I’m not really sure how long International Women’s Day has been around. Cue yet another trip to ‘google’, who specially-designed a ‘Google Doodle’ to mark the day… That’s the thing about International Women’s Day – it’s become quite trendy and celebrity-endorsed. (Whoever said that women’s issues are SOOO 1960?)
My search turned up that it’s been on the go since 1911, which I was surprised to read as it’s only started to come to my notice over the last few years. It’s been a slow burner I suppose, because this time around was the first time I really sat up and took notice.
I think it’s all the little, positive things going on. My little sister joined a national movement and wore black in support of a call to repeal the 8th amendment to the Irish constitution. Fair City, our flag-flying TV drama, featured an all-woman cast. National radio and TV shows hosted all-women discussion forums. Aer Lingus marked the occasion with an all-female crew on one of their aircraft. And that’s just the Irish angle! These might feel like small gestures, but they all add up to big impact. But to what end?
The Irish news headlines that morning were dismal, tragic in the extreme and particularly woman-centric. A young mother, her two year old daughter and two other small children died in a fire. They were in a shelter for victims of domestic abuse. It was also announced that a commission of enquiry would be set up to investigate Ireland’s now infamous mother & baby homes, places used to hide away, punish and deeply damage the lives of young mothers and their so-called illegitimate children. The lives of the victims behind the day’s news stories seemed to be the anthesis of what the day was attempting to stand for, but they also served to underline it’s relevancy in modern-day, 2017 Ireland.
A few years ago I would have jested that every day is International Women’s Day. The mistaken feminist inside me cringed at the idea of a day given over to ‘celebrate women’ – was that not admitting vulnerability, defeat? Surely highlighting us as other – and worse yet – special, could not work in our favour. Stop shouting about being different and just get on with it woman! Work hard, keep the head down and you’ll earn it. Except that’s not really happening. I won’t bore you (much) with the statistics, but women are still paid less (23% less according to Eurostat) than men for doing the same work, women are still underrepresented in parliament (an appalling average of 25% in national parliaments in the EU), a disproportionate amount of women work at minimum-wage jobs and, between the jigs and the reels, seem to take the overwhelming hit in career terms when it comes to having a family. And yet girls / women excel in education – we are less likely to leave school early and more than half of Irish women aged between 25 and 35 have a third-level qualification compared with just over four out of ten men.
Where is it all going wrong? If we were a minority I would be angry, incensed. I might even march somewhere! But we’re 51% of the population and this story is getting very, very old. At this point I’m not even sure where we would march to or what we would be marching in search of…
Add to that the fact that the majority of women living in modern Ireland have been raised by, grown up with and share their lives with modern men who want nothing more than to encourage and support us in whatever we endeavour to do. They have faith in us, they support us – do we have that same faith in and support for ourselves and each other?
Today I can say I really believe in having a day known as International Women’s Day – not to highlight to others how capable we are, but to remind ourselves. Each and every human being is an individual and for those of us who happen to be female, we should see that as an added bonus, another string to our bow. Something to shout about.
Women are clever, they are strong, they are hard workers. They are wonderful nurturers, they can laugh, they are loyal, they have a strong sense of justice. They are worthy, they can do it, they are doing it every day. I am woman – hear me ROAR!
Gender quotas would help, ensuring women get the breaks they deserve and helping to dismantle the ‘boys club’ mentality that undoubtedly exists at the top ends of many professions. Seeing is believing, and once more women start to see other women in top roles, they will truly know and believe they can get there too. Gender quotas would realign our view of what ‘normal’ looks like in the workplace and throughout society, and having a balance of genders across senior industry, business and civil service posts should go without saying. Right now, it doesn’t.
International Women’s Day defines itself as “a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity” (via http://www.internationalwomensday.com). I really like the sound of that. It’s a boost, it’s a spotlight, it’s a chance to talk, debate and take stock. Let’s keep the faith, support ourselves and each other and enjoy our day in the sun.