Over the last few years, International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8th has brought with it a mix of emotions for me. Should I be celebrating? Basking in how much progress towards gender equality and equity we’ve made? Or should I take the day to acknowledge how far we have to go?
It’s easy to lean towards the first option, especially as a cis white woman living in a European capital. Although I experience the same daily issues as most women, like being hassled on the street or the usual workplace micro-aggressions, it can be tempting to feel it’s okay to rest on your laurels and say, “Well, that seems good enough, let’s all pat ourselves on on the back and head home.”
However, just by simply taking a look beyond your own individual bubble, you’ll find a rude shock awaiting you. If you’re, like me, someone who benefits from social privileges, concerns like equal pay and reproduction rights might be your crises du jour. The sad truth is that things are far worse for women across the globe.
For some young women, being born with a clitoris is enough to put you at risk of procedures like Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Currently it’s estimated that there are 200 million women and girls that have suffered FGM, with a further 3 million at risk every year.
Sexual violence is another concern, with an average of 1 out every 3 women experiencing sexual or physical assault in their lifetime. And no, this shouldn’t make you afraid of some podcast-famous killer waiting in the bushes for you. There’s no universal boogeyman. Instead, the most common perpetrators of violence against women are already known to their victims. Partner violence is terrible and scary but sadly, a fact of life, for many cultures. According to UN reports, 1 in 5 women suffer as a result of intimate partner violence, which is often fatal.
Transwomen are another especially vulnerable group – especially transwomen of color. Despite community leaders like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson being on the front line for the fight for equality and rights since the 1970’s, transwomen in America, for example, face incredibly disproportionate rates of violence.
Where do you even start?
For me, the first step in the fight against these persistent obstacles to equality and safety for women is simply recognising that these things exist – even when they don’t affect you directly. While I don’t plan to spend the day crying into my wine about how awful things are, I also feel that taking the day as any other holiday is a privilege and essentially a waste of an important opportunity. To give you some inspiration on making the most of your IWD, let me share my plans. Don’t stress, there’s still wine and cake involved.
Do something for others
I think a key part of celebrating IWD in its true intended spirit is to take some of the hours you’d usually spend at work, watching Netflix or even learning dances on TikTok (no judgement!), and instead use them try to improve another woman’s day or future.
If you have the resources, try donating something to your local women’s refuge or giving money to a charity like the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Girls Not Brides or Desert Flower – no effort is too small. It sounds twee, but seriously, women can only be truly equal when ALL women enjoy equality and freedom from violence. So even though these women are facing issues that might seem unfathomable to you, your help still means something. And if you want to keep helping out the rest of the year, that wouldn’t hurt either!
Do something for you
While you should put effort into helping the women around you, self-care and self-love is also vital to a real IWD celebration. It can take so many forms that this should be easy to tailor to your own day. You might want to stay in bed all day masturbating with your favorite toys or treat yourself with a book, manicure, film – whatever floats your boat. Even just blocking out an hour for yourself to chill with a cup of tea would do.
For me, self-care means connecting with the women around me who support me and bring me joy. This, of course, usually translates into a wine and cheese night, with my friends spread out across my living room. I usually bake something too and take inspiration from masterpieces like this:
It’s not all bad…
While this day is often used as a day for us all to congratulate ourselves, it also has the potential to effect real change. If you’re woman in a position of privilege, being complacent about how far we’ve come while other women are left behind is just not an option.
Simply put, yes, use the day to treat yourself and celebrate the wins we’ve made so far. But while doing so, take the time to help other women – in your own neighborhood or in another country, it doesn’t matter. By making the effort to do this you’re not only acknowledging how far we have to go, but also that we will only really arrive at true equality when it’s enjoyed by ALL women everywhere.