International Women’s Day has been acknowledged in some capacity since the early 1900s. Today, it is observed on 8th March, which has been the case since 1913. After a year of global movements to recognise the desperate need for gender equality, most notably #MeToo and #TimesUp, the theme for this year’s IWD is #PressforProgress. Their website states that the annual theme seeks to ‘provide a unified direction to guide and galvanize collective action,’ as this is key when striving towards gender parity. Gender parity gives us the numerical statistics of gender equality. Thus, they seek to bring organisations, movements, governments, charities and causes to recognise women not just today, but highlight ways that progress can be made in the next year. Whilst notable events have occurred to provoke change in the last year, according to the IWD organisers we cannot become complacent following the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, which revealed the staggering fact that gender parity is still over 200 years away. In the UK, women earn 14% less than men on average, and despite many women speaking out about their experiences, sexual harassment is also a huge societal issue. Although IWD began as a political movement to push for economic change and the right to vote, today it stands for so many things and unites women across the world.
Whilst IWD seeks to emphasise the ongoing push for change and its long-term goals, the day itself is also significant. Speaking to Vogue, Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu argues that despite women being “on the map” more than they have been in the past, “we still need time in the calendar to recognise women.” IWD is for women from every walk of life, whether they are mothers, career-women, community leaders, even young girls with aspirations; every female has a right to equality, which is particularly potent on the centenary of some British women being given the right to vote. The fact that it was only certain types of women who got the vote, highlights the inequality of female rights and experiences, which is still an issue one hundred years later. IWD shows the many ways that women can be individually empowered to make change and inspire one another. Some women are in a position to challenge stereotypes, make women more visible in society, or to directly influence peoples’ beliefs and actions. Other women are not so fortunate, and feel the negative impact of this every day. Thus, by celebrating the achievements of women from all parts of society, IWD invites us all to recognise the part that we all play in making a positive change, no matter who we are. A way to press for progress could be to sit down with a family member who has made a comment you don’t agree with, and showing them how they are mistaken. It may seem small and insignificant, but it is a way to give yourself a voice. Female empowerment is at the heart of IWD, and we should all be encouraging each other and recognising that not everyone’s experiences are the same.
In the last year, I have not only been told that we no longer need feminism, but also that women ‘can’t have their cake and eat it’ by wanting a career as well as children. These oxymoronic statements were both made in conversations with people who I assumed to believe in equality. They threw me a bit, as I had naïvely assumed that the world had moved on from placing women in boxes and telling us what we can and cannot do. This is exactly why IWD is significant and necessary, even in 2018. It gives us a chance to voice our experiences and shed light on the need for women to counter stereotypes that are placed upon us. It is a joy to witness women sharing who has empowered them to be who they are, whether that person is a celebrity or someone closer to home, such as a mother or grandmother. I know that I am lucky to live a life where on the whole I have been taught that I can achieve whatever I want to achieve, but we have all faced obstacles at some point, whether they are big or small. This is becoming an everyday topic, which is a huge improvement, but having a specific day allows us to reflect on how we can all personally make changes to how we are seen or spoken to in society. Yes, there is a long way to go until we can truly say that men and women are equal, but today allows us to celebrate and encourage each other to keep fighting. As this year’s theme is launched today, I implore every woman reading this to press for progress, because every effort counts.