International Women's Day (IWD) is celebrated each year on 8 march to mark the progress made towards gender equality and what still needs to be done. Several months on, we reflect on learnings from IWD and the importance of continuing the conversation.
The first IWD was celebrated in 1911 and it has since grown to become a global movement that is celebrated in many different ways. From marches and rallies to panel discussions and community events, IWD provides an opportunity for women to come together, share their experiences and advocate for gender equality. It is also a time to reflect on the ongoing challenges that women face, both in developed and developing countries. However, once 8 March has passed, many organisations swiftly return to a ‘business as usual’ approach. For real progress to be made, it is vital that these conversations are not limited to one day alone. Gender equality must stay on businesses’ agendas all year round and here’s why…
Work still needs to be done
Over the past century, women have achieved significant milestones, from gaining the right to vote to breaking down barriers in relation to workplace progression. Whilst we should celebrate these achievements, we cannot afford to become complacent and assume that the work is now done.
There are still many areas where progress is needed. Women continue to face significant barriers in accessing education, healthcare and employment opportunities and, in some parts of the world, women are still denied basic rights, such as the right to own property, open a bank account or to make decisions about their bodies. Furthermore, women continue to be disproportionately affected by poverty and violence. According to the United Nations, one in three women worldwide will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. It is clear that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to achieve equality and highlighting these barriers cannot be confined to one day alone.
We need to share our experiences
IWD provides an opportunity for women to come together and share their experiences, creating a shared sense of strength and allowing others to learn from their experiences, but this shouldn’t be limited to a singular day.
Sharing experiences helps us to feel understood. It breaks the silence on uncomfortable topics and challenges stigmas and stereotypes that have long existed in society. By sharing women’s experiences all year round, we can normalise the conversation and create a culture where others can feel comfortable about speaking up. This is particularly important where women’s voices are often silenced or ignored. By creating spaces where women can speak openly and honestly, we can help to break down these barriers and promote greater understanding and empathy.
We can inspire future generations
IWD brings visibility to the diverse roles women play in society and can help to inspire future generations of women. When young girls see women from all walks of life coming together to celebrate their achievements and advocate for their rights, they are empowered to believe that they can achieve anything they set their minds to, pursue their passions and break through gender stereotypes and barriers. Inspiration and empowerment should be a continuous effort and can create a lasting impact which will, over time, create cultural change and shift the mindset of the younger generation.
By continuing the conversation about IWD throughout the year, we can inspire young people all year round. We can work to create opportunities for young girls to learn about women's history and the ongoing fight for gender equality.
How to continue the conversation…
The rationale for ongoing efforts in this area is clear, but how can this be put into practice? Employers can demonstrate their enduring commitment to gender equality by:
- establishing a forum for continuous discussions, whether that be through a dedicated employee network or other, more informal channels;
- challenging stereotypes and creating a culture where women feel able to speak up without fear of discrimination or harassment;
- providing regular equality and diversity training for all employees;
- amplifying women’s voices and promoting inclusivity all year round;
- encouraging male employees to act as allies and support their female colleagues; and
- reflecting on their gender pay gap statistics and implementing policies and practices that help to level the playing field.
Achieving gender equality requires constant efforts to challenge societal norms, biases and structural barriers. Sustainable progress towards gender equality cannot be achieved through isolated or sporadic efforts - it requires long-term commitment. By promoting gender equality all year round and continuing the conversation, employers can assist in creating sustained momentum for change.