Will The Real Women’s Day Celebration At Work Please Stand Up?

It is important that IWD celebrations include steps that steer away from gender stereotypes, and perhaps offer the true support women need.

The International Women’s Day (IWD) blitzkrieg has started.

Usually, the onset of March brings with it advertisements for items that range from jewellery, apparel, cosmetics and other items that are associated with women. On 8th March, this messaging, which is rooted in consumer capitalism, is followed by messages that reinforce the superwoman myth as well as force feed the stereotype of a woman who is gentle, sacrificing, beautiful, and more. Corporates and organizations will join the bandwagon  and organize events that will range from tokenism to woke-ism. The pink decorations and freebies like salon and spa vouchers will again reflect the gendered social and consumer profiles women are associated with; and there will formulaic speeches about women empowerment.

What do real numbers for women’s empowerment (or the lack of it) look like?

With each passing year, this buzz and hype around IWD becomes bigger and bigger; then why do we see glaring gaps in gender equality?

Even though gender parity is one of the Social Development Goals, gender equality could take up to 286 years!

As per Woman Empowerment Indices, women are utilising only about 60 percent of their potential.

There is also a money gap-a staggering USD 360 billion annual deficit in spending on gender-equality measures; which has prompted the 2024 IWD theme by the United Nations- “Invest in women: Accelerate progress”.

Women remain under represented in parliamentary, judiciary  and corporate positions, as well as labour and work force. Everywhere the share of women in decision making, even (or especially?)  in matters that affect them primarily like reproductive rights, autonomy over their own bodies, health and education. Freedom from the fear of violence -mental, physical and emotional; both at home and outside, still feels like a pipe dream.

In such a scenario, does it even make sense to celebrate International Women’s Day?

The answer, as equivocal as the need for gender parity, is Yes.

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Celebration of the day creates awareness; and is a reminder of our reality, however dismal it may be. But it is important that these celebrations include steps that steer away from the gender stereotypes. Perhaps true support, instead of the shine and gloss at the workplace, is what will finally shift the needle?

Some suggestions to make IWD the strong advocacy tool that it was designed to be

Real support – daycare for children, actionable policies at all life stages of women

Offer and implement accessible and acceptable childcare options. Provide support to women returning to work after a career break. Document actionable policies (that are framed by panels with women on them, not by the ubiquitous manels) that address mid-life concerns of women (especially care giving and menopause) and promote retention and progression of female talent.

Employers, show us the real money

Initiate pay audits and transparent pay policies to identify and close pay gaps. Share data on proportion of women in managerial roles, and women attrition in your organization. Allocate and utilize Mentorship Budgets for women employees across all levels.

Break away from pandering to stereotypes in the celebrations

Introspect: Is there a pink tax on any products sold/manufactured by your company? Are the advertisements or marketing in your firm reinforcing gender stereotypes, or worse, are they sexist in any way?

The event itself

  • Select gifts curated from women owned enterprises, not corporates who only have D and I initiates for the sake of being politically correct.
  • Ensure that the women’s day celebrations at your workplace include not just some of the women, but ALL women, -understanding intersectionality is crucial to women empowerment.
  • The speakers and speeches could focus on the men- educate them that feminism is not a bad word; and to accept (and not fear) empowered women.

For next year, document how much the spoken words on IWD translated into actions, and the impact they had. Repeat.

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About the Author

shalini mullick

Shalini is an author and a practicing doctor specializing in respiratory pathology. Her book Stars from the Borderless Sea (2022) was longlisted for the AutHer Awards 2023 (Debut category). Shalini was awarded a Jury Appreciation read more...

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