Every year, around the world, March 8 is marked as International Women’s Day. It’s a time to recognise female trailblazers, to agitate for political change, to connect with women’s history and to take action for gender equality.
Women are paid on average 24 per cent less than men. A third of women globally will experience violence in their lifetime, most likely at the hands of someone they know.
The global pandemic has been tough on everyone, but it’s been even tougher for women. According to UN Women, “women and girls face disproportionate impacts”. They’ve warned that Covid-19 could wipe out 25 years of increasing gender equality.
In 2021, then, International Women’s Day is desperately needed. But how can we celebrate when we’re all stuck at home?
Here are some ideas for celebrating and supporting the sisterhood this International Women’s Day.
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Research some herstory
Ok, ok – maybe it’s a slightly clunky name, but take a minute to think about it. Why should it always have to be his story?
The whole month of March is now marked as Women’s History Month in a move to redress the balance.
“One of the most empowering and inspiring ways to celebrate International Women’s Day is to explore the contributions of some of the trailblazing women so often excluded from history,” says Jennifer Herrera, vice president of external affairs of the National Women’s History Museum in Virginia, USA.
“Learn their names and who they are, and commit to sharing their stories and amplifying their voices. Together, we can help tell a more inclusive, representative history.”
It’s also vital that we recognise the legacy of women’s struggles for equality, says Zita Holbourne, national vice president of the Public and Commercial Services Union.
“We need to be reminded of whose shoulders we stand on,” she explains. “The things that we may take for granted – actually, it was women that came before us that had to fight very, very hard for those rights.”
Most people know the story of the suffragettes, but IWD is a good opportunity to think about the lesser-known stories too.
Holbourne is also a co-founder of BARAC UK (Black Activists Rising Against Cuts), who were recently named as Big Issue Changemakers for their work in challenging cuts to frontline services in the public sector, which disproportionately affect African, Caribbean, Asian and minority ethnic communities. She says we can use IWD as an opportunity to think about women who have faced additional challenges due to their race, sexuality or disabilities.
“It’s really important for people to be good allies and recognise the extra struggles intersectional women go through,” she adds.
“I would recommend reading about [Jamaican-born British-based community leader] Olive Morris and [Trinidad and Tobago-born journalist and activist] Claudia Jones and what they did on behalf of women and representing those who are underrepresented or facing oppression and discrimination.”
For more from Zita Holbourne, you can join the PCS event Celebrating Women, Past, Present and Future on Zoom on 30 March.
Read a book by a female author
“Historically, often female authors haven’t been given the profile or prestige afforded their male contemporaries. Sadly even now their work might not be so available,” says Emma Thatcher, communications officer for the Feminist Library in London.
Since 1975, the Feminist Library has been promoting books by women (and has a programme of Women’s History Month events running throughout March). If we only read works by men, we are missing the stories of half the world. There are many more perspectives to explore, Thatcher says.
“Looking into a genre that appeals and researching lesser-known work by women is rewarding and life affirming,” she adds, “whether that’s literary fiction, travel, history, science fiction or more – there are amazing works out there to inspire and give different perspectives on the world.”
Pledge to listen to female musicians all day on International Women’s Day
The documentary Framing Britney Spears has once again had the world talking about how women are treated within the music industry. Even stars as huge as Dua Lipa say they struggle to get recognition in the way their male peers do.
“For a female artist, it takes a lot more to be taken seriously if you’re not sat down at a piano or with a guitar,” she told GQ. “For a male artist, people instantly assume they write their own music, but for women, they assume it’s all manufactured.”
The statistics back her up. Last year, a study by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that popular music is “still missing female voices”. They found that in the US (the world’s biggest market for pop) from 2012 – 2019, just 21.7 per cent of charting acts were female.
It’s not just in pop that this is a problem. Next week the Royal Opera House will run a series of IWD events to discuss how to “actively support and represent women in the arts, and redress the balance and pervasive inequality in our industry.”
Kate Wyatt, creative producer for the Royal Opera House and founder director of Opera UK says that things have got worse in the last year.
“While there have been leaps forward in some areas of the arts, gender disparity has become even more pronounced over the course of the pandemic,” she explains.
“It’s vital that we redress the balance and continue to call out inequality. We want to increase the amount of work led by women on our stages and ensure there are more women and non-binary people both onstage, offstage and in all areas of the opera-making word.”
Conventional wisdom still has it that ‘more men’ is just what the market wants. For IWD, you can do your bit to change that perception by taking your own personal stand and listening to music created and produced by women all day.
Here are a couple of playlists recommended by our readers to get you started. Share your IWD playlist with us at @bigissue.
Sounds good! Here’s one I made a while ago. Suggestions welcome for additions xxhttps://t.co/yUHjLqDfOS
— Nic (@Brandy_Bolland) March 4, 2021
https://t.co/ppxbCwtiJd This will start me off on Monday 🎉
— Susan Paterson (@susepats) March 4, 2021
Sponsor a girl
We cannot create a gender equal world without thinking internationally. In the world’s poorest areas, girls face multiple additional barriers, says ActionAid. From being denied an education to being forced into child marriage, girls face a myriad of obstacles that prevent them from realising their full potential.
