International Women’s Day (IWD) is Sunday, March 8th, 2020. This year’s theme is “An equal world is an enabled world.”
While this may sound like a passive declaration, it’s not. Properly translated, we need to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, and improve situations for other women so that collectively, we create a gender equal world.
The real challenge is, of course, how to do all this when we’ve been building change for well over a century and still have such a long way to go?
Because IWD is about celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world, I think we’ve fallen into a bit of a trap. We’ve celebrated progress, as we should, since 1911. We’ve cheered women earning freedoms, rights and a more equitable status and standing in society.
Within the United Nations, the global call to action for gender parity started 45 years ago.
The UN’s IWD website is filled with chronological milestones of progress and lots of black and white photos chalking up our wins.
Sadly, however, I don’t feel particularly jazzed up or energized by these wins. They are certainly important and have brought us to this moment in time – readying us for the next phase. But I want to know what I can do so my daughters don’t need to file for disability when they’re pregnant. There’s something terribly wrong when we aren’t screaming at the injustice of seeing pregnancy as a disability.
I want to know what I can do so my daughters’ salaries are based on meritocracy and not tied to gender. I want to know what I can do so they never have to worry about sexual exploitation in their chosen profession. They should never be afraid or made to feel like every woman naturally has a me-too moment. How can I help to change their future?
IWD starts with me if we want to harness collective progress. This means each of us doing our part to work together. Women AND men need to work together. It’s not a new concept but maybe it’s time we include actionable targets and ideas for their participation in our IWD websites?
Women have forged progress in every industry and throughout time. And we’ve done it despite the structural barriers under threat of violence or danger. Grace Hopper stuck to her convictions about a universal codified computer language. Polish scientist Marie Curie persisted in her studies on radioactivity. Rachel Carson fought a government and big corporations to prove pesticides had devastating effects on humans and our world.
We need to reframe what it means to work together. I like what I see happening at the Women’s Media Center (WMC) – a nonprofit organization founded In 2005 by Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinem.
It’s global and highlights the ongoing battles for progress in a myriad of ways from women refugees struggling to escape violence in the UK to corporate America issues with pay gap and family leaves. Women are sharing and reporting what’s happening but even here, there’s still something missing.
What’s missing are definitive ways to bridge the gap between men and women. We need to define tangible ways to work together for real equality to happen. Only then will the gritty battle for equality move forward without having to wait another century. In fact, the complexity of our global issues in the world demand it.
We already know there is quantifiable proof that inclusion and diversity in the workplace improves systems, profits, problem-solving and learning outcomes. So getting men on board with the benefits of equality in the workplace and at home is as important as women standing together for the same outcomes.
In mathematical terms, when this happens the chances of achieving success double. To this point, the women in China say that they hold up half the sky. If no one is paying attention to the other half of the sky, the sky will always be lopsided.
Happy International Women’s Day. And on a very personal note: thank you to my husband for having the courage to lead the charge for women’s equality and to see the sky as a shared responsibility.