International Women’s Day: Here We Go Again

Written by Tawakalt Oseni

It is a brand new year, and we’re gearing up for the official dates and celebrations all over again. First goes the Christmas and New Year decor, and then we get through all of the red on Valentine’s Day in February, and then March comes with a spotlight on women, particularly during International Women’s Day. 

There will be a theme, a hand pose, and all kinds of e-flyers showing off women from every background. Like every other year, businesses and organisations will jump on the International Women’s Day bandwagon. While the global celebration is a great reminder of the progress made and the work that still lies ahead, it makes you wonder: beyond all the fanfare, what should the actual celebration of women look like? 

March is synonymous with conversations surrounding women’s empowerment because International Women’s Day falls on March 8. The idea is to celebrate women without regard to their divisions, build support for women’s rights, and encourage their participation in the political and economic arenas. Interestingly, it originated in honour of garment workers who had gone on strike to protest their working conditions. 

Each year, there is a theme that mirrors diverse global issues, ongoing discussions, and areas where progress is needed concerning women’s rights, equality, and empowerment. The theme serves to highlight specific challenges faced by women worldwide or celebrate achievements and progress in certain areas. But does this capture what the celebration is like in most places? No. 

In many places, this day is recognised, the pose is struck, pictures are taken, the design is excellent, and a copywriter does a fine job talking about how our lives will be significantly different without the women around and the role they play. And that’s about it. The efforts are to show up on that day rather than make an actual impact. 

In the world of politics, you’ll find these stale and recycled headlines where leaders express their commitment to empowering women. Yet, every year rolls by, and the issues specific to women in rural areas stick around: lack of decent healthcare leading to high maternal mortality, little ownership of productive resources, and gender-based violence as a result of weak enforcement of laws. A random Google

search on government empowerment programs in Nigeria reveals them to be nothing more than phoney endeavours for show. 

Even in urban settings, women face housing discrimination as landlords refuse to rent to women who are unmarried or single mothers. These are glaring, women-focused issues that the government has ample room to address. 

With companies and brands, we’ve got the International Women’s Day conferences — tons of them. Women get together to talk about the same things every year, and there’s hardly any real action taken afterward. It’s like highlighting a handful of women who’ve been in the headlines that year and throwing them on a stage for speeches. While it’s a decent kickoff, it’s performative compared to the real work needed to bridge the gaps that International Women’s Day was meant to address. 

Following this pattern, even companies that do not embrace diversity or encourage empowerment can just put up a flyer and call it a day. The risk of confining discussions to a specific timeframe is the potential complacency that follows. After the banners come down and the events conclude, there’s a danger of slipping back into the status quo without sustained efforts for change. Real progress demands constant attention, and limiting discussions and activities to a single month might inadvertently suggest that the rest of the year is exempt from addressing gender inequality. 

For a start, there are several areas that could be improved. Conferences are valuable, but mere talk is not enough. Inviting individuals to discuss how change is possible is distinct from equipping them with the essential tools. Formats that encourage actionable outcomes, such as workshops, mentorship programs, and collaborative projects, should be promoted. 

Also, aligning with the core reason for celebration, which is to track the progress of women’s empowerment, businesses and organisations should pinpoint women-related issues and gaps within their companies. They need to demonstrate how they have incorporated the theme into their organisations, businesses, and local communities to showcase awareness and impact. This is crucial to validating the actual impact rather than merely going through the motions of the yearly theme. 

The role of politics and leadership is relevant in this matter. The political class can stop the faux women empowerment programs. Instead, they should genuinely empower low-income women and conduct follow-up initiatives. It goes beyond a one-day event adorned with fanfare and cameras; what’s needed is ongoing commitment and substantive follow-through. 

The political class has the potential to bring about significant change instead of engaging in the small-scale photo-op changes often witnessed during these celebrations. The crucial questions should revolve around tangible solutions. How have we addressed women’s issues? How have we enhanced the safety of the world for women? How can we substantially reduce the incidence of gender-based violence? How do we consign sexual harassment in federal institutions to history? How can we enforce the existing laws and regulations prohibiting discrimination in housing? These are the critical questions that need answers. 

While the essence of International Women’s Day is to celebrate women from diverse backgrounds, it also presents an opportunity to narrate the stories of women who have played pivotal roles in shaping our present. It’s a well-known fact that these stories are often not adequately shared. Women-focused organisations can use this day to vividly and audibly recount these stories, serving as a reminder of the bold strides women have taken both nationally and internationally, contributing to our current state. This is a way to express appreciation for their contributions and to ensure that young girls everywhere have admirable role models and a correct understanding of their history. There should be increased efforts to document women’s stories, recognizing the impact of how we narrate our history. 

It is equally crucial for brands to firmly take a stance against the ongoing issues prevalent on social media, day in and day out. Simply stating support for gender equality is too general. Specific campaigns addressing issues like harassment in public and religious institutions, various forms of discrimination and more, offer opportunities for brands to actively participate. 

There are abundant chances for encouraging community engagement. This approach substantiates women’s claims, demonstrating genuine recognition and importance of these issues instead of the repetitive mantras year after year. These initiatives can manifest as partnerships and collaborations among government bodies, businesses, and grassroots organisations.

It is also a good time to applaud teams actively engaged in bridging the gender equality gap through tangible actions, impactful campaigns, and genuine empowerment. Regardless of one’s position, everyone can contribute to ensuring the safety, security, and empowerment of women, both nationally and globally. This is how we channel the momentum of March into continuous, impactful initiatives spanning the entire year. 

As the calendar turns and March fades into the rearview mirror, the urgency remains to keep the conversation alive. Women’s issues deserve more than a month-long spotlight; they demand continuous attention, understanding, and action. Here we go again, not in a repetitive cycle but in a determined stride towards a future where discussions on women’s rights are as commonplace as the air we breathe. It’s time to break free from the confines of a calendar and make every day an opportunity for progress.

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