If you are able to spare £19.50 a month, you could sponsor a child to help make sure they get nutritious food, clean water and an education.
“We know that when girls get an education, they and their families can thrive, and entire communities benefit,” says ActionAid. “That’s why, when you sponsor a girl, you know your sponsorship is helping to lift communities out of poverty – for good.”
Take political action
Political action doesn’t have to mean taking to the streets. There are other ways to highlight your concerns about women’s safety, wellbeing, and rights. You could sign a petition, send a letter or email to your local MP, start a conversation with a friend or family member or join an online meet-up with fellow feminists.
The Fawcett Society will be running an online event about women in leadership. “We need to talk more about women’s achievements and to celebrate women. We need to get people who aren’t currently engaged in women’s rights to be a part of the cause,” says Felicia Willow, Fawcett Society chief executive. “IWD gives us a good reason to do just that and we hope our event gives a voice to brilliant women who continue to inspire us all.”
Women for Women International, a charity that helps women survivors of war rebuild their lives, has started the #PowerToChange campaign encouraging women to “channel their anger into positive change”. They’re asking everyone to sign a pledge promising to work towards making the world equal, peaceful, and prosperous for women everywhere.
“One of the most powerful tools you have to power change in world is your voice,” says Brita Fernandez Schmidt, executive director of Women for Women International – UK. “When we seize our power, reclaim our rights, speak out for those who are forgotten, and commit to the global fight for gender equality, we become an unstoppable force.”
Go on strike
Most of these tips are open to everyone (and, yes, we definitely mean the blokes in the back too). But this one is just for the women.
The Women’s Strike calls on women to down tools on March 8. It organises under the motto ‘It is impossible, that is why it is necessary’, arguing that even if they can stop their paid work, women cannot step back from the caring and childcare expected of them. The movement points to the under-appreciated work of women particularly at this moment when they are working “a triple shift: our paid work, our unpaid domestic labour and educating our children during the pandemic”.
Paula Gombos, organiser with the Bristol Women’s Strike Assembly, says that we should remember that International Women’s Day was “never just a celebration of women” – it actually started with a much more confrontational spirit.
“International Women’s Day started with a strike,” she says. “It was the working-class women from textile factories in the States who striked for higher wages, shorter working hours and better working conditions at the turn of the 20th century. This generated into more strikes taking place across Europe, which then lead to what we recognise today as International Women’s Day.”
Gombos thinks that we’ve got complacent in the UK, believing that we don’t need feminism any more. “But this is far from the truth and the pandemic reflected this,” she adds. “We have seen a rise in domestic violence cases, the amount of unpaid labour has increased, but we have also seen a rise in the level of exploitation against us in our workplaces.
“The majority of frontline workers and essential workers are women. We still see the government threatening trans rights and sex workers rights. That’s why we need a Women Strike, to give more visibility to these struggles we’re facing constantly.”
Tell everyone what you’re doing!
“This year it is impossible to take to the streets, so every small action matters,” says Gombos.
International Women’s Day can be an opportunity to feel empowered, she adds, “It is this feeling of solidarity and sisterhood, making banners with powerful messages, taking photos, sharing them on social media. Each experience, struggle is unique, but collectively, we all resonate with each other’s experiences.”
Even if it’s just sharing your thoughts with the #InternationalWomensDay hashtag, it could make a difference by increasing visibility. But you could also think local by making a banner for your window to brighten someone’s daily walk, or provoke them to think. Or why not turn up for your Zoom meetings in the suffragette colours of purple, green and white?
Here are some of the activities our readers have already shared.
Still flying the flag for homeschooling mum’s while building a business! I’ll be attending #InternationalWomensDay events. Ongoing, I’ve volunteered to help a new initiative support women coming out of toxic relationships to rebuild their confidence & professional identity.
— Heather Pownall (McLaughlin) (@Heathershub) March 5, 2021
I co-run an improv workshop for women and non-binary people, and we’re putting on a special improv jam, doing a mixture of games and discussions. Very excited about it!https://t.co/FMfIB0mD87
— Judy (@judybabezzz) March 4, 2021
— Prof. Sarah Pedersen (@SarahPedersen2) March 5, 2021
Hey Laura thanks for asking, for #IWD2021 I’m excited to be trusted to be a mutual encourager to a beautiful Brave bunch of women who’re choosing to repair & renew who they’re being in their Spring life chapter! Awesome 💪🏻💜 here’s the details .. https://t.co/rEIK0k79dT
— CharleyBraveYourDay (@skagirl67) March 4, 2021
Thought not much, then remembered I’ll be talking to a Global Women’s Studies class about remote recording, and the station will be running listener messages of inspiration.
— Paula Healy (@thecountessp) March 4, 2021