, every country – except for Vatican City – has now instituted voting rights for women. This is an achievement by any standard. But Sandra says that International Women’s Day should focus on the achievements that are yet to be made.
“Over time, International Women’s Day started to morph into some form of commemoration and celebration of women’s contributions and promoting feel-good messages,” Sandra says. “Don’t get me wrong, voicing one’s appreciation towards another human being is an essential aspect of our shared humanness and an important element for creating harmony and mutual respect. However, these types of celebrations in the form of business breakfasts, thank-you speeches and social media activities create no more than a loud chatter, disguising and diverting from the structural causes of inequality.”
Sandra says that it’s not that celebrating is wrong, but rather it is ineffective in the face of the injustices still suffered by women. “Kind words will do little and mean nothing when women are faced with abhorrent acts of violence, sexual assault and gender-based discrimination in basically all aspects of their lives on the other 364 days of the year,” Sandra says.
If celebration is ineffective, what should International Women’s Day promote, and how can we get involved to effect change?
“To truly embrace the motto of this year’s day, Each for Equal, the responsibility of instigating change that achieves gender equality lies with men – and that means demanding more from men than a few nice words,” Sandra says.
But if this day is about women, won’t focusing on men only add to the problem of giving men more of a voice than women?
Sandra disagrees. “It is not about women making room for men to participate and engage, but for men to proactively engage in the conversation towards a shared vision of progress.”
From finding effective strategies to battle domestic violence and providing aid to women in vulnerable and poor situations, to eliminating systemic discrimination, there is great progress that needs to be made in the lives of the women of our world. There is a time and a place for celebrating women and their achievements. However, International Women’s Day is rooted in striving for progress and provides an opportunity to discuss the progress that is yet to be made. “This day should be used as a call for action and as a platform for women to come together, to share their insights and visions, and to make their voices heard,” Sandra says.
The beginning of making such progress is listening to the women who need this progress. “Way too often the society we have built silences women’s voices under the pretence of adhering to and following policies, regulations and laws – laws that are predominantly informed and enforced by male privilege, perspectives and understandings,” Sandra says. “This Sunday is for listening to women and girls.”
Maintaining International Women’s Day as a time to seriously discuss women’s experiences moves us one step closer to achieving more for women around the world.
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Feature image: James Cook University