International Women’s Day is a day for action not memorial

As International Women’s Day celebrates its 100th anniversary, it’s crucial to remember that it’s an important day of action rather than memorial.

Today thousands of women across the UK are attending female-focused events, not sitting around remembering the actions of the Pankhursts.

From a public celebration of inspirational women in Cardiff, to the singer Annie Lennox leading a mass march across London’s Millennium Bridge for charity, activities galore are happening around the whole country, and the rest of the world.

Millions of women around the world are mobilized, appreciated and inspired on March 8th. And, being part of a generation where women think of feminism as a dirty word, having one day a year where it’s actually acceptable to focus on the needs of women and the progress that still needs to be made in the quest for social, political and economic equality is a bit of a relief, to be quite frank.

When the chauvinism of former Sky Sports presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys was exposed recently, most women I encountered, working in the media and socially, wanted to laugh it off and say ‘it’s just boys being boys’.

Meanwhile, the women who did think these two cavemen’s remarks were not only disgusting but symptomatic of some men’s lingering prejudiced attitudes towards women in the workplace were shouted down by women and men alike for ‘taking life too seriously’.

Feminism to these people has become a by-word for irrational aggression. And this shouldn’t be the case. The extreme irony is that women who say they ‘didn’t have a major issue’ with the Sky Sports News presenters’ comments’ are all women who seem like they don’t want to ‘rock the boat’ and appear ‘all militant’ to their male friends, employers and even lovers. That militancy, it should be remembered, which is the same militancy that helped get them into the socio-economic position they find themselves in today.

International Women’s Day is as vital 100 years on as it was in 1911. It reminds the majority of women who, in their emancipated state, have turned their backs on the female cause, that anti-female sentiment has not disappeared, and probably never will. Most importantly, this global day allows even the staunchest anti-feminist woman to stop what she’s doing, celebrate women’s achievements the world over and recognise what’s left to accomplish.

Last month, Lord Davies of Abersoch, who has been leading a government inquiry into the male dominance of UK boardrooms, stopped short of enforcing the nuclear option of recommending mandatory quotas of women, but said FTSE 100 companies should aim for their boards to be 25% female by 2015.

“We need radical change in the boardrooms of Britain,” he said. “There are talented women out there that should be in the boardroom as non-executives.”

At present just 135 out of 1,076 (12.5%) FTSE 100 directorships are held by women. In the blue-chip index, 18 companies have no women on the board at all, while in the FTSE 250 that is true of nearly 50% of firms. Davies declared the pace of change “too slow” and said that, at the current rate, it would take more than 70 years to even out.

And that’s just looking at women’s representation in the high-powered corporate environment. What about how women feel about themselves in a social context?

I have always maintained that I am an egalitarian feminist, not a totalitarian one. I don’t want to dominate men – I just want to sit alongside them in all walks of life. Ideally I want to have children when my career is at a stage where perhaps I could have the option of not working for a while – because, at the end of the day, women are fundamentally different to men through our childbearing role, if nothing else.

However, with supposed business leaders such as Sir Alan Sugar currently pushing for women to be encouraged to tell bosses in interviews when they are planning to have kids, it has never been more important for women to realise they still have to keep a fighting hand in to stay steady.

International Women’s Day manifests itself in different ways around the world, and has done for the last century. The internet has helped the day gather increased momentum once more, as women from around the globe are able to share in each other’s experiences with one click of the mouse.

At the most recent TED Women conference, Sheryl Sandberg, the high-powered chief operating officer of Facebook, doled out some simple advice: always sit at the table – both in work and at home. If women make sure they are always at the proverbial table where the agenda is being created, they can help shape events. If women aren’t there, they remain out of the loop. She also advised pregnant working women to “not leave before you leave”. As in, women shouldn’t leave their job mentally before they physically leave on maternity, otherwise colleagues as well as their employers will write them off.

Women, like any other group, need focused events, such as TED Women, to sharpen the mind and galvanise the spirit on the issues at hand. And sometimes to even take stock of what the current issues are. International Women’s Day does all of that, and crucially, allows the huge number of female ‘anti-feminists’ to come out of the closet for one day only and just feel proud.

This article first appeared on MyDaily.co.uk.

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