What International Women’s Day Means to Me, and Why We Still Need It
How my mother’s tradition of women’s empowerment taught me to maintain hope for equality and keep the light burning brightly.
International What, Did You Say?
I first became aware of International Women’s Day when I was a child. My mother was heavily involved in several social initiatives while I was growing up, but at that age, I had zero interest in anything my parents did. So, although I was aware that mom “did something” for International Women’s Day every year, I didn’t really think about it further.
Death by a Thousand Cuts
As I progressed through secondary school and went on to university, I became increasingly aware of how poorly women and girls were often regarded and treated in comparison to their male peers.
Sexism was rife within both the establishments that I attended, with females routinely dismissed as less able and less important. Of course, this was merely a reflection of the behaviors and beliefs of society at the time, so even away from education, there was no respite. I remember questioning many different things and being told to stop moaning, to remove the chip from my shoulder, to stop looking for things to complain about: in other words, to be quiet and accept the status quo.
International Women’s Day? I was still looking inwards; still wondering if perhaps the problem was me and my unreasonable expectations.
I became increasingly aware of how poorly women and girls were often regarded and treated in comparison to their male peers.
The Penny Starts to Drop
I started work in the 1980s (goodness, I feel OLD!) when the idea of gender equality was really moving on apace in the UK. Thanks to the efforts of our predecessors, women were more empowered and more respected than ever before.
Around the same time, I realized that it wasn’t my attitude that needed an adjustment – although I did adjust it, in the sense that I began to look outwards and involve myself in women’s rights and other anti-discrimination initiatives. Some of these activities arose through work; others were connected to my longstanding hobby of watching men’s football (soccer). (And let me tell you, being a female football fan is a great way to discover even more ways of being patronized and/or marginalized!)
International Women’s Day resurfaced in my life, as I helped to arrange celebrations around it. However, it was still just a date to me, without any additional meaning.
The Future’s Bright, the Future’s Purple
When I look back now, I realize just how much progress we have collectively made towards true equality. It’s great, but of course, the fight never ends and there remains much to do, particularly in the areas of covert discrimination and unconscious bias.
As far as International Women’s Day itself goes, I now understand why my mother – sadly no longer with us – was so invested in it. It’s an annual celebration, of course, but more importantly, it’s a reference point, a conversation starter, and something around which to maintain our focus over time.
The next generation of women, and men, are now joining us as we strive to make the world a better place. They will have their own ideas about International Women’s Day, of course, and so the day will continue to evolve alongside them, but it remains as relevant now as ever before. Let us keep its light burning brightly.