Last year’s International Women’s Day felt powerful and jubilant. So why no fanfare this year?

It’s not like there is less to be angry about. Across the globe, women are still up against a stubborn and powerful patriarchy

Harriet Hall
Thursday 07 March 2019 19:22
International Women's Day: when and how did the annual event start?

Without fail, every International Women’s Day the usual background din of internet trolls rumbles into a hot, frustrated crescendo: why do we need an International Women’s Day? Aren’t we satisfied with the equality women quite obviously have? Why isn’t there an International Men’s Day?

From its roots as a socialist workers’ protest in New York in 1908, when 15,000 women marched against poor working conditions, low pay and overtime, women began to acknowledge a day of celebration and activism. In 1975 the United Nations officially recognised 8 March as a day of advancing the status of women worldwide.

Now, celebrating International Women’s Day encompasses many means of female empowerment and activism: from panel discussions, lectures and festivals to an excuse to WhatsApp your friendship groups – as well as the recent rampant consumerism many brands have jumped on.

Last year on International Women’s Day I published a book called She: A Celebration of 100 Renegade Women. It told the stories of women across centuries and specialisms who had battled against the odds to triumph, marking the path for others to follow. It followed the roaring success of Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, a book that transformed the lives of historical women into children’s bedtime stories.

Sadly, alongside celebration and successful sales figures, reaction to Rebel Girls (as I found with my own book) included the publication of male equivalents – or in my case, questions along the lines of: “When will you publish He: A Celebration of Renegade Men?”

Everyone should have the chance to be inspired by those of the same gender as them. But the idea that we need to counter a compendium of women with one of men felt much the same as when the question is posed as to whether or not an International Women’s Day is really necessary.

Last year was dubbed by many as the year of the woman. It marked the centenary of the woman’s vote, secured eventually through militant tactics. Celebrations peppered the calendar, and 8 March seemed like a festival of sorts. This year, the day feels as if it is about to pass without much noise at all. Was that it? We got one year and now we have to zip it?

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “Balance for Better”. It’s hard to think of a more measured and reasonable tagline: we simply want balance. And anyone who has paid attention to the news this year should be able to see the urgency that is required. This global recognition of women’s plight is more vital than ever.

It emerged recently that women had been lied to for 60 years to satisfy the Pope. We have been having false periods and messing with our biological makeup for a made up reason. The pill remains the most widely taken form of contraception despite numerous accounts of how damaging it can be for mental health. A male equivalent is still not on the market.

Meanwhile, hormone replacement therapy for women going through the menopause has been linked with Alzheimer’s.

Two women die from cervical cancer every day in England but smear test signups are at a 20-year low. Women are too embarrassed to protect themselves from cancer.

Labiaplasty is one of the fastest-growing types of cosmetic surgery. The patriarchy came for our hair, our weight, our breasts, and it finally came for our vulvas. It is killing us. This week Public Health England released the first ever smear test campaign. As in, it has taken until 2019 for women’s health to be considered campaign-worthy.

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At Westminster, Christopher Chope MP blocked a bill that could protect women from FGM, some eight months after he blocked a bill criminalising the taking of photographs up women’s skirts without their consent. Men like Chope are still, somehow, able to determine the course of women’s lives and have a say over their safety.

The gender pay gap, predicted to take more than 200 years to close, is actually widening at big firms nationwide, with four in 10 companies reporting wider disparities than last year.

Sexual harassment is still widespread in various parts of the world: in many countries across eastern Europe up to 70 per cent of women have been affected.

Tomorrow, women in Spain are going on strike to protest the rise of the far-right and their damaging views on abortion and domestic violence. In Spain this week there was also a bus campaign with an image of Hitler wearing makeup pasted across the side of the bus above the hashtag #StopFeminazis. The demand for equal rights is being equated with the genocidal Nazi regime.

Female tourists allege they have been raped and sexually assaulted by hoteliers and tour guides, with TripAdvisor asking them to detail their attacks in reviews.

Google has refused to remove a Saudi government app that allows men to track their wives.

Of course we are seeing some positive changes. The movement against sexual harassment is seeing perpetrators finally face the consequences for their actions. But without these movements – without this day – would our voices have been otherwise heard?

While people may joke and jibe about the need for an International Women’s Day, it’s clear that every day is International Men’s Day. Every single day is one where these inequalities continue to stubbornly exist and are dismissed as nothing more than unconnected freak occurrences.

International Women’s Day exists, and Women’s History Month in the US, for the same reason Pride month and Black History Month exist: because it is about raising the voices and opportunities of those who are not heard on a daily basis. Because it is women who currently have the unarguable disadvantage across the globe.

Perhaps one day there won’t be a need for an International Women’s Day at all. Wouldn’t that be nice.

But for now, as we near the precipice of real change in the west and as women in developing countries, eons away from equality, continue to fight for their rights, the need is greater than ever.

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