Author: Sally Hughes
There is no doubt that we still have significant work to do around the world to establish unquestioned gender equality. It remains a continued frustration that we are still having to 'fight' for a voice, for respect, for automatic access to opportunity. Figures show that globally, women's education, health and violence towards women remains worse than that of men. According to a report by the World Economic Forum, it could take another 100 years before that global equality gap disappears entirely. It's shocking.
And yet something niggles at me when I hear the term “International Women's Day.” Don't we and shouldn't we celebrate women's achievement every day? And it's not just the achievement of women, it's the achievement of every individual making a positive difference to society.
I am a self-proclaimed dissident when it comes to women's networking and 'special events.' I have never had a positive experience from any of those that I have attended. Robust campaigning I understand, but my observation is that self-segregated groups do little or nothing to help a young woman break into the “boy's club.” They too often degenerate into opportunities for generalized complaint, rather than providing motivation, self-belief and a meaningful 'call to action'.
Those of you familiar with IACCM Conferences will know that we celebrate diversity and we have a session dedicated to this topic. In the face of some opposition, I stopped the Women's Networking sessions that used to happen – not only did I have no coherent answer to my male colleagues who asked, “so where's the men's networking session then?”, I was also disappointed by the nature of the conversations that so often occurred – women bemoaning how hard it is to succeed when you don't play golf! There is a myriad of successful men that I know who don't play golf... If we women insist on seeing ourselves as victims, are we not simply reinforcing the perception of “difference”? And for me, this attitude is unforgivable when there are so many women around the world who are truly oppressed, who are truly denied any meaningful opportunity.
I am fortunate to exist in a world where I am surrounded by amazing women; some are successful in business, others successful in life. Few people do it by themselves. The critical role that family, friends and organizations play in both supporting and actually realizing equality cannot be underestimated. I am also privileged to work directly alongside incredible women who I admire immensely, and I am proud of IACCM's role in creating a gender-neutral environment and supporting every individual to achieve their potential.
In writing this article I discovered that there is also an International Men's Day - who knew? It is described as a day to celebrate “the positive value men bring to the world, their families and communities”. On the one hand I would question why we feel the need to congratulate men simply for being good citizens. On the other hand, I don't deny that celebrating men who embrace equality as the norm is undoubtedly a positive thing, but again, is this just a once a year exercise? And given that most people I have spoken to were not aware of the existence of International Men's Day, I am not sure it is achieving on its goal.
As a mother of two boys who are now 18 and 16, when I ask them about gender equality, they look at me somewhat quizzically - in their view of course men and women are equal and knowing them both I believe they would fight for that equality if they needed to.
With the exception of a few years when they were very little, they have only ever known me working. And I decry the term “working mother”, their father is not described as a “working father” - he simply works - and so do I. For those of us with children, I believe we owe a duty to raise them knowing equality as normal - arguably equality should not be a “thing” - it should just be.
The UN promotes the “participation of women as equal partners with men in achieving sustainable development, peace, security, and full respect for human rights.” In celebrating International Women's Day, we should not be focused on “celebrity”, nor about competing in a man's world. We need to be focusing on the companionship of men and women and mutual respect. We need to celebrate every individual, no matter what their gender, who supports equality. We need a rebalancing of the world. If we must have a special day, perhaps it's time to scrap International Women's Day or International Men's Day as being themselves divisive and replace them with International Equality Day, where we celebrate progress and set meaningful targets for the year ahead - not exclusively for women, but for all those in our world who are repressed or denied opportunities to flourish.