Last month, I wrote about the origins of International Women's Day, which the United Nations suggests is "a time to reflect on progress made [towards gender equality], to call for change and celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women, who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities".
Amongst the many public acknowledgements of International Women's Day 2022 was a social media post: "To the woman not blazing trails ... with a full life but an empty bio ... who says yes. To tuckshop. To netball. To carpooling. To cleaning up ... To planning meals. Sorting logistics. Managing expectations. Quelling fears ... Making lists. Checking in with neighbours... with big dreams but bigger responsibilities ... on IWD where we are being called to break the bias, we'd like to celebrate you. And your contribution. Because it's enormous."
This post is a much-needed acknowledgement of the often invisible and unpaid load that women disproportionately carry, but there were two issues it raised for me. The first is we need to question WHY the mental load falls to women - whether they undertake paid work or not - as well as HOW we create a gender equal world so that it isn't the default. The second is the way in which International Women's Day seems to have been co-opted by companies and inundated with corporate messaging that further devalues the unpaid work of women.
International Women's Day is absolutely a day for celebrating, but we run the risk of losing the essence of activism that led to its foundation under an avalanche of pink cupcakes and "inspirational" hashtags.
International Women's Day emerged as a collective response to gender inequality, to demand action and dismantle the systems, structures, and policies that benefit men at the expense of women - especially white, cis, straight, affluent men in power. Some things have changed: most (not all) women have the right to vote, to work and have their own bank account, and have greater independence. But at a fundamental level, many things have not.
As I wrote last month, Australia continues to slide down the rankings of the annual World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index, currently sitting at 50th out of 156 countries, having debuted in 2006 in 15th position. The exacerbation of gender inequality is due both to Australia's failure to adopt progressive measures embraced by other nations, as well as the imposition of regressive policies and measures by governments and organisations that have little, if any, commitment to addressing the causes of gender gaps in our nation.
Australia's gender pay gap has hovered between 14-19 per cent below full-time male adult earnings for 20 years. Meanwhile, the UK government has passed laws mandating gender pay gap reports from employers.
The Gender Pay Gap Bot used this data to publicly reveal the gender pay credentials of any UK organisation tweeting about International Women's Day, encouraging companies to "stop posting platitudes [and] start fixing the problem". Many companies with poor gender equality performance have ironically thrown their support behind the corporate-owned International Women's Day website created by consulting agency Aurora Ventures, which this year promoted the #breakthebias theme. In recent years, this website, with its slick marketing and catchy hashtags, has built momentum, gaining a stranglehold over the online presence of International Women's Day as well as in-person events. Many people are unaware of the official UN themes for International Women's Day, which this year was "Changing Climates: Equality today for a sustainable tomorrow" recognising "the contribution of women and girls around the world who are working to change the climate of gender equality and build a sustainable future".
Compare these themes from UN Women's and the corporate InternationalWomensDay.com:
International Women's Day needs to acknowledge that gender inequality is not equally experienced by all women, a key message of the UN themes.
There is danger inherent in the push away from the activist foundations of International Women's Day raising awareness of the impact of gender inequality on all women, towards more palatable, corporate-driven messages that enable organisations to celebrate women in a tokenistic manner without adopting substantive and effective change. The shifting emphasis towards individualism (#gogirl) implies women are the problem and we need to fix ourselves, completing ignoring the systemic issues.
The corporate narrative effectively drowns out the diverse voices that most need to be heard on International Women's Day (and every day) including our First Nations women, women of colour, with disabilities, from culturally linguistic and diverse backgrounds. Next year, let's use the UN theme online and in our local events, and look at how we can create real change rather than engaging in purple-washing lip service.
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