Wedged between the unforgettable dates of Cereal Day (March 7th) and False Teeth Day (March 9th… obviously) is International Women’s Day (IWD). A day that, in all honesty, I hadn’t even heard of until asked to write a quick piece for a blog – a fact which evidently makes me wholly qualified to author this piece.
So what is International Women’s Day? How long has it been going on? How international is it really? Who invented it? What is its purpose? What do you do on the day? Why just a day? What has it achieved? Well, dear reader, I can delight in informing you I have Googled all these questions.
International Women’s Day was officially recognised by the UN in 1977 as a ‘Day’. However, the IWD’s history is substantially older and quite interesting as it goes. The beginnings are strongly linked with the rise of Socialist politics at the turn of the 20th Century. The first inception of International Women’s Day – more specifically International Working Women’s Day – was organised by the Socialist Party of America as an anniversary of a woman factory workers’ strike some years earlier. Other socialist parties and groups around the world adopted the event to campaign for equal rights for working women (later all women). In the years since, the day lost much of its political connotations in the West yet Soviet States and China maintained the day’s connection to socialism. Of the 29 countries that recognise IWD as an official holiday, almost all have a communist past.
So what does IWD look like in 2016? Well, the website describes it as ‘a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.’ Sponsored and adopted by large multi-national corporations (slightly ironically given the day’s socialist origins) it encourages employers – as well as individuals – to sign a ‘Parity Pledge’ in order to address the divide in salary and seniority between the genders. On the whole and true to its roots, International Women’s Day is really a day to shed light on the inequality women face in the working world. EY, adopters of the Fast Forward Pledge for Parity campaign impressively collected 2,700+ pledges last year from their employees. I’d hope that this, combined with a companywide initiative to eliminate conscious and unconscious bias from the work environment, would accelerate gender parity within EY.
Yet I’ve never been a massive fan of events that limit themselves to a day – it never seems enough. My birthday, Christmas Day, and a day at the pub all would be vastly improved if they lasted substantially longer than just the 24 hours.
Likewise, I’m always quite sceptical of events such as Valentine’s day, Mother’s day, Father’s day. If the day is misused as a lazy way to show our appreciation for loved ones once a year with a token card from WHSmiths after a being a bit of an arse for the other 364 days, then the whole occasion is inherently disingenuous.
I’d argue that the same also applies with International Women’s Day. If IWD is used as a focal event for progressive companywide values that promote equality, as it is at EY, then the day has value. If the event is realised as a lazy gesture without being supported for the rest of the year, then there’s an argument to be made that it does more harm than good.