Yesterday (March 8) was International Women’s Day. This movement kicked off in 1909 in the United States with a National Women’s Day, to commemorate a demonstration held the previous year. Women had marched through New York City demanding voting rights, equal pay and better working conditions. There’s no denying that we’ve come a long way since then (and I’m only talking in developed, first-world communities here, because there are some heinous injustices against women in less-developed and developing nations). So is a day like this still relevant?
Yesterday, the Minister for Women, Julie Collins, used the occasion to launch a new action plan on women in conflict zones. This plan is part of the effort to implement the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which was to address how armed conflict and war affects women and girls. The Minister stated, rightly, that a gender perspective is important, as females are often overlooked in decision-making for peace and security. This event, combined with some other carefully selected events, then got turned into the headline “Women told to do more blokey activities….” by my favourite love-to-hate news website news.com.au. Further, the article reported that the Australian Graduate School of Management had given our first female Prime Minister an “’A’ for effort”. Puh-leeze. Could they been any more condescending? Their “’A’ for effort” sounds like those patronizing participation awards that every kid at the primary school gets on sports day, regardless of who won the event. But, let’s get back on track.
Telling women to do “blokey” things goes against the point of International Women’s Day. I’d imagine that the suffragettes and other women that fought for equality and recognition would not be keen on the message that women should be the same as men. In this context, there is a subtle, but very important difference between ‘equal to’ and ‘the same as’. We’ve got some stunning examples of equality in Australia. Women and men vote, drive, eat, play, work together with no discrimination of gender. We have a female Prime Minister and a female Governor-General who represents a female head of state. Some states of Australia have female Premiers. One of the richest people in the country is female. In that sense, we’ve reached the pinnacle. Girls in our society are raised with the empowering notion that they can do anything, and achieve things our great-grandmothers could not even imagine (like fly into space, or head a major company). So what more is there to do?
For Australia, I think the angle of bringing equality to and empowering women in other countries, particularly in our region, or in places where our defence forces are working is very important. But closer to home there is still a fight for equality. How about the ladies who work three jobs to ensure that their kids can eat and go to school? The women who are passed over for a promotion because they are perceived as not serious; or worse, those who work part-time yet squeeze a full-time working week’s worth of work into their part-time hours so they won’t be seen to be slacking off when they rush out at 3pm to pick up their kids? International Women’s Day will continue to be relevant as long as everyone remembers that most women just go about their work without making a fuss – but sometimes they need a fuss to be made before anything will change.